On February 25, our Government tabled Budget 2021.
One short year ago, we were on track to achieve a balanced budget significantly ahead of schedule. Yet after witnessing oil prices plummet to negative values and the economic impact of COVID-19, circumstances have changed and governments all over the world have been forced to adapt. Over the past twelve months our Government took action to protect the health and financial security of everyone living in our province. Budget 2021, centered around the theme of Protecting Lives and Livelihoods, reflects just that. Budget 2021 makes a historic investment in healthcare, funding it at its highest level in history. This includes a $900 million overall increase, $1.3 billion in new contingency funding specifically for COVID-19, $97 million to clear surgical backlogs caused by the pandemic, $143 million over three years for new health care facilities, $200 million to boost continuing care, and $140 million for mental health supports. Of course we recognize that additional funding is not the only way to reform and improve healthcare, which is why these funding announcements are complemented by the measures our Government has already taken to reduce surgical wait times by contracting some surgeries to chartered surgical facilities, and our decision to privatize hospital laundry and janitorial services so that all existing healthcare dollars can be directed into actual frontline healthcare delivery.
In addition to new funding to protect the lives of Albertans as we emerge from COVID 19, Budget 2021 also makes investments to strengthen and diversify our economy and protect the livelihoods of Albertans. Budget 2021 includes new financial supports for working parents, $3.1 billion in economic recovery programs, a $22 million increase to support tourism and destination management, and the continued advancement of the largest infrastructure stimulus spend in Alberta’s history – $20.7 billion to create 90,000 jobs and ensure our province is prepared for the economic growth ahead. While Budget 2021 makes strategic investments to grow our economy and protect the health of Albertans, it simultaneously recognizes the dire need to return to fiscal balance as promptly as possible. That is why Budget 2021 also seeks to find labour efficiencies across multiple ministries, keeps debt-to-GDP below 30 per cent, reduces spending to municipalities by a whopping 25 per cent, and most notably, rolls back public sector compensation.
Our Government understands that the best way to pursue a balanced budget is to grow our economy, and that’s what the strategic investments in Budget 2021 will do. If West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices can sustain themselves at $55/barrel over the course of this year, the projected deficit in Budget 2021 forecasted on a WTI price of only $46/barrel will reduce itself by $3 billion. If oil prices continue to rise from there and our economy continues to grow, Albertans can be confident that our province will be on track to fiscal balance once again in no time.
The Bank of Montreal, the Conference Board of Canada, and the National Bank of Canada are collectively projecting that Alberta will lead the country in both GDP and employment growth this year. With the WTI already rising more than $20 higher than the $46 price our budget is predicated upon, a suite of major private sector investments in our province spanning every industry from robotics to geothermal to film production, and the most competitive tax rates in North America, we can be confident that Alberta will remain the economic engine of Canada as we embark into this new year.
The future is bright for Alberta, and our Government will continue to unapologetically support our province’s economic growth and recovery as we put COVID 19 in the past. Budget 2021, “Protecting Lives and Livelihoods”, is the first step in a new and better direction.