EDMONTON – Brace for the worst.
That was the NDP government’s message as it tabled its first budget Tuesday.
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The province says times are tough, but they’re only going to get worse next year, when they predict another jump in unemployment to 6.2 per cent.
Since December 2014, it’s estimated that about 31,000 private-sector jobs have been lost. The NDP says it’s time to get Albertans back to work, and to do that it must borrow money – a lot of it.
“We need to maintain, we need to repair and maintain, and we need to create new for the growing population. Even though fewer people are coming here, they still come here. And they don’t bring their hospitals with them,” said Finance Minister Joe Ceci.
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The government’s Capital Plan includes spending on schools, hospitals and roads, even though we don’t have the money. They’re following the advice of David Dodge, former governor of the Bank of Canada. They hired him to provide his two cents; spending in a downturn is his mantra.
“As the economy slacks off, you squeeze the margins, and you squeeze the cost.” said Dodge
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This budget adds another 15 per cent, to hoist capital spending to $34 billion over the next five years. That’s up from the $29.4 billion the former Progressive Conservative government committed in its budget just seven months ago.
The big cities say there’s not enough in the plan for them.
“What we’re really looking at this year is just a holding pattern. We’re waiting to see whether or not they follow through on the commitments that they’ve outlined for the next five years, but for right now we only saw the MSI funding stay exactly the same as it was committed to by the previous government,” said Lisa Holmes, with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.
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The government insists borrowing for infrastructure will spur job creation. Ceci predicts 8,000 to 10,000 full-time jobs will be created through Capital Plan construction.
The province also created a two-year job grant program, which will allow companies and non-profits to collect a maximum of $5,000 for each new hire. They say it will generate 27,000 jobs, two-thirds of which would be full time.
Dodge says, in theory, this kind of program is a good idea, but adds, “those programs are hard to operate.”
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