Medicine Hat, AB — Alberta Education Minister David Eggen is visiting with school boards across the province as the NDP government builds its 2017-18 budget. Thursday, the minister was in Medicine Hat and Redcliff meeting with board members of SD76, Prairie Rose, and the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education.


According to finance minister Joe Ceci Alberta is still on course to run a deficit of $10.8 billion for the current fiscal year. Education is the second largest expenditure in the province after healthcare, and the education minister says they have some tough decisions coming up, but funding enrollment growth is something they’re committed to.


“We hear from school boards and teachers loud and clear that we need to make sure we fund our schools properly,” said Eggen after a tour of Isabel F. Cox in Redcliff.


By happenstance, Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt was also in Medicine Hat Thursday.


“You want to see funding enrollment growth, it’s important to do,” said the Strathmore-Brooks MLA. “But we have to make some tough decisions and the government’s not making any tough decisions right now.”


The province is currently in negotiation talks with the Alberta Teachers’ Association. For the first time the 40,000-member union representing teachers across the province is dealing with the government at a provincial basis when it comes to wages, and the education minister says talks seem to be going pretty well, adding that the ATA is well aware of Alberta’s current economic situation.


“The teachers of this province are concerned first and foremost for the kids and they make sure that they have a pretty clear understanding of the economic circumstances,” he said. “So we’re looking for ways by which we can allow more teaching opportunities and other issues are being negotiated as well.”


Fildebrandt though has said any public sector wage increases this year would be a “slap in the face to struggling Albertans”.


“People aren’t getting raises right now, people are just grateful to keep their job if they’ve got a job at all,” said Fildebrandt.


The education minister meanwhile contends negotiation talks with the ATA should wrap up sooner rather than later.


“I think that the progress has exceeded all of our expectations,” he adds.


Alberta’s 2016-17 budget for education was $9.8 billion, and this year’s provincial budget is expected to be delivered in March.