Smith announces affordability measures including cheques, tax holiday, utility rebates
Alberta's premier is dipping into the province's surplus to help people struggling with the rising cost of living with rebates, tax breaks and cheques bound for families, seniors and people with disabilities.
Danielle Smith made the announcement Tuesday in a nine-minute, pre-recorded address broadcast on 6 p.m. newscasts.
She did not take questions from journalists and did not say how much the new initiatives will cost the provincial treasury.
Her office later revealed that the cost of the aid package is $2.4 billion. Alberta was on track for a $13-billion surplus, thanks in large part to high oil and gas revenues.
Smith began her remarks by blaming the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for rising inflation.
"The severity of this crisis has been primarily caused by years of record spending and debt by the federal government in Ottawa, combined with the continual string of anti-energy policies that are driving up the price of fuel, electricity, heating, food and everything else we need to live and raise our families," Smith said.
"As a province, 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 this storm."
Smith then outlined nine initiatives, some of which were previously announced. She called them "first steps" to providing inflation relief.
Inflation Relief Act:
- $600 over six months to parents for each child under 18 as well as for every senior (household incomes under $180,000)
- $600 over six months to AISH, Income Support and PDD recipients
- Suspension of entire provincial fuel tax for at least six months
- Index all provincial tax brackets retroactive to 2022
- Index AISH, PDD, Seniors Benefit, Alberta Child and Family Benefit and Income Support program beginning in January
- Provide $200 per home in rebates on consumer electricity bill (January-April)
- Limit spikes in winter electricity rates
- Continue natural gas rebate program
- Invest in food banks and low-income transit passes
'BETTER HEALTH CARE FOR ALBERTANS'
Smith also took a few minutes to speak about ongoing work aimed at improving Alberta's health-care system.
Last week she replaced Dr. Deena Hinshaw as chief medical officer of health and fired 11 board members of Alberta Health Services.
Dr. Mark Joffe will take over from Hinshaw on an interim basis and Dr. John Cowell will serve as administrator of the system.
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In her address, Smith promised more health-care staff in emergency rooms, more convenient prescription filling and expanded options for "alternate care" not in hospitals.
She also wants to see fewer ambulances waiting to transfer patients into facilities and is pledging to complete more surgeries and reduce wait times for them by using "specialized surgical centres" and "underutilized" rural hospitals and operating rooms.
Health-care action plan:
- Decrease emergency wait room times
- Improve ambulance response times
- Reduce wait times for surgeries
"This will take time and patience, of course, but I am confident it will result in better health care for Albertans when and where you need it most," Smith said.
On Friday, one of the board members that Smith fired released a scathing open letter accusing her of abusive and divisive attacks blended with “warped” anti-science beliefs.
“(Albertans) are entitled to governance that is principle-based, respects decency and inspires confidence in its citizens,” Tony Dagnone wrote.
“The current premier defies all those aspirations as she spews wacko accusations at Alberta Health Services and its valued workforce.”
'BLACK HOLE OF BUREAUCRACY AND VOTE-BUYING'
Smith also provided a brief update on her proposed sovereignty act, which she referred to Tuesday as the "Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act."
The controversial bill she promised while running for United Conservative Party leader was called "dangerous and damaging" on Friday by Chiefs from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 who vowed to fight the act.
Several UCP MLAs also spoke out against the act during the leadership race and former leader Jason Kenney called it "cockamamie" and "the Alberta suicide act" during his final days in office.
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But Smith is standing by the idea, saying it will make the country "more unified than ever."
"Canada is our home, and Canadians are family. However the federal government's treatment of provinces, especially Alberta is unacceptable," the premier said in her address.
"The government in Ottawa is intentionally and systematically attempting to control and regulate all aspects of our province's economy, resources and social programs. Through equalization and transfers they funnel billions of your tax dollars away from you and into a black hole of bureaucracy and vote-buying arrangements in other parts of the country."
Smith also addressed recent criticism she's faced.
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Last week, a room of First Nations people erupted in laughter when a panel of Chiefs was asked by CTV News Edmonton about her claiming to have Indigenous ancestry.
And on Monday, Smith was blasted by the NDP for a 2021 video where she suggested Albertans pay out of pocket to see a doctor.
"I know that I'm far from perfect and I make mistakes…I'm not a talk show host anymore or a media commentator any longer," the premier said without specifically naming what errors or comments she was talking about.
"When I'm wrong or make a mistake I will look to follow the example of our dear departed friend, Premier Ralph Klein. Admit to it, learn from it and get back to work. Because that is the Alberta way."
'WE’RE NOT BUYING IT': NDP
Smith's words Tuesday amount to nothing more than false promises and reversing of "bad" UCP decisions, NDP Leader Rachel Notely said shortly after the announcement.
"Decisions that have cost Albertans well over two billion dollars to date. We’re not buying it. And neither should you," Notley said in her own address that was delivered live from Calgary.
"Many people won’t remember but six months prior to the last election, the UCP voted to increase benefits for vulnerable Albertans only to then break that promise within weeks of taking office."
Notley argues that Smith's 2021 health care comments are proof she believes that Albertans should pay "out of pocket" for family doctor visits and called that "un-Canadian."
"I commit to you that an Alberta NDP government will end the chaos. We will rebuild public healthcare and make sure you can always see a nurse, a doctor or paramedic when you need to in your community," she stated.
The NDP pledged to reverse cuts to programs like AISH, the Seniors Benefit, Child and Family Benefit and Income Support. Notley also promised to help Albertans lower the cost of gas, food and tuition.
Political scientist Lisa Young from the University of Calgary said Smith's plan had something for every Albertan.
"The retroactive de-indexing of income tax rates will mean that everyone ends up a little bit better off, and there I think high-income earners will actually see the benefit," Young said.
"With the provincial gas tax being removed, certainly drivers will benefit. So it's both broad and targeted. It certainly is going to be a significant amount of money but it will let her say that she's taking action to help with the affordability crisis."
With the UCP trailing the NDP in some polls, Young said it's not surprising Smith is making this announcement ahead of a spring election.
With files from CTV News Calgary's Michael Franklin and The Canadian Press
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