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Alberta premier announces $2.4-billion affordability package

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is introducing $100 monthly payments for six months to seniors, people with disabilities, and for each child under 18 in a family to assist with rising costs.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is introducing $100 monthly payments for six months to seniors, people with disabilities, and for each child under 18 in a family to assist with rising costs.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / JASON FRANSON

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Assured income for the severely handicapped, seniors benefits to be re-indexed to inflation come January

Most Alberta families will get $600 for each child and senior citizen as part of a new affordability package coming from the provincial government.

In a televised address Tuesday evening, Premier Danielle Smith also said the government will re-index social support programs to inflation in January. They include assured income for the severely handicapped (AISH), persons with developmental disabilities (PDD) and income support.

It's part of a $2.4-billion affordability package Smith says will help all Albertans.

We can't solve this inflation crisis on our own, but due to our strong fiscal position and balanced budget, we can offer substantial relief so Albertans and their families are better able to manage through the storm, Smith said in her first televised address since becoming premier on Oct. 11.

High oil and gas prices and increased tax revenue are expected to leave Alberta with a $13-billion surplus at the end of this fiscal year, according to first-quarter estimates. The government will release its second-quarter fiscal update this Thursday.

In her address, Smith said her government will introduce an Inflation Relief Act in the legislature after it reconvenes next week. She said the steps her government is taking include:

  • Seniors and families with dependent children under 18 will get $100 installations for six months for each child and senior. Only families with incomes below $180,000 per year are eligible.
  • PDD, AISH and income support recipients will also get the cash instalments.
  • The government will suspend all of the provincial fuel tax for at least the next six months. Right now, there is a discounted tax of 4.5 cents per litre on gasoline and diesel. Thereafter, the province will adjust the provincial gas tax depending on the price of oil, as in the existing relief program.
  • As previously promised by Smith's predecessor, Jason Kenney, the government will re-index provincial tax brackets to inflation. The move makes it less likely that a worker would be penalized on their taxes when receiving a slight bump in pay.
  • The government will re-index for inflation AISH, PDD, income support, the seniors benefit and the Alberta Child and Family benefit starting in January 2023.
  • An increased rebate on electricity bills for consumers that total $200 per household. Smith did not supply further details.
  • Smith pledged to "limit spikes" in electricity prices in winter and continue with a promised natural gas rebate program that would kick in if the price exceeds $6.50 per gigajoule.
  • Invest in food banks and expand low-income transit passes. An announcement on food bank funding is scheduled for Wednesday in Calgary.

University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe said the cash benefits to seniors and families with children will have the biggest benefit for the lowest-income Albertans who have been hit hardest by inflation.

He said families with a couple of children could see their higher costs of buying basic necessities almost offset by the benefits. 

There are many ways the province could get the money to families, but a likely mechanism is via direct deposit from the Canada Revenue Agency, he said.

Smith likely chose the fuel tax as a cost reduction target because its one of the most visible expenses to the general public, Tombe said.

And the total $2.4-billion price tag doesn't raise fiscal concerns for a government with a far more sizable surplus, he said.

In her speech, Smith also reiterated her pledge to quickly address crises in Alberta's health-care system.

Last week, the premier dismissed the Alberta Health Services' board of directors and appointed Dr. John Cowell as an administrator to oversee the organization.

Smith said the solution isn't to throw billions more into the system, but target the most urgent problems, which she says are wait times for ambulances, emergency rooms and for surgeries. Her hope is to use more private surgical centres and lesser-used rural hospitals to give Albertans more timely access to procedures.

The premier also said she is also looking to gradually restore health care decision making to local communities and health professionals on the ground.

Smith also took swipes at the federal government, saying its treatment of all provinces, especially Alberta, is unacceptable.

The Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, which was a centrepiece of her party leadership campaign, will be introduced in the legislature next week when a new session begins, she said.

She reiterated that if the bill becomes law, it will be a constitutional shield to protect Albertans from perceived jurisdictional incursions by the federal government.

Notley also commits to health-care fixes, affordability

Smith's speech concluded by acknowledging that as a media commentator and talk show host, she had sometimes taken controversial positions.

Within the past year, Smith has said Ukraine should take a neutral stance in response to the Russian invasion — a remark for which she has since apologized.

Last month, she said people unvaccinated against COVID-19 were the most discriminated against group she's seen in her lifetime.

Smith said she will listen, learn, and be humble.

I must also be strong, focused and determined to do what I believe to be in the best interests of Albertans no matter how hard that is, she said.

In a short rebuttal speech Tuesday evening, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said several of the affordability measures involve the UCP reversing decisions the government previously made to cut costs.

With a fixed election date about six months away, Notley's campaign-style remarks committed that an NDP government would rebuild Alberta's public health-care system, promising local and timely access to doctors, nurses and paramedics.

We have an extraordinary group of Albertans who will get to work on day one, to make sure you can get the health care you need right now, Notley said. To bring real relief to your family budget that's there after the election.

She said an NDP government would reverse the UCP's changes to programs such as the Alberta Child and Family Benefit, seniors' benefits, income support and AISH. Notley promised to restart the largest affordable housing program in the province's history.

Janet French (new window) · CBC News ·

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