MLA Dreeshen weighs in on latest back-to-black provincial budget

Innisfail- Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen. Submitted photo

Innisfail- Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen. Submitted photo

Innisfail- Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen hailed the Government of Alberta’s Budget 2022 which was tabled Feb. 24 with the aim to strengthen the health-care system, get more Albertans to work and bring the province’s balance sheet back into the black. The budget pledges to address much-debated industries such as healthcare, education, and oil and gas.

“I was really pleased to see that there was a first balanced budget in Alberta in 14 years and that just goes to show this government is very concerned about the debt that we are leaving for our children,” said Dreeshen.

Expenses are pegged at $62.1 billion, and Budget 2022 has turned around the forecasted deficit of $3.2 billion in last year’s budget with the targeted surplus of $500 million for 2022-23.

Budget 2022 includes yet another record-high healthcare investment to expand system capacity and prepare for potential future waves of COVID-19, says the Government of Alberta website.

Dreeshen shared contentment to see a big commitment towards the long vouched for healthcare spending.

“There is $2.2 billion in healthcare additional spending. The operating budget of heath is going up by $1.8 billion and the $100 million for new ICU beds and $90 million more to help retrain rural physicians in rural areas and $750 million for surgical backlogs that are pilling up all across the province.

“This was a very heavy health spending budget to make sure that we can catch up on a lot of the backlogs that are piling up in our healthcare system,” said Dreeshen.

The largest provincial infrastructure investment in central Alberta of nearly $2 billion in the Red Deer regional hospital was another substantial investment the budget delivered on, said Dreeshen.

Alberta’s economic recovery from the global pandemic and the oil price crisis far exceeded expectations from last year.

The province’s economy is expected to fully recover this year, expanding by 5.4 percent to be among the nation’s growth leaders. Business investment is set to accelerate this year, underpinned by strong energy prices and Alberta’s competitive tax regime.

“The budget pegged oil at about $70 a barrel and obviously throughout the year if it’s above $70, we as Albertans will gain more in royalties. From year to year, there is about a $9 billion increase in oil royalties alone. That goes to show it was a big boost to this budget. Also, when you look across the board… the revenue portion is up.”

Tax revenue, which makes up 37 percent of the total revenue is forecast at $23 billion in 2022-23. Alberta’s improving economy and employment rate is expected to drive increases of $697 million in corporate income tax, $121 million in personal income tax, and $120 million in fuel and insurance taxes, shares Budget 2022. Tax revenue is forecast to grow by an average of 6.8 percent for the following two years, reaching $26.3 billion by 2024-25.

Poised for a strong economic recovery, Dreeshen stressed the importance of strong infrastructure around the province.

“There was 7.5 million set aside for the Red Deer regional airport to grow and expand its runway to bring more planes and larger aircrafts. It was nice to see that the Hwy. 11 project is underway and the consultations are coming up for the intersections going into Sylvan Lake and just ongoing capital and maintenance projects around the province.”

Along with the $1.5 billion three-year Capital Plan set aside for kindergarten to grade 12 students, the budget also makes a historic $171-million investment into post-secondary education over the next three years to ensure post-secondary spots in high-demand fields are made available within the province.

Dreeshen wants to make sure the post secondaries are aware of the government’s focus to offer skilled training across in-demand industries.

“To make sure that we can go out and talk to job creators and determine what types of students, what types of skills that need to be taught in our post secondaries and our polytechnic institutions around the province so that when kids are graduating they are going directly into a good high paying job and are contributing to society.”

The budget also devotes more than $600 million over three years to a new initiative called Alberta at Work. The initiative aims to offer Albertans the opportunities to build skills, pursue their passions and support themselves and their families.

Dreeshen looks forward to seeing how the Alberta at Work program rolls out.

Given the ongoing shortage in large animal rural veterinarians, the huge focus on bringing in and retaining rural veterinarians was an aspect that stuck out to Dreeshen.

“It’s nice to see the focus on trying to increase more rural vets here in Alberta to help out our livestock sector.”

The budget signals offering utility bill rebates when the cost of natural gas rises above $6.50 per gigajoule. Although the budget document states the rebate program wouldn’t kick in until October 2022, Dreeshen says he will do everything in his power to advocate for the relief sooner rather than later.