Before the budget was released, it was assumed by many that it would contain cuts to the public sector in the range of $2 to $3 billion. Though the budget released on February 9th did contain significant cuts, they were not as large as some had feared.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour and a partner in the Join Together Alberta coalition believes the public sector cuts were not as severe as they could have been. Through the organizing of town hall meetings, rallies and online campaigns, McGowan believes the work of the Alberta Teachers Association, the Alberta Union of Public Employees and the Join Together coalition helped to stave off some of the cuts that could have happened, and McGowan is convinced that, without the group's hard work, "the budget would have been much more brutal."
And the budget was brutal enough according to those concerned with public sector spending. A total of $1.3 billion cut from 14 ministries, with a goal of cutting $240 million more over the course of the year. Headlines covering the budget focused largely on increased spending on Alberta Health Services and school boards but the $1.3 billion cut will impact directly on many Albertans both as employees and as recipients of services. Areas hardest hit by this budget include housing, families, children, culture and education.
Join Together Alberta spent the months leading up to the budget traveling across Alberta holding town halls, meetings and rallies against cuts to the public sector, and this Saturday the coalition will join together again to march to the legislature and show support for funding to the public sector.
According to a budget analysis prepared for the Join Together Alberta coalition, the cuts, while spread over 14 ministries, target the things Albertans value "highly," including the environment, sustainable resource development, the arts, grants for post-secondary students as well as the vulnerable: children, youth, the unemployed, immigrants and seniors.
The Edmonton Social Planning Council's budget analysis found that with this budget, "the province is providing less than one-third of the required funding" towards its stated goal of ending homelessness in the province. They also point out that the budget for income support is being cut by $47 million in the next year-surprising, considering Statistics Canada released the latest employment numbers last week showing that job losses in Alberta are continuing.
Grants to students in advanced education and technology were cut by $54 million-this, while tuition increases are at the maximum allowable rate and universities are looking at non-tuition fees to increase revenues, making a university education in the province even less accessible.
At the same time, $28 million of funding was cut from child intervention services, an area where advocates have complained for years of chronic under-funding. This 6.8 percent funding reduction is to a service that is fundamentally concerned with the health and safety of the most vulnerable children.
There are cuts in many other ministries: Employment and Immigration has an almost 7 percent cut, Environment has over an 11 percent cut, and Culture and Community Spirit is facing a budget cut of 8.1 percent.
Even in areas where there were little or no cuts, the possibility of growth in need was not accounted for. The assumption is that fewer children will require care, fewer unemployed people will require assistance, fewer immigrants will require support, and fewer people will require assistance to pay their rent. But these assumptions seem at odds with the most recent employment numbers, showing that Alberta is the only province to see unemployment continue to rise, with nearly 15 000 jobs lost in February alone.
McGowan believes one of the lessons of this most recent budget is that "citizens can make a difference when they band together and speak out against deep cuts to public services."
Vue Week, week of March 18, 2010, Issue 752
Byline: Tiffany Brown-Olsen