Tuesday’s provincial budget was a bit of a surprise for St. Albert MLA Ken Allred.
Although the Tory caucus was recently briefed on the budget, the backbencher was caught off-guard by the level of spending.
“I was a little surprised that the spending was increased as much as it did because we’ve sort of been going on the inflation-plus-population increase,” Allred said.
The budget will see the province run a $4.7-billion deficit in the upcoming fiscal year. While 14 of 24 departments are seeing their budgets cut, health care spending will increase 15 per cent or nearly $2 billion.
Political observers are interpreting the move as the Tories staking their claim as the guardians of public health care while critics say the government is simply throwing money at health in the hope its problems will go away.
Allred has recently stated that simply throwing more money into health care isn’t the way to cure the problems.
“I hold firm to that opinion but I’m hoping by this influx of money they’re able to fix the real problems,” he said.
Allred said he’ll be looking at data like wait times to see if there’s been an improvement by next year.
“I’m hoping that this influx of money is going to do that but in theory I don’t agree that you throw more money at it and it will improve. It’s been shown to be just the opposite. We’ve thrown more money at it and the outcomes have become worse,” Allred said.
“With this big increase, we’ve got to see some outcomes. There’s got to be some measureable improvement.”
Health spending represents nearly 41 per cent of the budget while education is 24 per cent.
“It is a little disturbing because health care and education continue to take up an increasing portion of the budget. That’s always been my concern,” Allred said.
The province’s Affordable Housing Program has been cut by 53.6 per cent.
“Obviously that will impact every city and municipality in the province,” said Stanley Haroun, chair of the St. Albert Housing Society. “We’re trying to ascertain what that means for us.”
The organization funds its day-to-day operations through annual city grants but has been trying to access provincial grants to build affordable housing in St. Albert. Despite the cut, Haroun believes that Premier Ed Stelmach is committed to the issue.
“Having spoken with Mr. Stelmach a number of times, [I know] that affordable housing is a priority for him,” Haroun said. “He assured me that this priority would continue.”
Other non-profit groups stand to be hurt by a cut of about nine per cent to the Community Initiatives Program. The cut will affect groups like hockey teams, community leagues, boys and girls clubs, said Glynis Thomas, executive director of St. Albert Community Information and Volunteer Centre.
The program took a 25 per cent hit last year.
“I’m disappointed,” Thomas said.
“Overall there is concern for the sector especially when you know that the pots are getting smaller … and the needs continue to increase.”