With Alberta facing ongoing fiscal pressure and uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial budget delivered by Finance Minister Travis Toews on Thursday still made room for plenty of spending, particularly in 2021-22, as the government tries to stimulate the economy and spur recovery.
Here’s a look at some of the spending announcements affecting Edmonton.
The Alberta government has earmarked $660 million towards LRT funding for the province’s two largest cities. For Edmonton, the province has no money budgeted for this fiscal year or next but plans to provide $294 million in funding the year after.
Housing and community supports
Alberta’s 2021 budget sets aside $209 million for housing as well as family and social supports. The government expects to spend just over half, about $110 million, in 2021-22. While more details will hopefully be forthcoming, the government has promised new funding for 500 shelter spaces in Edmonton and Red Deer.
Some organizations that work with and advocate for poverty-stricken Edmontonians have said the problem of homelessness in Alberta’s capital has grown exponentially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Thursday’s budget, the Alberta government pledged to spend $5 million “on successful partnerships that support employment for Albertans with disabilities” and $7 million for the Civil Society Empowerment Fund to help non-profit organizations and charities. While it is not yet clear how much of the money will end up in Edmonton, the government said Alberta’s capital will be one of four cities where it is spending a combined $2 million to establish new family-governed resource centres aimed at helping families manage supports for people with disabilities.
Thursday’s budget offered more certainty and details on the progress of two major health-care projects in Edmonton.
The budget earmarks $393 million for a previously announced new hospital for the southwest part of the city. A spokesperson for Alberta Infrastructure confirmed that construction of the facility is still planned to be complete in 2030. Over the next few months, the government said it will be working on more detailed budgets for the hospital’s expenses, along with holding more consultations with stakeholders and continuing its work “with the City of Edmonton on land use planning, including integration with LRT (and) aligning it with the approved Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan that will include the site for the hospital.
The Alberta budget also detailed plans to spend $246 million on the $369-million Gene Zwozdesky Centre at Norwood over the next three years. The government said the project, which involves the expansion of an existing facility, will help with “the growing need in the Edmonton area for continuing care capacity including complex and post-acute care.”
A government spokesperson confirmed Thursday the project is on time and on budget and is expected to be finished in late 2023.
Other investments included in the budget are more funding for the Misericordia Community Hospital modernization program, project planning funds at the Misericordia and Royal Alexandra Hospital, the Stollery Children’s Hospital critical care program and the University of Alberta Hospital Brain Centre.
Alberta is planning to spend $251 million over the next three years on sports, recreation, cultural and community facilities. In Edmonton, part of that money is specifically targeted towards helping to pay for maintenance at two facilities: the Winspear Centre and the Telus World of Science. The Winspear will receive $6 million in 2021-22 while TWOS will receive $5 million in 2021-22 and $2 million the year after.
In the summer, the Alberta government announced plans to expand a busy south Edmonton thoroughfare: Terwillegar Drive. In Thursday’s budget, the government’s capital spending plan confirms the project will receive $22 million in funding in 2021-22, followed by $31 million in 2022-23 and $37 million in 2023-24.
The budget also confirms more provincial funding for a massive project aimed at improving east-west traffic flow on Yellowhead Trail. However, the Alberta government won’t be putting funding towards the initiative until 2023-24 when it plans to invest $37 million.
The government is also spending $911 million on Edmonton and Calgary’s ring roads and also promising more money for improvements to 50 Street in Edmonton.
Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding
A funding program the Alberta government uses to help support local infrastructure priorities in municipalities across the province, Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding, will receive $1.2 billion in 2021-22 before seeing that figure drop to $485 million in 2022-23 and 2023-24. The MSI funding is frontloaded in the three-year plan in order to help cities with the COVID-19 economic recovery and to prepare for the phasing out of MSI, which will be replaced with a new program in 2024-25.
Tourism and Edmonton economy
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province, the Alberta government tried to help the province’s tourism industry by providing an abatement to the tourism levy until April 2021 and provided “destination marketing organizations” in Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, Jasper and Canmore with $8 million. The budget details a plan to see Travel Alberta evolve into a “destination marketing organization, including destination and product development, research, and visitor services in addition to promotion. The province also plans to create a senior representative for tourism investment and a parks liaison within the Invest Alberta Corporation.
Among the new stimulus and recovery projects in the Alberta government’s 2021 capital plan are 14 school projects. It is not yet known where those schools will be built.
“The details of the 14 projects will be shared with school boards and the public in March,” a government spokesperson said.