Members of the Society for Fair and Transparent Health Funding welcomed news that the province has allocated $1 million towards the Red Deer Regional Hospital in this year’s budget.
That money will go towards development of a business plan for future expansion of the hospital, said Dr. Paul Hardy, a general surgeon at the Red Deer Regional Hospital and member of the Society, which was officially launched earlier this month.
The Society was started from the group Diagnosis Critical: Your Central Alberta Regional Hospital, which has shown how desperate the need is for overall expansion of room, beds and services at the Red Deer hospital.
“It’s a necessary step in going forward,” he said, adding that the Society is willing to work with Alberta Health Services and the Province in moving plans for expansion forward.
A business plan is key to helping to kickstart that process.
In the meantime, he encourages Central Albertans to continue to stay engaged with bolstering the case for much-needed hospital expansion. The local hospital doesn’t just service Red Deer, but has a wide reach across Central Alberta as well, officials say.
“This helps give us all the more reason to keep the message top of mind,” he said.
The Province released Budget 2018 Thursday afternoon, setting the path to balancing the budget by 2023-24, officials said.
“The recession is behind us and Alberta’s economy is looking up,” said Minister of Finance Joe Ceci. “Alberta’s economy is creating good, mortgage-paying jobs and Alberta led the country in economic growth last year and is poised to do so again in 2018.
“We will hold the line on spending increases and invest in new opportunities that create good jobs and diversify the economy. We will make sure the benefits of Alberta’s strengthening economic recovery will reach all Albertans and is built to last.”
Ceci said Budget 2018 also sets the path to balancing the budget by 2023-24 by ensuring public dollars are invested where they are needed most, while at the same time eliminating waste, controlling spending and finding efficiencies.
Both the government and the Conference Board of Canada forecast Alberta’s economy to grow by 2.7 per cent this year, placing the province among the growth leaders in Canada and well above the national rate, said Ceci.
Employment growth is also expected to accelerate in 2018, growing by 2.0 per cent over the year.
“The budget is working to diversify the economy. It increases access to capital for entrepreneurs, strengthens our technology sector, attracts investment to the petrochemical industry and adds more low-cost renewable energy in our communities.
“It will accomplish all of this and more while protecting vulnerable Albertans, supporting the services folks rely on and putting us on a path to balanced budgets without extreme service cuts. We are truly making life better and more affordable in Alberta while building an economy for the long haul.”
Highlights of the budget include investing $1 billion for partial upgrading over eight years beginning in 2019-20, through tools such as loan guarantees and grants, to attract up to $5 billion in private investment, improve pipeline capacity and add value to Alberta energy products while creating thousands of new jobs.
The Province will also be launching a $20-million new Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit to attract and retain more tech entrepreneurs, and funding 3,000 new post-secondary technology spaces over the next five years.
The budget also includes a point to create 4,500 additional affordable child-care spaces through the Early Learning and Child Care Centre Program.
There will also be some salary cutting and the elimination of bonuses for some of the highest paid executives of Alberta’s agencies, boards and commissions, and the amalgamation of some government agencies, boards and commissions.
The Opposition wasn’t impressed.
“Hidden from Albertans in this budget is a 67% hike to the Trudeau-NDP carbon tax, just like it was hidden from Albertans in the last election. With their rose-coloured glasses, the NDP continues to demonstrate that they are deeply out of touch with the concerns and priorities of everyday Albertans who continue to manage their finances a heck of a lot better than this NDP finance minister,” said United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney.
“In their 2015 campaign platform, the NDP promised a $25 million surplus by this year. Instead, Albertans get an NDP deficit of $8.8 billion. We are drowning in a sea of red ink,” he said.
“This so-called ‘balanced budget’ plan is based on unrealistic revenue growth of 38 per cent between now and 2023, including an increase of $8.8 billion in tax revenue and $6.6 billion in additional royalties.”
Friends of Medicare said that in the past four budgets, the government has managed to maintain the line of health care spending, staying slightly above population and inflation growth.
Budget 2018 represents a concerning trend of spending restraints by only increasing health care spending by 3%, not even meeting population and inflation growth of 3.5%, officials said.
“The approximately $10 million which has been cut from health care may seem like a drop in the bucket when one is talking about a $22 billion budget, however it begets the question of what $10 million could do for a provincial pharmacare program, or for Red Deer Hospital which is only getting $1 million for ‘capital planning’” said Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare.
“What we are seeing is a continuation of the status quo within health care, rather than the political will to implement sufficient systemic changes.”