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'I've seen jugs of milk last longer': Affordability payments expiry questioned by NDP

The Alberta legislature can be seen in this file photo. The Alberta legislature can be seen in this file photo.
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Alberta's United Conservative Party-led government was challenged Monday on why affordability programs like the gas tax holiday, utility rebates and targeted cost of living measures are scheduled to end by July.

During the return of oral question period, provincial cabinet ministers were asked about inflation relief measures and why they are slated to end, with projections by provincial economists indicating high inflation and cost pressures continuing through 2023.

"These programs all start expiring right after the polls close," Notley said. "I've seen jugs of milk last longer.

"No more affordability cheques, no more gas tax relief, no more rebates and Albertans will have to start paying off their deferred electricity bills," the Opposition leader added.

Premier Danielle Smith said she did not want the provincial inflationary support to "have an implication" on the election, with it slated for May 29.

"The payments will go on until June 30," the premier responded. "We will continue to look and hear from our constituents… and ask Albertans whether or not we continue to have the pressures.

"As we all know, leading into a winter season when you have electric charges, higher home heating bills, higher cost of gas and diesel charges, that's why we targeted winter."

Matt Jones, affordability and utilities minister, said the province has provided an estimated $900 of relief per household through the Affordability Action Plan and further targeted relief to families with children, seniors and vulnerable Albertans.

That includes the fuel tax holiday, utility rebates, and direct affordability payments for eligible Albertans.

"We will continue to assess inflation and cost of living and provide support to Albertans," Jones added.

When asked why only families with children received some targeted payments, Jones said, "families with children face higher fuel, energy and fuel costs."

"We wanted to make sure they got those benefits," he said.

According to Jones, to date, 1.8 million Albertans have enrolled and received affordability payments, and two million homeowners will qualify for electricity rebates until April.

From January to June, Jones says the fuel tax relief will save most drivers between $200 and $400.

"Albertans are seeing significant cost reductions and savings and inflation has eased more in our province than every other province in Canada," he added.

'THE MONEY IS ALREADY SPOKEN FOR'

Notley claimed the reason the cost of living support will end in June and not continue long-term is "the money is already spoken for" in the proposal formerly referred to as RStar.

That plan, developed by an industry group, would enable companies to use taxpayer-funded royalty breaks to fulfill their legal obligations to clean up old oil wells. Legal experts, energy economists and the province's own internal analysts have criticized the scheme.

The proposed program is not funded by the latest provincial budget, but "liability management" is listed as a key priority for both the ministries of energy and environment and parks.

Smith didn't directly address the implication, instead saying if Notley was concerned about the increasing cost of living, she would oppose further federal carbon tax increases.

'EXCESSIVE' DAYCARE WAITING FEES

Independent MLA Thomas Dang, representing Edmonton South, asked why the province isn't taking action on addressing rising non-refundable childcare waiting fees, which he says can be as much as $700.

"Why are these operators allowed to charge excessive waiting fees?" he probed.

Mickey Amery, children's services minister, said fees imposed by operators, whether for-profit or non-profit, are closely monitored by the government.

"I am pleased to announce daycare in this province has decreased to an average of $22-a-day and we are slated to get to a $15-a-day daycare fee within this year," Amery said.

"We will not waver when it comes to protecting all operators in this province, and we will continue to respect parental choice and make it accessible for all."

With files from The Canadian Press