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Budget cuts a hot topic on Broken Promises tour

Alberta New Democrats got an earful about the impact of predicted cuts in the upcoming provincial budget on Wednesday.

Red Deer was the second stop on the New Democrats’ seven-city Broken Promises tour. The four-person caucus is hosting public hearings over the next three weeks to gather information for the March 7 provincial budget.

The Edmonton MLAs heard from about 10 speakers who voiced concerns about what the potential cuts would mean, frustration with the province and priorities.

Brice Unland, Alberta Teachers Association Local 80 - Catholic Schools, spoke about the uncertain future of education in the province with cuts or a flat increase to funding. He spoke about the need for stable and reliable funding.

“The sky is not falling yet,” said Unland.

“We have a lot of great things going for us in Alberta for education and our future. However, the future could be bleak. As Albertans we need to make sure we continue to use the advantage and work to make the system even better.

“Hollow promises and skeleton budgets are not helping and will not help. Responsible and focused direction concerning our province’s direction will.”

Unland told the panel that education, like health care, is on the chopping board but it does not make sense to cut or under-fund the future.

Kelly Aleman, who spoke on behalf of the Alberta Teachers Association Local 106 — Public Schools, said the potential cut to the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement would halt a number of school programs that benefit students and schools and would make it very difficult to implement the Inspiring Education plan.

Aleman said cuts to the small classroom initiative would make class sizes larger, particularly at the elementary school level.

Friends of Medicare area representative Brenda Corney said the government is not following through on its promise of “transparency.” Corney said Friends of Medicare has tried unsuccessfully for an accurate waiting list of people waiting for long-term care beds in any given month in Central Alberta. As well, Corney said, the Red Deer Nursing Home and Valley Park Manor have been closed for more than two years and the province has not given a clear answer on how they are going to be used.

“It would be easier to respond to what promises we don’t want them to keep,” said Corney. “One would be continuing privatization of long-term care and the implementation of family care clinics until there is an accurate consultation with the Alberta Medical Association.”

Jan Slomp, National Farmer’s Union board member, said in general agriculture is forgotten, where all policies are replaced by the notion that more trade will be good for everyone. Slomp said the small and medium-sized farms will fall by the wayside at the expense of export-oriented policies. He also raised concerns about the province footing the bill for maintenance on beef processing plants like Lakeside Packers and Cargill.

Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona, said the NDP caucus wants to raise awareness of the budget and the commitments made by the premier and Tory government during the last election.

“We are a very wealthy province,” said Notley. “It is ridiculous that we should be in a position where we are cutting services on one hand or asking low or low-income Albertans to increase their taxes on the other hand, when at the same time we have the lowest taxes for the wealthy in the country. We already have the greatest inequality in the province in the country. There is a different vision of how this province should go forward.”

The Alberta New Democrats were in Fort McMurray on Monday and head to Medicine Hat on Tuesday.



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