Alberta leaving more than $675 million in federal emergency funds unspent: report

This article was originally published by the Edmonton Journal on January 27, 2021. You can read the full article below or read the original article here.

Alberta is sitting on the most unspent federal emergency COVID-19 funds, according to a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The Tuesday report tracked whether the federal or provincial government picked up the tab for COVID-19 measures in 2020, showing there is more than $675 million in federal money still on the table for essential worker wage top-ups, job training in hard-hit sectors, rapid housing initiatives, long-term care supports, and help for early childhood educators.

Almost every province is sitting on unspent federal money, with a total of $374 billion earmarked in spending between the federal and provincial governments.

However, Alberta left the most federal transfers untouched and grants not accessed, with Ontario close behind at just more than $660 million. Alberta received the most, on a per-capita basis, from the federal government, while spending among the least based on provincial gross domestic product (GDP).

That is largely because, as first published by the Alberta Federation of Labour in November, Alberta didn’t access the full federal amount available for the low wage essential worker top-up. Of the $348 million available to Alberta in particular, the province only accessed $12 million, leaving $335.8 million unspent, according to the report.

David MacDonald, the author of the report, said on the wage top-up, Alberta was an outlier.

MacDonald said once you adjust for each province’s capacity to spend, or GDP, B.C. is spending three times as much as Alberta.

“The federal government was a huge help in Alberta. Alberta received far more federal money on a per capita basis than any other province,” said MacDonald.

Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) president Mike Parker said the report illustrated a “mind-blowing” failure.

“This is just a shot in the arm that we so desperately needed, and it’s been denied to all Albertans, not just those working on the front lines of health care,” said Parker. He said he’s fielded hundreds of inquiries from members about the emergency money, but he has not been able to get further information from the Alberta government.

In November, Finance Minister Travis Toews said the wage top-up was being held up until after the labour and health ministries completed an “assessment of need.”

‘Profound negligence’: NDP

Adrienne South, press secretary to Labour Minister Jason Copping, said in a Wednesday statement that Alberta will spend $3.5 billion in COVID-specific funding beyond what has been budgeted for this year.

To date, Alberta has received $30 million towards the top-ups, which started with healthcare aides in contracted continuing care facilities and will be expanded to other sectors in the coming weeks, South said.

“Alberta continues to work with the federal government with the intent to secure the full amount of funds available for workers supporting Alberta’s pandemic response,” said South.

NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said at a news conference Tuesday the unspent money represented “profound negligence” on the part of the Alberta government.

“This is a government that goes running off to Ottawa to scream at them about them not putting enough money into Alberta’s economy. Let us be very clear, these hundreds of millions of dollars, if our government would step up and act on it, would go directly into the pockets of Alberta workers, and therefore directly into our economy,” said Notley.

According to the report, total spending in Alberta is worth $11,200 per person — with federal supports amounting to $10,400 per person in Alberta. The report also says Albertans actually receive $1,200 more per person from the federal government than any other province.

Business supports represent the largest portion of emergency COVID-19 spending, amounting to $5,500 for every Albertan, which were mostly driven by the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan program.

In Alberta, provincially-funded business measures are also large compared to other provinces, including accelerating the corporate tax cut to eight per cent.

The report also noted that Alberta and five other provinces don’t have sufficient plans in place to access the full amount of federal long-term care funds.