The long-awaited provincial budget was tabled this week, and while it will likely be a couple more weeks until the City of Red Deer can fully analyze the implications for our community, I’ll offer preliminary thoughts from city council’s perspective, based on the information the city currently has.
Over the past couple of days, citizens have asked us most frequently about the status of provincial infrastructure projects, so I will address this first as a matter of community interest, even though they are not within city council’s decision–making authorities.
Red Deer College’s transition to university status is proceeding, which is welcome news for our community’s economic diversification and an important catalyst to retain and attract population.
The Red Deer Justice Centre is also proceeding, which is absolutely imperative for our community safety objectives. For local charges to be upheld by the courts, cases are required to be heard before specified time thresholds, and the expansion of the justice centre is critically necessary to make sure that victims receive justice and criminals are held to account.
To the disappointment and frustration of Red Deerians, neither the Red Deer Regional Hospital expansion, nor the 24/7 emergency shelter, are funded in this budget.
While questions regarding the government’s intentions regarding these projects are best directed to our local MLAs, I personally spoke with both the minster of health and the minister of seniors and housing this week, and the following general information was indicated to me.
Regarding the much-needed infrastructure expansion of the hospital, the minister indicated they have budgeted to develop a plan to determine the phasing for future hospital infrastructure.
While this is not the timeline our community was hoping for, presumably this means the government supports the expansion in principle.
Over the next couple of months, we will need to elevate our community advocacy to ensure this planning is fast-tracked and that the spring budget identifies the health funding commitment our city and region acutely need.
I have conveyed to the minster and to AHS officials that our community would not view planning alone as a strong enough commitment to the health infrastructure needs of our city and our region.
The other provincial infrastructure project the city was hoping for is the 24/7 emergency shelter. Again, our response to the absence of this necessary social infrastructure for our community is disappointment, as the consequences of this lack of sufficient infrastructure are experienced daily throughout our community.
However, I spoke with the minister of seniors and housing following the budget, and she requested that the city work directly with her ministry over the next three months to determine the specific scope and budget for a 24/7 shelter for Red Deer in preparation for the future budget cycle.
From a municipal perspective, in many respects, the budget was as expected and we have already undertaken responsive measures as a city over the past couple of months.
The MacKinnon Report into provincial government spending specifically mentioned grants to municipalities, and it is fair to say that we have had the past couple of months to prepare us for this shift into an era of capital austerity for municipalities.
The city was expecting this, given the cues we have received over the past few months, and the city has already actively prepared for the new economic normal.
The proposed city budget that administration released last week has removed or deferred $1 billion over the next 10 years.
City council shares in the disappointment this will no doubt translate into for some in our community who were hoping to see the fulfilment of long-awaited local projects in the near future, but we are navigating a completely new economic normal and there are few financial options available to us over the next year or two in particular.
From an operating perspective, the city welcomes the provincial government’s additional investments in ALERT (who predominately focus on organized crime), Crown prosecutors and addictions treatment, and our council will be actively asking for allocations to Red Deer specifically in the coming months to help uphold our community safety objectives.
The city was also glad to see that grant funding is stable for Family and Community Support Services, education, library and police.
It is difficult to summarize the budget with one overarching sentiment, because there are some clear wins for Red Deer and some areas that we will obviously need to continue to steadfastly pursue as a community in the coming months.
As the city learns more budget details over the next few weeks, there may be additional impacts we will need to advocate to the government on, but this is our preliminary response with the information we have as of today.
I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you may have. As always, it is council’s privilege to serve you, and we look forward to seeing you throughout the community.
Mayor Tara Veer