On health care:
At first glance, concerns about a bed shortage and wait times at Red Deer hospital, and the closure of long-term care beds in Sundre, are not addressed in this provincial budget. Friends of Medicare suggested rural health care is getting the short-shrift, although inflation and population growth are provided for.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is concerned that Red Deer’s hospital — one of five busiest in Alberta — was not specifically pegged for any additional beds or programs. She plans to look into it.
A packed community meeting last month heard the local hospital is short 96 beds, three operating rooms, and 18 emergency room treatment stretchers. A local cardiac catheterizing laboratory is among the services Red Deer doctors were calling for. Physicians reported last fall that Central Albertans have a 60 per cent higher rate of death or disability than Calgarians or Edmontonians because of a lack of timely treatment options.
Veer believes more lobbying is needed to ensure Red Deer hospital’s needs will be heard in future budgets. “I think the hospital is where the Red Deer Courthouse was a few years ago.”
More details are expected next week on which school capital projects will get the go-ahead.
Red Deer Catholic School Board chair Guy Pelletier hopes badly needed funding is obtained to expand and upgrade St. Patrick’s School, which is handling 700 students at 130 per cent capacity. Pelletier said classes are held in “every nook, cranny and broom closet,” including a hallway converted into a kindergarten classroom. This is the district’s No. 1 priority.
Red Deer Public School Board chair Bev Manning said her district was hoping to build a new middle school in the Timberlands area, but got no advanced word that funding will be provided for the project this year.
Both school districts are glad Alberta parents won’t have to pay for textbooks and other essentials, but are waiting to hear where this money will come from. “We’d like to see a little more come with the per pupil grants,” said Manning.
On Red Deer College:
President Joel Ward learned he will hear in the fall whether RDC will get polytechnic status from the province. RDC officials are also still waiting to hear whether a new combined theatre/film creation program will be approved. But Ward is pleased with a 2 per cent base budgetary increase, continued student tuition freeze, as well as new apprenticeship training grants, which RDC and Olds College can apply for. The college is also starting a graduate certificate program in human resources management.
On economic initiatives/deficit spending:
Reg Warkentin, policy and advocacy manager for the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, and Don MacIntyre, Wildrose MLA for Innisfail/Sylvan Lake, are both surprised and appalled at the growing size of the provincial deficit in this budget.
“Just the debt servicing is going to be $2.3 billion for the 2019-2010 fiscal year,” said Warkentin, who’s glad no new business taxes were announced. But he’d hoped to see more initiatives that help Alberta’s economy. “Our economy is quite fragile, and there’s no real effort to ensure a recovery,” in terms of offering new tax incentives or access to capital.
MacIntyre said the NDP government should have reduced swelling bureaucracy, instead of opting to borrow almost a quarter of this fiscal budget. The NDP is now estimating only $2 billion will be made from the carbon tax instead of a previously announced $3 billion, he noted, adding “there’s a fundamental problem… when project revenues are always overestimated, and project expenses are always underestimated.”