Yesterday, the Provincial government released its 2016 budget and there is still much analysis to be done on what it all means for Edmonton. I certainly understand the pressure this government is under to deliver a budget amidst a deep economic crisis that has left a huge hole in provincial revenue. So, with tempered expectations, here are some of my initial reactions.
First, the sharp increase in funding for affordable housing is long overdue and will have long-term, positive impacts on the quality of life for many vulnerable Edmontonians. As a Council, this is something we have been advocating for many months – including taking a hard line during our budget deliberations in December – and it’s good to see our concerns have been heard. A stable affordable housing supply is a powerful enabler and a key part of our poverty reduction efforts, but it also helps people to enter and stay in the workforce, while reducing health and justice costs.
I am also very pleased to see the investment made in the Fort Edmonton Park Indigenous Peoples’ Experience. The City had committed over $70 million to infrastructure upgrades to the park, but this provincial funding (which will hopefully be matched federally) will help tell the story of our first peoples in a more authentic, enriching way. This project is a testament to the power of partnership with the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations and the Metis Nation of Alberta and we are grateful for their advocacy work.
While we weren’t expecting any new significant transit investments for Edmonton, $2.2 billion in revenue generated from carbon pricing has been earmarked for ‘green infrastructure like public transit.’ This is a ‘wait and see’ sort of announcement, and there is more work to be done to dedicate appropriate amounts of funding to transit, but we are trending in the right direction and we look forward to discussing these program details with the government in the coming months.
Along with announcements for hospital planning, schools and post-secondary education funding, there was a myriad of other economic development and investment credit programs (including $500 million for petrochemical diversification) that will surely benefit Edmonton in the coming years.
This budget did result in some decreases to our Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding, a key part of how we build infrastructure in Edmonton. This downturn has resulted in better pricing for some of our renewal projects (i.e. paving etc), so we may be able to make up some of the difference, but Edmonton’s infrastructure deficit remains significant.
Budget 2016 reminds us that the current roller coaster approach the Province takes to funding isn’t effective and makes long-term planning difficult for us. This puts even greater emphasis on our City Charter discussions and the need for more sustainable, predictable sources of funding for infrastructure and a longer-term view to how we solve complex issues. Our conversations have been positive so far, but in the next 18 months we need to see significant action to match good intention.