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Alberta announces extra $1B to create jobs repairing roads, bridges, schools

EDMONTON — Alberta is adding $1 billion to its budget to repair more roads, schools, bridges and potholes as a way to create jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier Jason Kenney said the plan will create thousands of jobs and any work will strictly follow health protocols to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"Albertans need work today, more than ever," Kenney said Thursday.

"Construction season is upon us. We cannot afford to lose a day when we need this money spent in the economy now."

Statistics Canada reported Thursday that the COVID-19 crisis led to a loss of one million jobs across the country in March, including 117,000 in Alberta.

Alberta also reported 28 new cases of COVID-19, elevating the total number of cases to 1,451. There were three more deaths, bringing that total to 32.

Kenney said the extra cash means a total of $13 billion has been directed to help Albertans during the pandemic, either through direct subsidies or deferrals on taxes and other payments.

There will be more stimulus programs to come as the United Conservative government determines the best way to recharge the economy after the virus peaks, he said. That's currently projected to occur in mid- to late May in Alberta.

"Right now our economy is still in a serious contraction mode, so it wouldn't make sense for us to blow all of our fiscal power, to use up all of our resources right now, when the economy is in contraction," Kenney said.

NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley lauded Kenney's $1-billion announcement as a smart way to get money out the door quickly to boost employment.

But she said more has to be done, such as an emergency rent subsidy of up to $10,000 per tenant, insurance premium freezes and reductions, and $5,000 to help a small business adapt to technology and keep operating.

"Today's job losses are staggering," said Notley. "And I fear, as Albertans, we will see a few more months like this to come."

Notley also called again for Kenney to reopen an emergency support program introduced last month to provide $1,146 in bridge funding to an individual waiting for federal supports, which have now begun.

Kenney said the provincial program, which has closed, was budgeted at $50 million but ultimately paid out twice that amount.

Notley urged Kenney to expand the eligibility to include independent contractors and small-business owners.

Also Thursday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced a massive temporary structure will be set up at Calgary's Peter Lougheed Hospital to handle an expected surge in patients.

The Calgary zone, which includes the city, surrounding communities and an area west to the mountain parks, has seen just over 60 per cent of all COVID-19 cases.

Shandro said the structure will be able to handle 100 patients.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical health officer, also responded to reports that some private gyms are operating and some golf courses are considering opening as the spring weather heats up.

She said gyms staying open is a public health violation.

"The risk of transmission is too great for spaces like these. I encourage Albertans to look at other ways to exercise without jeopardizing the health of others," she said.

As for golf courses, Hinshaw said staff can maintain the greens and fairways, but the courses are considered non-essential and must stay closed for now.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2020

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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