Alberta’s Finance Minister was in Lethbridge Friday (Nov. 1), touting his government’s first budget.
Travis Toews explained to a large audience at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon as to why the UCP government is going down this road, tightening up the provincial purse strings.
He says the government believes communities which have diversified economies, like Lethbridge, will benefit from the UCP’s financial plan. “We believe our broad-based approach to improving our competitiveness, will in the long term, improve those regions such as a Lethbridge, that are a great example of economic diversification.”
Toews reiterated Alberta is now is a position of spending restraint to try and get the province’s finances back on track.
He was questioned by local media following his speech on a number of topics in the budget including health, education, municipal finances, and on the ongoing local drug crisis.
Minister Toews says the UCP government has “increased funding for health care” and that includes funding to deal with the opioid crisis. “We know this is very significant in Lethbridge and of great concern. We are putting a focus on treatment which we think is so important for those caught in addictions so we can help them out of that cycle.”
Toews however, didn’t go into any specifics for Lethbridge as the government’s supervised consumption site review panel is still compiling its report.
The Minister says it was good for him to come and hear about concerns in Lethbridge, mentioning another budget is only a few months away, likely in February.
Prior to Toews speech Friday, Lethbridge West NDP MLA Shannon Phillips held court with media saying the UCP budget will mean service cuts and less money in the pockets for people in Lethbridge. She says the city is not being treated fairly by this new government, which seems to be overlooking needs here.
“Clearly, no one is listening to Lethbridge,” says Phillips. “We don’t have a cabinet member. Nobody is listening to the member from Lethbridge East (UCP MLA Nathan Neudorf). I am not at all surprised, because Jason Kenney just doesn’t care.”
Phillips is concerned about the possible wage rollback for a number of public sector workers announced last week, saying this budget all is about paying for a $4.7 billion giveaway to wealthy, large corporations. She says this will all likely result in higher property taxes here, less benefits for seniors, and higher income taxes for many Albertans.
Toews however is staying the course, saying the government believes this budget will provide a foundation for economic growth and opportunity in the days ahead and ultimately for future generations. He says the reduction in the public sector is needed as the UCP government looks at ways to provide government services more efficiently and effectively.
“This budget was about balancing our budget,” says Toews. “We do that with a 2.8% reduction in operation spending. In terms of Lethbridge and this region specifically, it was good to hear of the capital priorities that are needed.”
Toews stated he will be taking all the concerns he heard in Lethbridge back to Edmonton, so there are opportunities to re-evaluate priorities on the capital plan in future budgets.