What albertans got – and did not get – in federal budget – the globe and mail

The federal Liberal budget released this week makes a key acknowledgement about the struggling Alberta economy: Its weakness is affecting just about everyone else in the country.

The document estimates 65,000 job losses since October, 2014, with 95 per cent of them directly related to the oil sector.

But just what to do about it is the subject of much disagreement amongst the political parties.

The Liberals, whose budget forecasts a $29.4-billion deficit this year alone, say marquee items such as middle-class tax cuts, billions in infrastructure spending and the enhanced Canada Child Benefit payments will help all Canadians by stimulating the economy – including Albertans, who need more money in their pockets.

“With the Alberta economy the way it is, in difficult times, those large structural investments we make are going to pay dividends to both businesses and communities, and those in the middle class and those who struggle,” Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, who represents the riding of Calgary Centre, told The Globe and Mail.

The Liberals already announced a $251-million “stabilization” payment to the province, reiterated in their fiscal road map this week.

But there are only a few Alberta-specific promises in the budget, which include: $347-million for public transit over three years; $65.9-million for a new biking and walking trail in Jasper National Park; and several million in joint funding with a number of provinces on initiatives such as food safety, economic development for Métis, and projects to support Canadian Forces reserves, including investments to repair and maintain armouries.

The big spending pitches for the entire country are broad: $11.9-billion over five years for infrastructure projects, including transit and social housing, and $405-million this year alone in enhanced Employment Insurance benefits for 12 hard-hit areas across the country, although only the northern and southern parts of Alberta are eligible.

Excluding Edmonton-area workers from EI relief is “stunning” to NDP MP Linda Duncan, who hopes the government reconsiders by enhancing benefits for those who work in the oil and gas sectors. The Liberals say Edmonton has a higher rate of employment, and that’s why it wasn’t included in the benefit extension.

“There are a lot of workers who work in the oil sands, and in that surrounding area, who live in Edmonton,” Ms. Duncan said. “The ones that will go back to the Maritimes will get quicker access and longer EI, but the guys who work side-by-side with them, who happen to live in Edmonton, won’t.”

Conservative MP Ron Liepert points out that the Liberals reneged on their promise to lower the small-business tax rate to 9 per cent from 11 – committing only to lowering it to 10.5 per cent in the budget.

“I’m really fearful that as the economy continues to stay weak, that small business may be the one area that’s going to start to really suffer,” said the MP for Calgary Signal Hill.

Mr. Hehr counters that the other measures in the budget will help small-business owners overall.

“More important than a tax cut, they need customers,” he said.

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