Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS The budget from Finance Minister Travis Toews, left, contained no money for long-awaited capital improvements to Red Deer hospital.

Red Deer hospital expansion not in budget

The provincial government’s new budget does not make a commitment to expand the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

The United Conservative government’s first budget since being elected in the spring was revealed Thursday in Edmonton.

Dr. Keith Wolstenholme, an orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital, said he’s “disappointed, but not surprised” the hospital won’t receive funding for an expansion.

“Red Deer and central Alberta has historically been very underserved as far as capital investment. My hope would be that once capital investments start being announced again, that Red Deer would be at the top of the list.”

The capital plan does provide $7 million over the next four years in health facility project planning funds to a number of health facilities, including the Red Deer hospital.

ALSO READ: Budget provides ‘path forward’ for Red Deer hospital improvements, says MLA Jason Stephan

“It has to start somewhere. Any investment, even going into planning, is more than we’ve gotten in the last 10 to 15 years, essentially. My hope is this government, the health minister and the finance minister, are taking a long-term approach and realize investment needs to be made sooner rather than later in central Alberta,” said Wolstenholme.

Red Deer Coun. Ken Johnston said he is especially disappointed there wasn’t capital funding for a cardiac catheterization lab.

“I fully understand, and I think all of central Alberta understands, that the economic times dictate a more cautious approach,” said Johnston.

“But our mortality rate as central Albertans is still 50 to 60 per cent higher here and they’ve been higher than any other part of the province if you have a cardiac episode.”

Alberta’s NDP made a commitment to move forward with the expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre in a throne speech in March, before being defeated by the United Conservative Party in April’s provincial election.

READ MORE: Red Deer hospital expansion recognized in throne speech

Other projects will received funding in Red Deer: the Red Deer Justice Centre will receive $178 million over the next four years and $5 million will be provided for upgrades to the Gaetz Avenue/Taylor Drive interchange.

The budget projects a deficit of $8.7 billion on $50 billion in revenue for 2019-20. Debt is projected to rise to $72 billion by next spring.

It sets to reduce overall program spending by 2.8 per cent over four years to balance the books by 2023, while delivering tax incentives and tax cuts to allow the private sector to grow an economy weighed down by sluggish oil and gas prices.

Reg Warkentin, the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce’s policy and advocacy manager, said this is a budget that “sets the tone” for the next four years.

“We have a new provincial government that inherited an inflated expense sheet, along with severe revenue limitations. They’re taking a measure and balanced approach to reducing spending without shocking services, recognizing Alberta spends far more per capita on programs relative to other provinces,” said Warkentin.

“We appreciate this government’s move to a low-rate, broad-based tax system with a focus on competitiveness with key initiatives like the job creation tax cut, changes to capital cost allowance, and efforts to reduce red tape and regulations.”

Watkentin expressed disappointment for the lack of commitment to expand the Red Deer hospital, but said “it is promising that funds remain allocated to project planning.”

Mayor Tara Veer and Red Deer College president Peter Nunoda are expected to discuss the provincial budget Friday.

The budget can be found at www.alberta.ca/budget.

–With files from The Canadian Press

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