UCP passes 2020 budget with boost for healthcare during coronavirus outbreak

Alberta’s UCP government passed the 2020 budget early Wednesday morning, a move with Premier Jason Kenney said means the province is “fully funded to fight COVID-19.”

In a tweet Wednesday morning, Kenney said the $56-billion budget was passed just after 1 a.m. and included a $500-million boost to the province’s frontline health care workers.

The tweet included a video of Kenney and Finance Minister Travis Toews, who said the original budget had a record amount of money promised to healthcare, but after seeing the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, the government added an additional $500 million.

“We ultimately need to be assured that healthcare professionals in this country will have adequate resources to battle COVID-19 on behalf of Albertans,” Toews said in the video.

Kenney added that if Alberta Health Services comes forward with needs for additional funding to respond to the pandemic, the government would offer more.

‘We do not know when the virus might hit this building’

Kenney said the UCP received some criticism for pushing to pass the budget this week, but said it was an essential move for the government amid the public health crisis.

“We did this because we frankly do not know when the virus might hit this building in the legislature,” Kenney said.

“We want to keep sitting, we think it’s very important that we keep our basic institutions operating during this very challenging time and we have to keep democracy working in this province. That means keeping this assembly open to do the peoples’ business.”

Kenney said in the past few days, 14 MLAs were in self-isolation and the situation at the legislature could change at any time, which highlighted the importance of passing the budget in time for the start of the new fiscal year in a couple of weeks.

“Had we not passed this budget, and been delayed because of a COVID-19 issue here within the legislature, that would have basically left the government without funding to start out new fiscal year April 1,” Toews said.

“Which, under any circumstance would be unacceptable but considering the great challenge we’re facing with COVID-19, it simply — it would be inconceivable.”

Kenney said because so much has changed since the budget — aimed at balancing the books in three years — was presented three weeks ago, the government will be working on a revised fiscal plan in light of the ever-changing health situation and the reality of plummeting oil prices and the international recession.

On Wednesday, Western Canadian Select (WCS) dipped below US$10 per barrel, while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude prices tumbled to their lowest level since at least 2003, falling US$6.50 or nearly 24 per cent to US$20.83 per barrel.

The premier said the top priority is public health and that the government would “spare no expense to help keep people safe and healthy.”

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