Mixed reactions in Calgary to 2023 federal budget

Jyoti Gondek speaks to the media after being sworn-in as the new mayor in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. Reactions to this year's federal budget in Calgary are mixed even with promises to help Canadians struggling amid a cost of living crisis. Jeff McIntosh, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Reactions to this year’s federal budget in Calgary are mixed, even with promises to help Canadians struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled the budget on Tuesday with a focus on reining in spending while helping Canadians struggling with high inflation and rising interest rates.

The budget includes $2.5 billion in spending for a so-called “grocery rebate” for lower-income households. The one-time rebate is expected to deliver $467 directly to a family of four, $234 to a single Canadian without kids and $225 to the average senior.

Calgary resident Tasleen Zaman said the higher grocery prices have significantly affected his family of three.

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Two years ago, he would spend $700 a month on groceries for his himself, his wife and their child. Now, that number is closer to $1,000 a month.

However, he is not sure if the grocery rebate will help him.

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“Right now we are not receiving anything, but we are being affected (by the grocery prices) very badly,” he said.

“I don’t know about the (rebate).”

Another resident, Diane Hunter, said she hopes the rebate will help some people more easily afford their groceries. As a daughter of a single parent herself, she said she knows how hard it is to cook nutritious food affordably.

“I just hope they don’t tax people on it,” she said. “The government is slow to act. I just hope it helps the ones that need it.”

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The budget also shows Ottawa plans to inject $4 billion over seven years into an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy beginning in 2024-25, but that remains under development.

The funding is part of the federal government’s promises to hold more consultations on Indigenous resource sharing. Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples remains a major priority, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

“We’re also pleased to see funding directed to the construction of new affordable housing units, given that one in five Calgary households struggles to afford housing,” Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said in an emailed statement on Tuesday afternoon.

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But Gondek said she is disappointed in the lack of funding for downtown revitalization programs like office-to-residential conversions, a sentiment echoed by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

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The City of Calgary unveiled its Downtown Calgary Development Incentive Program in 2021 to offer property owners a grant to redevelop vacant office space into residential space. At the time, the city hoped to address the 32.6 per cent vacancy rate and remove nearly half of the 14 million square feet of empty downtown office space.

“We will continue to advocate to the federal government that cities across Canada need support in improving the livability and safety of our downtowns.”

Funding for clean tech will help Calgary electric bus project

This year’s federal budget also revealed a 15 per cent refundable tax credit for investments into clean technology innovation, which Gondek said will help the city’s electric bus

Councillors approved the city’s bus electrification strategy last December, which aims to replace up to 250 diesel buses with zero- and low-emission vehicles at the end of their life cycle starting in 2023.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) granted the City of Calgary a $165 million loan to replace 259 diesel buses with electric ones by 2027.

The CIB estimates that electric buses will reduce more than 10,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

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“Of the encouraging news coming out of the federal budget this afternoon, we are pleased to see a 15 per cent refundable tax credit for eligible investments into clean technology innovation,” Gondek said.

“There is a further $20 million allocation to the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s Clean Power and Green Infrastructure priority areas.

“Calgary’s commitment to energy transformation with projects like transit fleet electrification has positioned our city as a strong candidate for these Budget 2023 funds, as well as other capital opportunities that require partner funding.”

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The Calgary Chamber of Commerce was pleased to see further information on the investment tax credit for clean hydrogen, and similar credits for clean electricity and clean technology manufacturing.

Supports for tourism, the Strategic Innovation Fund and streamlining regulatory timelines were welcomed.

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“While this budget signals several key initiatives, businesses have questions as to how tax credits will work, how small and medium-sized businesses will be supported as they grapple with affordability, and the ongoing labour shortage,” Calgary Chamber CEO Deborah Yedlin said in a statement. “We remain concerned regarding an absence of measures aimed at increasing productivity and economic growth.”

Mental health funding further supports Calgarians

Trudeau’s government also committed $144 million over five years to address Canada’s opioid crisis through community-based resources with a focus on overdose prevention.

An additional $158 million over three years was earmarked for the Public Health Agency of Canada to support the implementation of a national “988” suicide prevention line which will launch on Nov. 30 this year.

This potentially means additional funding for resources such as the Drop-In Centre. The Alberta government said in February it will provide $4 million in funding to the Calgary Drop-In Centre to establish more pre-treatment beds and a “dynamic overdose response team” for those struggling with addiction.

“Both of these measures will provide further support to Calgarians in need,” Gondek said.

– with files from Global News’ Craig Lord and Adam Toy, and The Canadian Press’ Stephanie Taylor

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