March 27, 2006

Budgets for 2006-07 target infrastructure, transportation in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec

Provincial budgets popped up like spring crocuses last week, featuring major spending initiatives by Alberta, Ontario and Quebec on infrastructure and transportation, including mass transit upgrading and expansion.

Record levels of capital investment by the Alberta government in all aspects of infrastructure can be expected over the next few years, thanks to a budget surplus estimated at $4.1-billion in 2006-07. Introducing Budget 2006: Strengthening Today, Securing Tomorrow, provincial Finance Minister Shirley McClellan indicated that the government will also use the surplus to help lower both corporate and personal taxes and increase savings.

Alberta's Environment, Energy and Sustainable Resource Development departments have all been allocated increases in the budget. Program spending for Alberta Environment has been budgeted at $143 million, up from $140 million for 2005-06, which included one-time capital grant funding of $5 million related to water and waste management assistance. Budget 2006 provides additional funding to continue implementing Alberta's Water for Life strategy.

This will be reinforced by Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation's capital plan for 2006-2009, which will invest an unprecedented $13.3 billion over the next three years in all types of infrastructure. The forthcoming three-year plan has grown by more than $4 billion compared to last year's three-year plan: capital spending in the first year alone will be nearly $4.2 billion, rising to $4.3 billion in the second year of the plan and $4.8 billion in the third year.

Of the total, $277 million will be directed to water management over the next three years. This includes advancing Water for Life strategy initiatives, specifically $126 million in capital grants to support municipal water supply and treatment, and wastewater treatment and disposal; and $7 million to enhance government monitoring of infrastructure. It also includes $15 million in infrastructure assistance for municipal wastewater management; $72 million for irrigation rehabilitation; and $57 million for government water management infrastructure.

Environment Minister Guy Boutilier said, "Water for Life is the most comprehensive water strategy in Canada...We've made significant progress over the last year and this investment will continue that momentum and accelerate the pace of meeting many of the goals outlined in the strategy."

Alberta Energy spending will rise to $219 million for 2006-07, an increase of $16 million from $203 million in 2005-06. Last year's spending included some one-time allocations for energy regulation and orphan well abandonment. Among the increases in the 2006-07 budget is a $14-million allocation for the Energy and Utilities Board.

Funded largely by a $10.5-million increase in the industry levy, it will accommodate improvements to regulatory requirements and operations practices relating to public and environmental safety and reliability, and adapting regulatory activities to new energy resources such as coalbed methane.

This year's budget provides $238 million for Sustainable Resource Development department programs, up from $225 million last year (excluding $96 million of disaster spending related to wildfires and mountain pine beetle infestation). The additional funding will help the department better manage the land through management activities on the public land base and enhanced land information systems.

The government will also undertake public consultation regarding values associated with the development of a Land Use Framework. This document will provide the context and guidance for land use, based on a foundation of good environmental management.

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