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Lethbridge stakeholders discuss expectations for 2021-22 provincial budget

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Ahead of the Alberta government’s tabling of the 2021 budget, Taz Dhaliwal speaks to Lethbridge stakeholders to find out what expectations they have as the COVID-19 pandemic continues – Feb 24, 2021

On the eve of Alberta’s 2021-22 budget, Lethbridge stakeholders are outlining the need to see continued financial support from the government as financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are still top of mind for many.

“We know they’re trying to manage their ability to spend and not accumulate too much debt,” said Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington on Wednesday.

Lewington said for Lethbridge specifically, the public sector is very important.

“Nine out of our 10 largest employers are public sector entities, like Alberta Health Services, like the college, like the university,” he explained.

“Any time we see a reduction in public spending, that has an immediate impact in Lethbridge’s economy.”

Read more: Alberta’s 2021-22 budget to be tabled Feb. 25

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The City of Lethbridge is also hoping to see continued investment instead of any additional financial burdens.

“We hope the province will not download on municipalities, that they won’t do things that will erode our revenues or erode our tax base,” said Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman.

“We need supports clearly in the city of Lethbridge to address social issues.”

The mayor cites housing and homelessness as the two most pressing social issues, which also have a strong link to the opioid crisis.

In addition to the public sector, Lewington said those working in the private sector will also need continuing financial assistance from the provincial government.

“Particularly in Lethbridge, most businesses are small businesses, so they tend to have five employees or less,” Lewingston said.

“We’ve seen the province, I think, do a pretty good job of putting supports out there to address the issues associated with COVID and the shutdowns, but we want to make sure small businesses are going to continue to be supported.”

Read more: Calgary’s post-pandemic recovery top of mind ahead of provincial budget

Lewington said financial aid will be needed for many as it’ll be several months until the general public is vaccinated and Albertans can truly start to leave their monetary pandemic woes in the rearview mirror — a similar sentiment being echoed by the Downtown Lethbridge BRZ.

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“Earlier in the month, Premier (Jason) Kenney mentioned that the budget was going to be focused on protecting the lives and livelihoods of Albertans, and so we want to see what that looks like as far as protecting the livelihoods of our businesses,” board chair Hunter Heggie said.

The budget will be tabled on Thursday.

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