The mayor said job creation, addressing homelessness, as well as the province keeping its infrastructure promises are the city’s top priorities in the upcoming budget.
“My priorities going into Thursday are to keep an eye on jobs, to keep an eye on the promises that have been made to Edmonton around projects like the south LRT extension, for example, where money is already earmarked in previous budgets for us and the project is shovel-ready for 2022,” Iveson said Tuesday afternoon.
“South LRT is thousands of people, years worth of employment… the province is actually going to make lots of money off that construction activity through taxation, through the jobs that are created, so they’ll come out ahead.”
Iveson said the city has already been forced to make some tough decisions with layoffs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and he doesn’t want to have to continue in that direction. He added that municipalities have already faced significant cuts because of Alberta’s fiscal challenges.
“We’ve done our part already, I would say, to deal with the fiscal realities.
“Furthers cuts to us — where we can’t borrow or go into deficit — is just going to mean further cutbacks and impacts to jobs. So I think at this point, further unemployment is not the answer, not what our economy needs, it’s not the kind of uncertainty our construction sector needs, and just starts to dig a hole in terms of infrastructure deficit, spending and economic hardship.”
Iveson said the final piece he’ll be watching closely on Thursday is around the city’s goals on housing and addressing homelessness.
“Particularly the work we want to do to turn on some of these units we’re building now in order to help the provincial government save money in its highest cost area, which is health care, as well as justice,” Iveson explained.
“They spend more than $10 million a year in Edmonton on shelters today and for $5.9 million, we can actually turn on the housing we’re building right now to help people divert from those shelters and hospitals and the remand centre and save the taxpayer money and meet them with greater dignity.”
Iveson said he’s “reasonably optimistic that that message has gotten through to the provincial government.”
“We’ll make the point that housing as a solution to homelessness is also going to save provincial taxpayers an awful lot of money. So during a time of economic restraint, what better time to put in place measures that are going to save money?”
Iveson said the city has been using emergency relief money to run the Edmonton Convention Centre as a pandemic shelter, but added that it’s not a permanent solution.
“The agencies running it are doing a phenomenal job but that’s not a sustainable answer for the long term.
“Housing is a better answer and more cost effective in the long run.
“I’ve done quite a bit of work with Canada’s big city mayors to get federal investment to acquire the units, whether it’s through construction, which creates jobs, or acquisition of some of these hotels that are struggling right now. I think the federal government is going to put more money on the table. Their one ask is that provinces step up and actually put the lights-on funding within their jurisdiction in place for these units to do their job, which is to end homelessness, reduce the burden on the shelter system and also save money in health care and justice,” he said.
“It’s a no-brainer to me. The provincial government still isn’t there yet. I hope we’ll get some signals in the budget this week. Of course if we don’t, we’ll continue to make the case alongside our business community, which is increasingly frustrated by the disorder challenges which represent an issue for investment, an issue for perceived safety.”
Iveson said the city will also keep an eye on funding for education and post-secondary education funding, “that are so critical, not just to jobs in our city today but to quality of life, to talent attraction and retention, our basic research capacity as an economic driver at the University of Alberta and NAIT, for example.
“There’s so many important institutions in this province that have taken significant blows in recent budgets.
“If that continues, that’s going to be challenging not just for the City of Edmonton but the community of Edmonton.”
Alberta ‘sideswiped by the triple black swan’
Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday afternoon that while Alberta has been “sideswiped by the triple black swan” of the global recession, collapse in energy prices and the COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time to cut billions of dollars in spending.
Kenney said the province’s focus in Thursday’s budget is investing in health care and jobs.
“I think people across the political spectrum broadly agree that this is exactly the time that government needs to step up and make targeted investments.
“In our case, investments in the pandemic health response, health care generally, but also, efforts to further diversify Alberta’s economy and create jobs.”
Kenney said once the province emerges from the current health crisis, the government will continue to “operate more efficiently.”
“When we get out of the crisis and get back to some decent growth, we then have a good chance of getting our financial house in order over the next few years.
“The reality is, with what we’ve been handed by COVID, we cannot realistically balance the budget in the next two years. But I think we can keep meaningful progress.”
Kenney noted that the province’s deficit will be in the range of $14 billion, but Albertans will have to wait until Thursday for the final projection.
The budget will be tabled by the finance minister on Thursday afternoon.