Reactions to Alberta’s balanced 2022 budget are mixed among leaders in the province’s largest city.
Provincial commitments to funding the Springbank Reservoir Project was “very good news for Calgarians in terms of flood mitigation.”
She said the commitment to fund the Clean Hydrogen Centre of Excellence shows the province has “seen the light” in investing in clean energy.
“We took a calculated risk, it paid off and I’m very happy to see that the province has recognized how successful something like this can be,” Gondek said.
But the province taking a larger cut of the property tax bill, providing a disproportionately-small share of affordable housing funding and a lack of support for pandemic-related transit operating shortfalls resulted in a fiscal mix that didn’t sit well with her.
“That means we will be sending $778.9 million to the provincial government from the property taxes that you pay and we did not see the funding we require to provide the services you need,” Gondek said.
“This is absolutely not what a partner should be providing. I’ve had better conversations than this with the federal government, they have probably invested more in housing conversions and energy transition centres than this provincial government has.”
Finance Minister Travis Toews said the province had already stepped up with the federal government to help with transit systems that have been hit with lower ridership following pandemic-induced demand changes.
The city received provincial funds from the Municipal Operating Support Transfer, which in turn came from the federal government.
“We’re happy to hear from municipalities around their needs and and requests,” Toews said.
Small business still in need
Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin said it was positive to see the budget back in the black, but would have liked to see more ways to help get Albertans back to work.
“We were hoping for continued funding for child care that was in the budget. We were hoping for more funding for post-secondary and training, and that was a mixed message,” Yedlin told Global News.
She said the two-year $10 million investment in the Clean Hydrogen Centre of Excellence was a positive support for economic diversification.
But the lack of support for small businesses was a concern, especially on the verge of pandemic public health measures being lifted.
“They’ve taken on a lot of debt. They’ve had to decrease the size of their operations in many respects. And so they’re still trying to figure out what the next chapter looks like and they’re going to need more support,” the chamber CEO said.
“It’s still not a clear path forward for a lot of small businesses.”
Yedlin also said the lack of support to help turn around the city’s downtown was disappointing.
The 2022 budget earmarked $5 million for downtown revitalization: $1 million for the Calgary Downtown Business Association and $4 million for the city.
Calgary city council had asked the province to match its $200 million investment in rejuvenating a downtown that has a current vacancy rate of 33 per cent, and hasn’t been below 17 per cent for more than five years.
“It’s an insult,” Yedlin said. “The city is so important to the economic potential of the province. We still have so many companies headquartered here.”
Toews said the budget line items to help Calgary and Edmonton’s downtowns came from a request from Edmonton’s mayor, and recognized Calgary’s woes predates the pandemic.
“This is a modest investment that we’re confident we’ll make a difference in the downtown of Calgary and Edmonton, and we’ll look forward to working very cooperatively with both city councils,” the finance minister said.
“I suppose our request for matched funding (of $200 million) means two per cent,” Gondek said.
“One can always hope that your partner government will strike a fair deal with you – I’ve heard that before from somewhere.”
Education and infrastructure
The University of Calgary said the three-year, $59 million funding for the veterinary program will help produce talent in high-demand sectors.
“But over the long term, UCalgary needs ongoing funding to support teaching, learning and improving the world around us,” president and vice-chancellor Dr. Ed McCauley said in a statement. “Great societies are anchored by great research universities. They are engines for everything from employment to art to community to discovery.
“An investment in higher education is an investment in our future.”
Calgary Economic Development CEO Brad Parry said the agency was proud to play a role in attracting investments from tech companies mentioned by Toews when introducing the budget in the Legislature.
“The major focus in the budget on getting more Albertans working and building their skills is critically important and aligns with our focus on talent in the economic strategy ‘Calgary in the New Economy,’” Parry said in a statement.
The announcement to fund the build out of the Stoney Trail and Airport Trail interchange received kudos from developers.
Read more: Highlights from Alberta budget 2022
“In addition to providing access to the Omni, the interchange is just four kilometres from CN’s new state-of-the-art Calgary Logistics Park. It’s a vital piece of infrastructure that will support smooth commercial and industrial traffic flow in all directions to one of the fastest growing areas of North America,” Genesis Land Development Corporation CEO Iain Stewart said in a statement.
And while the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir will eventually help protect citizens from major flooding events, one group that supported the project felt similarly mixed by the government’s commitment.
“Today’s announcement to include sufficient funding to complete the Springbank Off-stream reservoir is very good news for the Calgarians and downstream communities on the Elbow River,” Calgary’s River Communities Action Group co-president Brenda Leeds Binder said.
“With all major environmental reviews complete and funding committed to, the project is fully enabled to proceed and ensure significant protection from flooding on the Elbow for generations to come – avoiding unnecessary risk to lives and billions in property damage.”
–with files from Adam MacVicar, Global News