Health care, education top issues during northern Alberta telephone budget consultation

Health care, education top issues during northern Alberta telephone budget consultationHealth care and education spending were top of mind for callers in a budget consultation telephone town hall hosted by the Alberta government Monday night.Finance Minister Travis Toews was on the line to take questions from anyone in the province living north of Red Deer. Southern Alberta residents will be able to participate in a second town hall Tuesday.Participants asked about a range of topics from the prospect of a provincial sales tax — something Toews said the provincially appointed MacKinnon panel advised against — to the plan to address orphaned wells around Alberta — something he said the government is looking for federal help with.There were also multiple questions focused on the provincial government's approach to funding essential services like health care and education.AHS review comingToews didn't take anything off the table when asked about alternative models to deliver health-care services. "I know [Health Minister Tyler Shandro] is looking at every model and every option around publicly funded health-care delivery options," Toews said. "We know that there's no doubt that alternative service delivery by independent clinics will be an important part of providing better value to Albertans in the future."Toews also said Shandro is currently reviewing a recently completed performance review of Alberta Health Services, which he expects will be completed soon. "I'm hopeful that there will be some very substantial recommendations that can assist us as we look to modify and vastly improve our health-care system," said Toews.Later in the town hall, Toews went on to specify that "efficiencies within the [AHS] management structure" will be considered but said that there are no plans to layoff nurses.Education fundingToews was also asked about plans for a new funding structure for Alberta's post secondary institutions that could see funding tied directly to performance expectations. The minister said he doesn't expect to see that applied to all levels of education."That will not be [the] identical approach on K-to-12 education," said Toews. "We committed to Albertan's during the campaign that we would not reduce K-to-12 education funding."He said that the education funding in the 2019 budget was the highest in the history of the province. That historic funding has not alleviated concerns of school boards around the province as they look for information on future funding. In December chairs of the Calgary catholic and public boards along with the Edmonton public board sent a letter to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange outlining their concerns about a planned funding freeze.An update from Edmonton Public Board chair Trisha Estabrooks dated January 16, 2020 was sent home with students. In it Estabrooks warns of "more difficult decisions lie ahead unless the provincial government provides us with adequate, predictable and sustainable funding."The province said in the lead up to budget 2019 telephone town halls allowed them to connect with nearly 35,000 Alberta residents.

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