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Calgary’s post-pandemic recovery top of mind ahead of provincial budget

Global News logo Global News 3 days ago Adam MacVicar
a large building with a clock tower: The Alberta legislature on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. © Emily Mertz, Global News The Alberta legislature on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

Expectations for the upcoming Alberta budget vary among several organizations and civic leaders in the city of Calgary, but the consensus is the hope for investments in a post-pandemic recovery.

Alberta's provincial budget, to be tabled on Feb. 25, will be the first since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the province last March.

Read more: Alberta budget 2020 winners and losers

Calgary's mayor said he has not heard much from the province in regards to what will be included in the budget, but Naheed Nenshi's hope is that the United Conservative government takes "a future-oriented view."

Calgary organizations want pandemic recovery support in upcoming Alberta budget
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Appearing on Global News Radio 770 CHQR Friday, Nenshi said he hopes to see the province hold the line on capital investments for infrastructure projects and social programming.

"It would be a huge mistake to cut capital spending now, the spending to build stuff, that would be a kick in the teeth to the economy at a time where we need those jobs very badly," Nenshi said.

"There is some money for social services, which again, would be a big mistake to cut at a moment where people are really struggling."

Read more: Upcoming Alberta budget ‘not the time for fiscal restraint’: Kenney

Ensuring social supports are maintained is a key focus for poverty reduction group Vibrant Communities Calgary, which put forward written submissions along with EndPovertyEdmonton for the upcoming provincial budget.

According to Vibrant Communities Calgary, nearly 200,000 Calgarians experienced poverty prior to the pandemic due to the continued effects of the oil and gas downturn on the local economy.

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It's an issue that is only expected to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic unless those supports for struggling Calgarians are maintained, according to Vibrant Communities Calgary executive director Meaghon Reid.

"Our ability to strengthen systems and to change systems so that this problem doesn't get worse is very important right now," Reid said.

"Maintaining those benefits, particularly I would say around childcare and maintaining benefits as it comes to income supports, we would see as the minimum that needs to be maintained in order not to get into a more catastrophic state as it relates to poverty."

Read more: Alberta’s 2021-22 budget to be tabled Feb. 25

Calgary's unemployment rate climbed slightly last month to 10.6 per cent, and the downtown vacancy rate is nearly 30 per cent.

Video: New report suggests solutions for Calgary’s ‘office vacancy crisis’

Calgary's Chamber of Commerce highlighted five points it would like to see included in the 2021 budget.

In its budget submissions, the Chamber of Commerce said it hopes for a focus on stable support in the short and long term, with a focus on diversification of the economy and sources of revenues, with a priority on an inclusive recovery.

"Whether it's young people or older people, other traditionally disadvantaged segments of our population, let's make sure we make those opportunities now, and we'll build a fabulous city for the future," chamber interim-CEO Murray Sigler said Monday.

"Show some leadership and the business community is there to help make it happen. We will help lead the way."

Sigler said there is potential for the province to kickstart the post-COVID economic recovery with the upcoming budget because of the current trend of the pandemic.

"With the emergence of vaccinations and the announcements of the inoculation schedule, we think there's a real driver that's going to be emerging in the months ahead; which will be the catalyst, the real spur for hope and for economic development and recovery of our city," Sigler said.

Read more: Thursday’s fiscal update will unveil ‘biggest deficit in the history of Alberta’: Kenney

Last year, the provincial government and several cabinet ministers warned of a great fiscal reckoning, a tone which both Nenshi and Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Barry Morishita noticed has softened in the weeks ahead of the provincial budget.

"We're a little more hopeful about the budget this year than we than we were last year for sure," Morshita said. "I can't help but feel that there's a bit of a 'hold the line, we're going to keep the wheels rolling as much as we can.'"

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Morshita said AUMA is hopeful continued capital investments for municipal infrastructure projects.

The concern Morishita has entering the budget presentation on Thursday is the potential for downloaded costs on municipalities through incremental cuts to social services, policing, affordable housing and mental health supports.

"You don't get rid of those services, but you have to pay for them nonetheless," Morshita said.

"So when the province doesn't pay for their share, then other people in the municipality do."

In November, Finance Minister Travis Toews said the revised budget deficit for the year would be $21.3 billion.

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