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NDP government announces Alberta budget and largest deficit in province’s history

With lines of red ink and a splash of orange, the Alberta NDP government unveiled their 2015 budget — with the largest deficit in the province’s history.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci tabled the budget on Oct. 27, 2015, just eight months after the previous Prentice government announced a $1.1 billion surplus. The Notley government budget reports a $6.1 billion deficit.

“This budget lays out a responsible economic plan that will serve as a shock absorber for our short term challenges and grow the economy over the long term,” Finance Minister Joe Ceci said.

One of those long-term goals includes post-secondary education.

In March, former Finance Minister Robin Campbell announced that the Campus Alberta grant would be slashed via a “phase-in” process, diminishing by $28 million (1.4 per cent) in 2015–16 and by $60 million (2.7 per cent) in 2016–17. The new budget will reverse the $28 million funding cut to post-secondary institutions.

$228 million will be budgeted for Student Aid programs, including $83 million for merit based scholarships and $53 million in grants — similar to the $227 million the Tories budgeted earlier this year. $579 million in student loans will also be provided for 77,000 students in 2015–16, the same amount the PC government promised as well.

The budget will also instill a two-year tuition and non-instructional fee freeze, where the two fees will remain constant over that span. The government will review the overall funding model for the Campus Alberta grant during the two-year period. Minister of Advanced Education Lori Sigurdson, who will be conducting the funding model’s review, said she’s looking forward to next two years.

“We’re very excited, it’s our first budget as a government and I think it demonstrates very clearly how much we’re committed as a government to invest in post-secondary education and making sure the sector is stable,” Sigurdson said.

In his budget address to the Alberta Legislature, Joe Ceci said the NDP government is restoring funding to the post-secondary sector, as education “is the single most important investment our province can make.”

“It means that university and college students are able to resume their studies benefiting from a two-year tuition freeze – a big relief from planned increases that would have made post-secondary education even harder for ordinary families to afford,” Ceci said.

University of Alberta Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Steven Dew said he was “pleased” with the budget announcement. He said the university submitted a number of suggestions to the Alberta government in a consultative process, one suggestion being stable and predicable funding.

“We’re certainly pleased that the budget follows through on all of the commitments and positioning that the NDP government rolled out earlier in their term,” Dew said. “This budget follows through on all of that, so no surprises, but very reassuring that the government maintains their commitment to the post-secondary sector.”

U of A Students’ Union Vice-President (External) Dylan Hanwell said he wasn’t surprised by the budget, either. The NDP government’s interim Bill 3, which was announced earlier this year, rolled back market modifier tuition increases for 25 post-secondary programs across the province and initially introduced the reversal of the $28 million previously cut and the two-year tuition freeze.

“Overall, we’re pretty happy and it’s just reinforcing that this is a long-term priority and post-secondary is a long-term priority for the government,” Hanwell said.

Hanwell still raised questions about the $1 million annual government grant for student mental health services, which is up for renewal in June 2016. Other than that, the budget appears to be “very student friendly,” he said.

“I think it also shows that the government is serious about making sure that tuition affordable,” Hanwell said. “And it’s something that we’ve obviously been pushing for a long time, so we were happy to see that as well.”

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