'A slap in the face': Mayor slams provincial budget

Heading into the provincial budget, Edmonton asked for money for supportive housing, public transit, COVID-19 relief for core businesses, and the city's World Cup bid.

But of the city's specific asks, it only received $5 million for downtown revitalization.

"I have worked hard to ensure that this government understands that we are here as their partners. In return, they gave us a slap in the face. I'm deeply disappointed," Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told media on Thursday.

"We asked for four basic needs that would help us to make life better for all Edmontonians. And we received next to nothing in return."

Sohi highlighted four specific budget requests to Premier Jason Kenney in late January, which he said were pared down to the "bare minimum needs" from a list of 12 at the request of the premier. Those asks were:

  • $49.7 million towards the construction of 552 supportive housing units, and $8.9 million a year to provide wraparound social services to inhabitants of the housing complexes;
  • Emergency operating financial support for the transit system;
  • Support to help businesses in the downtown core recover from the pandemic;
  • Support for Edmonton's bid to be a host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Sohi said that the $5 million earmarked for downtown revitalization was "added at the last minute to the budget just to say ... that they're doing something for Edmonton", noting a stark difference between what the capital city received and what Calgary got.

"When I look at the list of the capital projects being funded in Calgary and the lack of funding for our city, I can only assume that decisions are being made based on where UCP MLAs are," Sohi said, charging that politics rather than good governance seems to be driving decisions.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi in his office

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi spoke at a news conference after the provincial government tabled its 2022 budget.

City council's official budget submission had asked the province to invest in harm reduction and recovery services in the face of the drug poisoning crisis.

"We have Edmontonians sleeping on the streets. We have Edmontonians dying every day from the opioid crisis, the drug poisoning crisis that we have in our city. Those Edmontonians need help," Sohi said.

Edmonton had also hoped to resume talks on the Local Government Fiscal Framework, which will see infrastructure funding for municipalities drop when it replaces the Municipal Sustainability Initiative in 2024.

Sohi pointed to some of Edmonton's asks as a shared responsibility between the city, provincial, and federal governments. In the absence of provincial funding, he isn't sure where the money to fulfill those needs will come from.

It is also unclear what this budget means for transit funding recently announced by the federal government that is "conditional on provincial and territorial governments matching this federal contribution and accelerating their efforts to improve housing supply, in collaboration with municipalities."

Finance minister Travis Toews is scheduled to provide a post-budget address to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce on March 2.

Toews predicted a surplus of $511 million thanks to higher oil and gas prices, meaning the budget is essentially balanced for the first time in eight years.