Braid: Smith pledges $2.4 billion of inflation relief in TV speech

This is the largest pre-election package ever offered by an Alberta government

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Prime Minister Danielle Smith uncorked a spate of anti-inflation benefits during a televised address Tuesday night, including a $600 payment over six months for all seniors and most families with children under 18.

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The total cost to the treasury is expected to be $2.4 billion for all measures, which also includes tax relief for fuel and personal income.

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This is the largest pre-election package ever offered by an Alberta government. The vote is on May 29 and the UCP continues to lag behind in the polls. The opening volley is called the Inflation Relief Act.

The $600 will be paid for each senior and child in families with household incomes of less than $180,000 a year. Smith said this is intended to include all “middle-income” families.

The same amount of $600 will go to all recipients of AISH and PDD benefits, as well as those receiving income support.

Smith also promised that the entire provincial fuel tax will be effectively abolished.

The current 4.5 cents per liter of tax, restored by former Prime Minister Jason Kenneywill be deleted.

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Smith said the full 13-cent tax break will run for at least six months, from January through June.

Drivers fill up their trucks at the Roadking Truck Stop in Calgary on Monday, November 14, 2022. Record diesel prices have been seen across the country.
Drivers fill up their trucks at the Roadking Truck Stop in Calgary on Monday, November 14, 2022. Record diesel prices have been seen across the country. Gavin Young/Postmedia

All sections of the provincial income tax will be re-indexed to inflation for tax year 2022, which means people will pay less in tax or get refunds.

Kenney-era deindexation will, in fact, be effectively abolished in all areas, including social payments.

The reindexation will apply to AISH, PDD, Income Support, the Senior Benefit and the Alberta Children and Families Benefit. Recipients will start receiving higher payments in January.

More reimbursement on electric bills will provide each household with an additional $200 over the winter, Smith said.

Winter price spikes will be “capped” by the government. The current natural gas rebate program to be continue.

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In finalizing this relief package, the Prime Minister also promised to “invest in food banks and expand low-income transit passes to ensure all Albertans have access to food and mobility for their families.”

“I will ensure that every decision our government makes between now and this crisis strikes a balance between affordability for Albertans and the need for continued balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility,” Smith said.

In response, NDP leader Rachel Notley said: “What we just heard was Danielle Smith claiming that she is going to solve the affordability crisis that the UCP government has contributed to, by reversing her own bad decisions.

“Six months before the last election, the UCP voted to increase benefits for vulnerable Albertans, only to then break that promise within weeks of taking office.

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“Here we go again. We couldn’t trust the PCU and we definitely can’t trust them now.”

Volunteers put together baskets of fresh and canned food at the Calgary Food Bank on Wednesday, October 26, 2022.
Volunteers put together baskets of fresh and canned food at the Calgary Food Bank on Wednesday, October 26, 2022. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

The cost of Smith’s program is unprecedented.

Former Prime Minister Ralph Klein’s “Ralph dollars” — a $400 check for every Albertan in 2005 — cost the treasury $1.4 billion in the most valuable dollars at that time.

The UCP considered a similar blanket program, but estimated it would cost $5 billion today, instead of the $2.4 billion on offer. (That could increase with other measures.)

Referring to surpluses resulting from high oil prices, Smith said, “because our province’s financial house is in order, we have the ability to help Albertans in times of crisis like this.”

In dealing with two other issues, health care and relations with Ottawa, Smith stuck to his hard line positions.

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He reiterated his belief that “we have too many managers and consultants, and not enough front-line health professionals caring for patients.”

Without announcing specific measures, he promised more professionals in emergency rooms, shorter times to transfer patients from ambulances to hospital care and more surgeries performed with shorter waiting times.

And he promised one of the most difficult feats of all: transferring more health decisions to local communities and health workers on the ground.

But Smith also tried to dampen the high expectations he generated with his leadership rhetoric. “This will take time and patience, but I am confident it will result in better healthcare for Albertans,” he said.

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He repeated his promise to introduce his Sovereignty Act, now grouped as: “The Alberta Sovereignty Act within a United Canada.”

She said that “these ongoing federal attacks on our economy and provincial rights cannot be allowed to continue. . . The federal government’s treatment of all provinces, especially Alberta, is unacceptable.”

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Finally, the prime minister urged people not to judge her for her many controversial statements when she was in the media and in advocacy roles.

The current controversy is over his previous statements that the Health Savings Accounts clear the way for private payment of health care – a position that your staff say you no longer hold.

“I know I’m far from perfect and I make mistakes,” she said, without detailing any specific missteps.

“Having spent decades in the media and hosting talk shows, I’ve discussed hundreds of different topics and sometimes taken controversial positions, many of which have evolved or changed as I’ve grown and listened to them.”

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

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