Consistently high oil prices has left the UCP government with a $2.4 billion surplus budget for 2023, allowing it more spending opportunities than previous years allowed. With a focus on health care, affordability and municipal upgrades, here’s a look at spending plans for Calgary over the next three years.
The Alberta Health Services (AHS) $1.4 billion Calgary Cancer Centre is anticipated to open in 2024, and will receive $156 million in 2023.
Redevelopment funding has been set for the Peter Lougheed Care Unit and Lab ($33 million), the Rockyview General Hospital ICU/CCU/GI ($51 million) and $2 million for the Foothills ICU.
The North Calgary/Airdrie Regional Health Centre will receive $3 million for further planning, and $120 million in funding over three years will come from the Alberta Surgical Initiative Capital Program for new acute care projects across the province, including Calgary to “increase surgical capacity and help reduce surgical wait times.”
Food banks will see $42 million over two years, plus the extension of the transit pass pilot program in Edmonton and Calgary.
Recovery and addictions remains a focus for the province, with new recovery centres to be built in Edmonton and Calgary, however the details and budget have yet to be set.
The province is continuing to add healthy funding to affordable housing with an estimated $316 million over three years, including $202 million for Affordable Housing Partnership Program, $68 million for the Affordable Housing Strategy, and $46 million for Affordable and Specialized Housing.
An additional $54 million will go to the Indigenous Housing Capital Program to address demand for affordable housing and financial sustainability in housing for ongoing and new projects.
The budget for post-secondary has increased this year, and focuses on enrollment expansion. Twenty more seats are being created for medical degrees at University of Calgary this year, doubling every year until 2026. Enrollment expansion for programs with the highest demand is also penned in the budget for $111 million with the intention of bolstering the future labour market.
Additional funding is also going towards Mount Royal University for repurposing exisiting buildings and aviation capital. SAIT will see $16 million in redevelopment funding; and the U of C is being funded $27 million for a multidisciplinary hub, the expansion of veterinary medicine and the faculty of veterinary medicine lab.
The U of C’s president and vice-chancellor Dr. Ed McCauley said the enrolment funding and financial support for infrastructure planning was a “positive step forward toward meeting growing demands” for the university.
“Investments in talent are investments in Alberta’s future and we’re pleased to see money earmarked for enrolment growth, which will help us address high demand for programs that are at capacity,” McCauley said in a statement.
But he warned the university continues to face challenging times.
“Growth in the city of Calgary will need to be met with essential investment in teaching, learning and research. These investments grow and diversify Calgary’s economy – and more than pay for themselves over the long term,” the U of C president said, adding he hopes this budget is a harbinger for further support in the post-secondary institution.
Transit and Roads
Calgary’s Blue Line LRT will get $5 million in new grant money for engineering the connection to the Calgary International Airport. The province is also finding ways to connect downtown Calgary via transit methods.
Deerfoot Trail will get a major upgrade with $187 million to work with; and highways and roads around the province will be maintained and approved with $1.7 billion over the the next three years.
The Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir, a project to reduce flood risk along the Elbow River, was allocated $474 million over three years in the 2022 budget, and has now dropped to $282 over the next three years.
Mixed reviews from mayor, chamber
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she saw the budget as a signal of willingness from the provincial government to work together in efforts like the film and television industry, studies ahead of building out the Blue Line LRT towards the airport, and a study for a regional health-care facility that would serve north-central Calgary, Airdrie and Rocky View County. Currently, the Foothills Medical Centre and Peter Lougheed Centre are the furthest-north hospitals in the city.
“I really hope this is the signal that we will get a proper health-care facility up there,” Gondek said.
But she was disappointed the province decided not to invest in the city’s downtown revitalization and match funds the city is putting up.
“I was disappointed that it was only $5 million in the last budget. This time it’s zero million. So I guess I should have been happy last time around.”
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce lauded the “strong commitment to fiscal responsibility” as seen in the budget, but also would have liked to see more funding for the city’s downtown, more supports for businesses and “clear commitments” to emission reduction technology.
“There are some strong steps forward in today’s budget, but a few missed opportunities as well,” chamber president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said.
“However, as the biggest city in the province, we’re disappointed to see little support for Calgary in the context of downtown revitalization, and the businesses who drive our economic prosperity – especially given Calgary is the corporate headquarters for the province, where important investment decisions are made that affect the provincial economy.”