Several rallies are set to take place across Alberta on Saturday to protest cuts to the public sector following the UCP government’s second provincial budget.
According to organizers, rallies are planned in Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray, Slave Lake and Banff.
The protests are being organized by ABCan Forward, a non-partisan and non-union group behind the large protest outside the Alberta legislature on Thursday.
In Calgary, protesters will begin at Western Canada High School at 11 a.m. and march to the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, then to a rally a city hall at 1:30 p.m.
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“I feel like you’re going to feel the effects of these cuts for years onwards,” rally organizer Stephanie Quesnel told Global News Morning on Saturday. “It seems like the budget is affecting the most vulnerable in our province right now.”
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Organizers said the rally will focus on key areas like education and health funding, as well as programming facing cuts, like Program Unit Funding (PUF).
PUF, offered to younger students with a severe developmental disability or delay, will no longer cover kindergarten students and instead will be offered to K-12 students through a learning support grant, according to budget documents.
“PUF funding is critical because it’s those kids that have challenges that are often developmental of some kind and they just need a little bit of an edge,” rally organizer Adam Quraish said. “To take away a critical component, and for what?”
Protesters are encouraged to wear the colour red to support those who are passionate about public education as well as to show unity.
Thursdays budget maintains operational funding at current levels for some core services: $8.2 billion for kindergarten to Grade 12 education and $20.6 billion for health.
On Thursday, the government said it plans to hold the line on salary hikes for public sector workers while continuing to reduce jobs, mainly through attrition. The government is also pursuing benefit and salary cuts from thousands of public-sector workers.
The province is projecting it will spend $26.7 billion on public-sector compensation while full-time equivalent jobs are expected to drop by 1,436 this year, primarily through attrition.
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“We absolutely respect and appreciate the significant contribution our public sector makes to Albertans every day. We’re committed to working with them,” Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews said on Thursday. “During this time of fiscal restraint, during this time of slowly bending the cost curve of the cost of government in Alberta to align with other provinces, we’re hopeful that the public sector will co-operate.”
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Organizers said protesters understand the fiscal situation the province is currently facing, but believe the belt-tightening is being done in the wrong areas.
“When the public sector is cut significantly, that’s what throws recessions into play, and that’s the stuff that destroys economies,” Quraish said.
“Anybody can come — it’s completely inclusive, whether you’re on this side of the spectrum or that side,” Quesnel said. “We want all voices there.”
The 2020 budget projects a deficit of $6.8 billion on revenues of $50 billion. Debt is expected to rise to almost $77 billion by spring 2021 and to nearly $88 billion by 2023.
—with files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich 
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