By Mabell, Dave on November 15, 2019.
Alberta’s governments have been running deficits, year after year, for decades. So it’s time to stop spending more than we can pay for, says Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf.
That’s why “moderate cuts” are being made to a number of government programs, the United Conservative Party member told participants at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.
When called on later to defend those cuts, Neudorf promised Thursday to look further into the impacts some are making to programs in Lethbridge. But he acknowledged ongoing cuts to the province’s colleges and universities will be felt by Lethbridge residents as well as post-secondary students.
“This is one of the most significant challenges for Lethbridge,” he said.
But in recent times, Neudorf said, the Alberta government was paying an annual $10,000 per student more than its counterparts in British Columbia and Ontario.
In the new budget, he added, there’s a strong emphasis on trades training – with Lethbridge College playing an important role in providing those courses.
Neudorf also highlighted the $24.2-billion allocation for capital spending over the next four years, reduced by about $1 billion per year – and the $40 million provided to respond to Alberta’s opioid crisis.
A significant amount of that should come to Lethbridge, he pointed out. Details of the government’s plan to address the drug issue will be announced in the new year, Neudorf said.
Overall, he said, the budget calls for a 7.7-per-cent reduction in Alberta’s public service personnel – and no pay hike for those who remain. That, too, will be felt in Lethbridge, Neudorf admitted.
“I feel myself pulled in two directions.”
Responding to questions, the MLA said cancelling annual “indexing”- adjusting for cost-of-living increases – is required to ensure AISH and other assistance programs remain viable. Alberta’s support cheques are higher than in any other province, he added.
Neudorf told another questioner the government-commissioned McKinnon Report’s authors were asked to report on expenditures, not provincial revenues because this province’s revenue streams can be so unpredictable.
Asked why the government’s $30-million “war room” operation is not accountable to Alberta taxpayers, the MLA admitted he couldn’t say.
“I do agree that the Alberta taxpayer funding that should have access to a lot of information,” he said. “I don’t have a clear understanding myself on this one,” but he promised to learn more.
Challenging the government’s assertion that services for children were getting more support, a board member of one of the city’s child-care agencies said it’s been told funding will be cut off next year.
“What is the truth?” she demanded.
Neudorf told another participant, concerned about the announced $3-million cut to the Lethbridge public schools, he’s been working with local school officials to see how reductions can be handled.
While no new schools for Lethbridge were included in the next four-year plan, he added 250 portable classrooms would be available to school boards across the province.
Pressed on complaints about Canada’s inter-provincial equalization program, Neudorf was reminded that Premier Jason Kenney was a member of the federal Conservative cabinet that approved the current rules.
But at that time no one thought a province would take advantage of it, he replied – by opposing the economic well-being of another province.
Audience members also registered concerns about government officials’ spending in London, about lenient treatment of newly arrested people in the provincial courts, about the future of the teachers’ pension plan and more.
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