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Alberta government increases healthcare spending

Sarah HoffmanEDMONTON – Alberta’s new NDP government announced it will increase healthcare spending in the province by 2.2% to $19.7 billion this year. That compares with the previous government’s spring budget, which called for a cut to health expenditures to $18.9 billion, after which funding would have stayed flat.

The announcement was made in the October budget, the Government’s first since it came to power in Alberta earlier this year. A 4% hike to more than $20.3 billion is set for next year, followed by a 3% increase the year after.

However, the NDP government did cut spending to Primary Care Networks, which will share $168 million. That’s a reduction of about $50 million from what they are projected to spend, and the organizations must make up the difference by dipping into their reserves.

As for infrastructure, $830 million has been budgeted over the next five years toward the new Calgary Cancer Centre. Initial estimates from the PC government pegged the cost of an all-under-one-roof Calgary cancer centre at $1.3 billion, a price tag that current Health Minister Sarah Hoffman (pictured) said might be exaggerated.

Hoffman said in July she weighed all options and decided Foothills Medical Centre was the best site at which to build the cancer centre. She said she thinks it’s possible to build the centre for less than the $1.3 billion originally budgeted when the project was announced by Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government two years ago.

Edmonton was largely shut out, with just $10 million going to each of the Misericordia and Royal Alex hospitals to plan future projects. Both hospitals are old, and there have been repeated calls for development of both.

Earlier, the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation sounded the alarm over the declining state of the 1960s-built main facility in its 2013-14 Report to the Community. It said “aging infrastructure makes it difficult to maintain operations at an emergency department that handles more surgeries than any other Alberta hospital.” The PC government was also under fire to replace the 45-year-old Misericordia, which has been plagued with problems, including floods.

The government suggested more substantial sums for those projects is likely to show up in future budgets, once more details are finalized.

It’s possible the money could come from $4.4 billion of capital funds that are still unallocated, though the government is planning to use a substantial portion of that to build 2,000 new long-term care spaces.

Alberta’s infrastructure plan was created with advice from former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge. He says in his report it’s best to spend in a bad economy and save in the good times.

The Alberta budget’s total expenses are pegged at $49.9 billion, a $1.5 billion increase in spending from the PC plan. Total revenue is estimated at $43.8 billion, $2 billion less than the PC Plan.

The government has projected oil prices at $50 per barrel, increasing to $61 per barrel in 2016 and $68 per barrel in 2017. It expects to take in $2.8 billion from non-renewable resource revenues in 2015-16, a drop of $6.2 billion from 2014-15.

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