From the new Red Deer hospital expansion to the Hwy 11 twinning and other projects, Central Alberta is slated for $478 million in provincial capital spending over the next three years, said a local chamber official.
“I honestly didn’t think there was a lot missing for Central Alberta” in the 2022 Alberta Provincial Budget, added Reg Warkentin, policy and government analyst for the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce.
He cited other local projects that were presented Thursday on the capital spending list. These included a $7.5 million runway extension so the Red Deer Regional Airport can attract low-cost passenger service, and more than $3 million that the Child Advocacy Centre is getting towards creating a new space with wrap-around services on Red Deer Polytechnic land.
Along with the under-construction Justice Centre, and the previously announced permanent homeless shelter and addictions treatment centre projects, “Red Deer has seen a tremendous turning of tides in the past six or seven years,” said Warkentin .
He credits the dedication of central Alberta advocates for drawing the government’s attention to the many shortfalls that previously left this region under-serviced for its population.
Premier Jason Kenney had addressed the region’s No. 1 deficiency on Wednesday by pledging a long-sought-after $1.8 billion Red Deer hospital expansion over the next eight years. Of that, $194 million is promised over the next three years.
Warkentin calculated that this area will receive a total of $93 million in provincial capital spending in 2022-23 alone.
That Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews has managed to deliver a balanced budget after three pandemic years is something that Warkentin considers remarkable — especially given the $18 billion deficit in last year’s budget.
Public Interest Alberta was less impressed. The group stated in a release that this year’s $500 million surplus was achieved “on the backs of Albertans” by a government with a “reckless agenda of cuts, deregulation and privatization.”
Public Interest Alberta was particularly concerned about the United Conservative Party government’s plans to introduce further privatization into health and education with more chartered schools and surgical suites.
The group’s executive-director, Brad Lafortune, said he had hoped to see more investment into quality senior’s care, accessible child care and affordable housing.
But the Canadian Taxpayers Federation feels the budget is moving Alberta in the right direction after years of big deficits and overspending. The federation’s Alberta director, Kevin Lacey, credited the UCP government for reducing annual spending increases and not bringing in any major tax increases.
“Taxpayers should welcome this budget, which puts Alberta on a sustainable path into the future,” Lacey added in a release.
Warkentin was particularly pleased to see Alberta economy diversifying. In his budget address, Toews cited many examples of new investment in the province, including in petrochemical, hydrogen, agri-business, technology and film and television. While much of this new investment is benefitting Calgary and Edmonton, Warkentin believes it’s only a matter of time before more companies arrive in the Red Deer area.
“Central Alberta has a lot to offer. There is no reason the next major project won’t be here.”
He’s also happy the government is starting skills training and re-training programs to get more Albertans working. Warkentin feels this could eventually help Red Deer Polytechnic gain an influx of students. “I am looking forward to seeing more details.”
Provincial investment into rural broadband, a rural physician recruitment and retention program, and more spots for large animal veterinary students at University of Calgary, were also praised since they will benefit central Alberta.