'Confounded and disappointed': Mayor Don Iveson tells Edmontonians how he really feels about the provincial budget
EDMONTON -- Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson says he's "confounded and disappointed" after hearing what Alberta's provincial government has planned for the new fiscal year.
Two of the mayor's biggest asks were not found in Thursday's budget: supportive housing and sustained funding for the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI).
“For a budget focused on health, recovery, and finding savings, I am confounded and disappointed the province is still not prepared to work with Edmonton on supportive housing," Iveson told media shortly after the province released its financial plan for 2021.
"Supportive housing not only ensures individuals with complex needs get off the street and into a safe home. In fact, we have evidence that housing reduces costs to health, justice and law enforcement budgets — right when the province needs to find these efficiencies the most," he said.
Iveson said the $5.9 million the city had hoped for from the province to operate supportive housing units being built in conjunction with the federal government would have paid for itself "in reduced interactions with the criminal justice and health care systems."
"In the context of today’s budget," said Iveson, "a $5.9 million investment will yield millions more in projected savings for the Alberta government."
Homeless and outreach support services saw a $3 million reduction from 2020.
Those same services were reduced by $1 million in 2019.
The province allocated a total budget $193 million for homelessness for 2021-22. That is the same budget allocation in 2022 and 2023-24.
But Iveson says that money is for shelters and social services, saying those programs are important but also "band-aid solutions."
Overall, the ministry of community and social services saw a $17 million increase in the 2021-22 budget.
MUNICIPAL SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVE
The mayor also expressed disappointment over cuts to the MSI.
Last week the City of Edmonton outlined its priorities for Thursday's budget - and sustained funding for the MSI was found close to the top of the list.
But it did not entirely come through.
“This minimum 25 per cent cut to MSI, spread out over the next three years, offsets the stimulus funding the province provided municipalities with last summer," Mayor Iveson said.
"This could ultimately result in net job losses across the province and in our city during the most fragile part of recovery in the coming years, against a backdrop of unemployment numbers already among the country’s highest."
Iveson said cuts to the MSI will hurt private sector jobs, namely in construction.
"Those jobs are at risk," he said. "That's the biggest issue, is that people do this work and there'll be, ballpark, $45 million a year less of this kind of work going forward in our city."
The mayor said as a result he would be asking city administration to report to council on which Edmonton projects are now at risk.
“We understand the need for fiscal restraint," said Iveson. "Which is why we have worked to flatten taxes, and why we have come to terms with several previous cuts to municipal funding. The province’s budget decision to further cut our infrastructure funding, which has already been whittled away, further impacts Edmonton’s momentum and will slow Edmonton and Alberta’s economic recovery."
ROOM FOR OPTIMISM
Edmonton's mayor did acknowledge Alberta Minister of Transportation Ric McIver for following through with his promise to provide funding for several key infrastructure projects in Edmonton such as the Yellowhead Trail Freeway Conversion project.
“I appreciate direct confirmation from Minister McIver that promised support for projects like 50 Street rail crossing, the West Valley Line and dollars earmarked for the South Capital Line LRT extension, have been maintained," Iveson said.
"Given the signals that have been sent about how dire the situation was, we've taken nothing for granted."
Mayor Iveson says he meets regularly with provincial ministers and plans to share his concerns with them soon.
"I speak frequently with the premier," he said. "I will share my disappointment the next time I speak with them."