It has been one week since the Government of Alberta presented Budget 2023. We now have a clearer picture of what this budget means for Edmonton and ward pihêsiwin.
14% of the Province’s three year capital budget will be spent in Edmonton. New funding includes $125M for MacEwan University’s new School of Business, $4M for repairs to the Citadel Theatre and $3.2M of planning funding for the Edmonton Law Courts.
Previously announced support of $760M LRT projects, $138.5M for the Yellowhead Trail freeway conversion and $22.4M to eliminate the rail crossing on 50 Street remain in place.
In southwest Edmonton, new funding was provided for the design of a new junior / senior high school and planning of a new elementary school, both in Glenridding. Ongoing funding includes $634M for the new South Edmonton hospital and $92.3M for Terwillegar Drive.
It is great to see the new projects listed above make it into the Capital Plan. Investment in downtown through the Macewan business building is particularly welcome, in that it will draw more people into the core and result in associated demand for food, lodging and entertainment amenities.
However, many of these project budgets were established years ago, and have seen cost escalation and inflationary pressures. The City and the Province will have a shared responsibility to fund these unanticipated project cost increases.
One can understand that a project needs planning and design before you can determine a construction budget. Announcing construction funding without a design is what City Council did with the bike plan, and it amounts to poor project and fiscal management. A Google search on the Grande Prairie Hospital shows what happens when a hospital is built without being planned and designed first.
At the same time, planning money is not a construction commitment.
Southwest Edmonton has been and remains one of the fastest growing areas in Alberta. We have not had a new hospital in Edmonton in decades, and existing schools are full to the tips. We need unqualified construction commitments for these projects.
I also think the Province missed an opportunity.
Alberta is realizing a bonanza of royalty revenue currently, and municipalities, school boards and health facilities are sitting on mountains of unfunded maintenance and renewal costs. One-time funding to address the accumulation of maintenance needs would help reduce this infrastructure deficit without increasing operating budgets. Focusing solely on debt reduction without recognizing the declining condition of our infrastructure is the same mistake Edmonton made in the 1990s, and we still are paying the price for those choices.
This budget has been criticized for not including Edmonton-specific funding for permanent supportive housing.
Earlier this year, a Council report indicated that over 59,000 households in Edmonton would have a Core Housing Need. This includes households that need near-market housing to those that need significant rent supplements.
New Provincial funding includes $137M in Capital Funding Partnership grants, $16M in Capital Funding Grants to Indigenous housing partners, and $94M in Capital Maintenance and Renewal funding. This funding will help with those challenges.
At the same time, Edmonton needs ongoing funding support for acute mental health facilities, drug addiction recovery spaces, harm reduction and safety and security measures. More about that in my next blog in a few days.
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