Thursday, the government of Alberta delivered the 2019-2020 provincial budget.
The budget period is April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020. This budget is, in part, a “stub period” budget, with costs and programs inherited from the prior NDP government during this time.
The budget seeks to strengthen Alberta as the best place in Canada to start and grow a business.
Sound principles inform sound policies. Living within one’s means is a sound principle. This government was elected to balance the budget.
Compare that to the NDP, whose operating deficits, in only four years, reached $32 billion.
This burden for our children exceeds the cumulative value of all homes in the City of Red Deer.
The MacKinnon Report also informed the budget. This report concluded a principal cause of our deficit is Alberta taxpayers significantly pay more for public services than in other provinces.
Therefore, Alberta needs to focus more on reducing the cost of providing public services as opposed to reducing public services themselves.
Albertans should not be forced to pay more, and receive less, for public services. It would be irresponsible and contrary to the public interest to maintain this status quo.
We cannot have sustainable public services for our children if government is incapable of living within its means. The budget is moving in the right direction, charting a course to balance by 2022-2023.
However, in these uncertain times, and with a cultural commitment for continuous improvement, as circumstances evolve or new situations arise, it may be necessary to make additional, proactive adjustments to address emerging imperatives and eliminate the deficit by this time.
Red Deer Regional Hospital
Over the past decade, prior governments have not treated central Alberta and the Red Deer Regional Hospital fairly.
Capital funding over the past 10 years has left central Alberta with a profound deficit compared to the rest of the province for hospital infrastructure.
We are grateful for the public service provided by concerned members of our community helping to identify and quantify these failures.
Minster Adriana LaGrange and myself have forcefully raised this issue in public, including in the Alberta legislature, with our health minister, Tyler Shandro, and with Alberta Health Services.
Our premier committed to address this issue as follows:
“When it comes to determining what are the key health-care infrastructure priorities, that should be done in a non-political way based on the local needs and the age of the hospital and the pressure on that local hospital.
“We would make an objective assessment about which of Alberta’s hospitals have to come first on the list. But Red Deer hospital would absolutely be on our health-care infrastructure list, and we would proceed forward with that as soon as possible.”
That is a principled approach.
In terms of progressing matters, Shandro approved the clinical services plan for the Red Deer Regional Hospital in August.
Securing this approval means we can move to the next step, and our government is developing the required business case for submission and approval.
This business case will develop project scope requirements, infrastructure development options, detailed capital and operating cost estimates and project schedules.
This is required for Alberta Health’s capital plan submission for funding consideration, and completion will occur in 2020.
While this budget does not reflect the results we were hoping for, we are heartened to see progress and a path forward for more equitable support in the Red Deer Regional Hospital in support of the public interest.
We will be valiant in pressing this issue forward.
Drug and health addictions
In closing, we wish to report on another pressing imperative in our community: opioid and other drug addictions and their resulting social and economic harms.
What we heard from families and businesses in our community during the supervised consumption site panel hearing in Red Deer this fall is that the status quo is not acceptable. This panel will release its findings before the end of 2019.
Applying the findings of the panel, with reference to the needs in our community, we look forward to seeing real course corrections, with a principled, balanced approach helping those seeking to become free of their addictions and supporting families and businesses in our community.
Jason Stephan is United Conservative Party MLA for Red Deer-South.