Skip to content

Innisfail's council has ‘huge concern’ with pending provincial budget

Premier pledges not to spend surplus funds on the ‘wants of today’, but on investing in the Heritage Fund and paying off provincial debt
Innisfail mayor Jean Barclay (right) with Premier Danielle Smith and Devin Dreeshen, provincial MLA for the riding of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, during the Daines Ranch Pro Rodeo last June. Today, Barclay has a 'huge' concern with the premier's 2024 provincial budget that is being released on Feb. 29. File Photo/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – With the Alberta government looking at a 2024 budget to stabilize provincial finances for the future Mayor Jean Barclay says that strategy could come at the expense of a lower quality of life for many of Albertans.

On Feb. 21 Premier Danielle Smith told Albertans in a pre-recorded televised address that this year’s budget, which will be released on Feb. 29, will focus on spending restraint and looking into the future by focusing on growing the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, an initiative originally created by the late Peter Lougheed.

“Instead of spending all that non-renewable surplus cash on the wants of today, we will be fiscally disciplined, invest in the Heritage Fund annually, strategically pay down maturing debt, and slowly but surely wean our province’s budget off the volatile roller coaster of resource revenues,” said Smith in her eight-minute paid television address.

“Prior to the end of this year, our government will publicly release a long term financial plan charting a path to a Heritage Fund of between $250 and $400 billion dollars by the year 2050.”

Smith said many other oil and gas producing countries around the world, including Norway, adopted a strategy similar to Lougheed and built up enough sovereign wealth funds to “entirely eliminate their nation’s reliance on resource revenues.

“In fact, these nations now earn enough each year in their funds to make massive investments in world class infrastructure and other public benefits that were not previously possible,” said Smith.

She added that promised personal income tax cuts will be delayed a year and phased in “responsibly.”

However, Barclay, who has repeatedly taken the provincial government to task over diminishing capital infrastructure funding, is taking a different view on priorities.

“We're 42 per cent below capital infrastructure grants from the province since 2011,” said Barclay, adding FCSS funding has become increasingly downloaded onto municipalities. “That is supposed to be an 80 per cent, 20 per cent split between the province and the municipality. Innisfail is currently sitting at 60 per cent provincial funding and the municipality is providing 40 per cent of the funding.

“I just see this as another potential download to municipalities because someone has to pay for the services,” added Barclay. “It's going to be ultimately the taxpayers at whatever level of government that might be.”

Barclay noted a year ago the Government of Alberta said it would attach spending to population growth and inflation but now it will be below that amount.

“That’s a huge concern,” said Barclay, noting the premier has forecasted Alberta’s population to be 10 million by the year 2050.

“How are we going to support all the people coming into our province, let alone the people that are already here?
I liken it to our own household,” added Barclay. “I can put a ton of money away and save it for 2050. But am I going to do that if my roof is leaking, and my walls are falling down?

“When we're not going to fund our services to the level of population growth and inflation, that's basically saying, ‘you're going to cut services, health care, education, social programs, and on and on and on.”

Barclay said it’s additionally concerning for her to have Alberta being compared to Norway because it's comparing “apples to oranges.

“Norway, as a country, has a completely different tax structure. They have a 25 per cent value added tax; a sales tax, and of course we don't have any sales tax here,” said Barclay. “There's a much different structure when it comes to oil royalties in Norway than there is in Alberta, so that is a bit of a false comparison.”

In the meantime, Barclay and town council are also trying to find a way to raise millions of dollars to pay for a new aquatic centre, specifically one that will cost $28.5 million.

But with Smith’s pre-budget restraint message the mayor said she does not know what to expect for the project’s funding future.

“During her (election) campaign she did make an announcement there would be $80 million in funding over a four-year time frame for things like recreation facilities,” said Barclay. “But we also saw her back out this past week from one of her first campaign promises about a personal tax cut.

“I don't know what to expect at this point in time.”

Devin Dreeshen, the UCP’s MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, was asked by the Albertan last week if there was any hope from this week’s provincial budget that Innisfail might see some funding hope for Innisfail’s planned aquatic centre project.

“Stay tuned for more on that,” said Dreeshen. “I'm supportive of this project. Budgets are there for a reason and money is finite, but we will see what happens on February 29.”


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks