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MLA Rowswell reacts to provincial budget

With the response costs to the COVID-19 pandemic and oil prices crashing, Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright MLA Garth Rowswell says a deficit was to be expected in the provincial budget.

“It is what it is. It’s a deficit and it would be nice if oil prices went up and helped us out but it is unique times so we’re struggling our way through it.”

Alberta finance minister Travis Toews tabled the 2021 budget which focused on pushing through the pandemic by investing in healthcare and economic recovery. The budget projected a $18.2 billion deficit and a $1.7 billion increase in capital spending.

“That deficit becomes debt which has carrying costs in the form of interest rates. Part of our increased spending is money that is being spent on interest and that’s the problem with debt. We have to work on it to get it down but it sure blew our plan to have a balanced budget in this term. That’s out the window.”

Rowswell says Alberta is looking to keep spending flat in the future as the provincial government focuses on recovering from the pandemic and addressing the balance again once the pandemic is over.

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“We’re not trying to say we’re going to cut a way to balance. It’s more hold it, cut a little bit and hopefully the growth from the investments made today will help pay us into balance going forward.”

In the Lloydminster area, money has been put aside to help to support mental health and addictions treatment through Residents in Recovery and Thorpe Recovery Centre. Alberta is investing a total of $140 million over four years in mental health and addictions supports throughout the province.

The province increased investment in healthcare by almost $900 million, $3.6 million of which will go towards finishing the renovations to the Lloydminster Continuing Care Centre. Another $1.25 billion is dedicated to COVID-19 costs such as expanding capacity, personal protective equipment, vaccine administration, testing and contact tracing.

Some of the cuts made to the budget include reduced MSI funding for municipalities over the next three years, the public sector and funding for post-secondaries. The Alberta Government is expecting a economic rebound later in the year if the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is successful. Rowswell says the province is hoping to see an even greater recovery if oil prices rise.

“The price for Western Canadian Select has been the highest it’s been since 2018 but it would be nice if there wasn’t that gap. Pipelines would fix that issue if we could ever get them built.”

The outlook projects the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) to average US$46 per barrel in 2021-22 and increasing to US$56 per barrel by 2023-24.

In 2021-22, total revenue is estimated to be $43.7 billion, a $1.4 billion increase than the 2020-21 forecast. Premier Jason Kenney promised there would be no new taxes.

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