Toews talks budget at virtual roundtable
Alberta Minister of Treasury Board and Finance Travis Toews discussed some highlights of the 2023 budget during a videoconference Wednesday.
Toews said the $10 billion spending differential on a per capita basis for Alberta compared to other provinces has been erased as of this fiscal year, adding spending has now been decreased to where it is sustainable in the long term.
“One thing we are seeing right across the province right now is increased net in migration from Canadians choosing Alberta as their home,” he said.
In Q3 of 2022 almost 60,000 new Albertans arrived and many were families with children. A projected growth of 2.9 per cent is expected for 2023. All of that is going to require an increased level of services, which Toews said was a good problem to have.
Toews also noted additional investments have been made to education. The budget funds enrolment growth and additional resources for increasing complexity in the classroom. An additional $126 million has been provided to hire more educational assistants and support staff so students with complex needs can be better supported, leading to better learning outcomes.
Affordability has also received more investment. The Affordability Plan was rolled out last fall, “a comprehensive plan that is based, firstly, on tax relief. We’ve suspended the fuel tax in the province.” Toews stressed the program will not end in June but be a program in perpetuity.
The budget will provide additional support for post-secondary students by reducing the interest rate on student loans to prime and extending the grace period to one year. Historically, the grace period, where interest doesn’t accrue and repayment of the student loan is not required, has been effective for six months following the date of graduation.
Another change is the income threshold for a program that provides relief from student loan repayment, which has been increased from $25,000 to $40,000.
Toews also talked about the government’s commitment to strengthening the health-care system. Funding to attract foreign-trained health-care professionals into the province is being provided along with funding for 2,000 additional seats within post-secondary institutions for health-care occupations, including RNs, LPNs and health-care aides.
Both schools of medicine in the province will see 120 extra seats, which will increase physician training capacity by almost 40 per cent. There is also more funding to recruit and retain physicians and health-care workers in Alberta.
The Ministry of Public Safety budget has been increased by 13 per cent, which will fund more than 200 additional enforcement officers. The Ministry of Justice budget has seen an increase of 10 per cent.
“We simply haven’t had enough court capacity over these last few years to, on a timely basis, ensure every case is heard,” stated Toews.
Toews added the theme of fiscal responsibility continues for 2023 and balanced budgets are projected through the fiscal plan. Toews is proposing legislative fiscal rules that will be part of the presented budget.
The rules will provide an expenditure ceiling where increases in operating expenses are limited to operation growth and inflation while also requiring a balanced budget with exceptions. One exception is a decline in revenue.
“If revenue declines by a billion dollars or more from the previous year, our government is able to run a deficit up to that differential in the change in revenue,” explained Toews.
The other exception would be expenditures related to disasters or emergencies beyond the contingency set up in the budget, such as floods or droughts.
SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News