Winter PEG 2019

The Watch

The Watch




AUSTERITY BUDGET FINDS ROOM FOR SOME INCREASES The province has delivered an austerity budget, but some programs and services have been spared. Some have even received cash injections. Alberta’s justice system will benefit from the hiring of an additional 50 prosecutors over the next four years, plus a $20-million boost for the drug treatment court and $50 million to bolster the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team. In the social services arena, more funding goes to help prevent human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and to relieve caseload pressure in Community and Social Services. Another $160 million is being dedicated to mental health and addictions treatment, opioid response, and palliative care. The budget reduced funding to most post-secondary institutions in Alberta by five per cent over the next four years, but Skills Canada Alberta, an organization that promotes skilled trades and technologies, will receive Urban infrastructure money from the province is being cut significantly. Over the next three years, the UCP will reduce municipal grants for Edmonton and Calgary by about $236 million. The Municipal Sustainability Initiative, created in 2007 to support city infrastructure projects, will be reduced by $94 million in 2020-2021 and $142 million in 2021-22. As well, Edmonton and Calgary face a shared $81-million loss over the next four years because the government is halving (over two years) another type of funding. It’s made up of the provincial grants the government gives the cities instead of paying property taxes. The budget also scraps city charter deals signed last year, which reduce what’s called base funding. With the charter agreements, the two cities would have shared $500 million beginning in 2022. Now they get $455 million, a drop of $45 million. The province plans to retain funding of $3 billion previously committed to LRT projects in both cities. But the money won’t be available until 2022-2023. As a result, there may be delays in large infrastructure projects, like Edmonton’s Valley Line West LRT in Edmonton and Calgary’s Green Line.

Over the coming months, both Calgary and Edmonton city councils will face some tough decisions. Unlike the province, cities in Alberta can’t run operational deficits, which means they rely on balancing the books through property tax increases, user fee increases, service cuts, and even project delays or cancellations. Smaller municipalities, including rural ones, also saw cuts under the budget, which likely means some of their projects will be cancelled or delayed, too.

LET THE SUN IN Freedom Cannabis relies on the sun to help grow its product—but not in the usual agricultural sense. - photo courtesy Freedom Cannabis


So, what is the big picture on resource use in the cannabis-growing industry? Unfortunately, there are no national Canadian statistics on the subject. But cannabis research firm New Frontier Group says American growers used enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes in 2017. When you look at that number, it’s important to remember that marijuana growing is more restricted in the U.S. than it is here. In some states it’s not legal at all.

Producing the green stuff isn’t exactly a green process, at least in environmental terms. Huge amounts of electricity, heating, pumps, ventilation fans, and water are needed to meet the demand for legal marijuana products in Canada. To reduce environmental impacts and cut costs, Alberta-based Freedom Cannabis is turning to solar in a big way, incorporating it into its plant just west of Edmonton. The company’s 1.8-megawatt, 4,574-panel rooftop solar array in Acheson went online this fall. The solar array will supply eight per cent of the energy required by the 126,000-square-foot facility, reducing Freedom’s greenhouse gas emissions by 1,000 tonnes per year and potentially saving the company $300,000 in electricity costs. The company acquired the $2.5-million system from the Alberta-based utility company ENMAX, an APEGA permit holder. Helping cover the bill was a $1-million grant from Energy Efficiency Alberta.

an additional $500,000 per year. This will bring its annual budget to $2 million, not including an additional $200,000 in provincial bucks to send four Albertans to the WorldSkills competition in Russia. The province is also tripling its investment in CAREERS: The Next Generation. It’s a program that offers paid internships and apprenticeships for students in the skilled trades. By 2022-2023, the program will receive $6 million a year, allowing it to double the number of schools involved and provide 6,000 students with paid internships and training each year. THE BUDGET IS LANDING A legislative staffer hurries to distribute budget documents in Edmonton. - photo courtesy Government of Alberta

40 | PEG WINTER 2019

WINTER 2019 PEG | 41

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