Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told Albertans that help is on the way to deal with inflation and other cost of living hikes.
Premier Smith made a televised public address on Tuesday evening, to unveil a $2.4 billion affordability plan. Smith is two-weeks in as the newly elected representative in Brooks-Medicine Hat and little over a month into her role as Alberta’s premier.
Smith has said they would be examining more ways to help Albertans cope with cost-of-living spikes and on Tuesday evening she outlined what was to come.
“We are facing a very difficult time, as a country and as a province,” Smith said.
“We’ve been through a lot together these past three years, but still have many challenges ahead of us.”
Smith said the inflation and affordability crisis was caused by years of record spending and federal debt. She also blamed it on anti-energy politics that are driving the price of fuel, electricity, heating and food.
“Too many moms and dads are having to choose between nutritious food for their children and making the rising mortgage payments,” the Premier said.
Here are some of the measures Smith said would be upcoming:
- $600 over six months for seniors and families with kids under 18 (household incomes below $180,000)
- Suspend the entire fuel tax for the next six months
- Index all tax brackets retroactive to 2022
- Index AISH, PDD, seniors’ benefit, child & family benefit to inflation
- $200 more in electricity rebates for six months
Healthcare and Ottawa
Premier Smith also said that alongside inflationary pressure, Albertans are dealing with a big challenge in healthcare.
She praised the frontline staff and the work of doctors, nurses and paramedics.
“But we have far too many managers and consultants and not enough health professionals on the frontlines caring for patients,” Premier Smith said.
“Albertans are waiting too long for emergency room treatment or to have an ambulance arrive when they need it. Surgery times are far too lengthy, leaving many in pain or at unacceptable health risk.”
Smith said the answer wasn’t in the opposition’s plan to pour billions more into the system. She said maintaining the status quo wasn’t an option either. Last week, Health Minister Jason Copping turfed the AHS board and replaced it with a single administrator, Dr. John Cowell.
Smith also said they’d look at gradually returning health decision making to the local level.
On the Ottawa front, Premier Smith said that once the legislature resumed, they would be bringing forth the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act forward.
“This legislation is designed to be a constitutional shield to protect Albertans so that when Ottawa implements a policy or law attacking our economy or provincial rights, our government will not enforce these unconstitutional measures in Alberta,” she said.
“As Albertans we must no longer ask permission from Ottawa to be prosperous and free.”
Opposition leader Rachel Notley said they’re walking back their own policies
Alberta’s Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley said the NDP is offering trusted politicians that provide trusted leadership.
Notley said that Smith speech merely walked back prior UCP policies that cost Albertans more over the past three years.
“Six months prior to the last election, the UCP voted to increase benefits for Albertans only to then break that promise within weeks of taking office,” Notley said.
“Here we go again. We couldn’t trust the UCP then and we definitely can’t trust them now.”
While Premier Smith promised changes to healthcare, Notley reminded Albertans of a series of videos, one from as recently as June 2021, indicating Smith’s interest in having Albertans paying for their own healthcare.
“You can trust us to rebuild excellent health care that is accessible for all Albertans. You will get the care you need regardless of how much money is in your bank account,” she said.
Notley committed to permanently reversing the UCP’s cuts to Child and Family Benefit, the Seniors Benefit, Income Support and AISH.
‘We are clearly in the election season’: MRU’s Duane Bratt
Two Calgary political scientists provided their take on Premier Smith’s Tuesday evening address.
UCalgary political scientist Lisa Young said on first blush, there are a lot of Albertans who were going to be better off because of these measures.
“I think it’s pretty extensive,” she told LiveWire Calgary.
“It will make a substantial difference, particularly for larger families.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said while there were a few components to the speech, Albertans will focus on the inflationary measures.
“I think it’s going to be a very effective speech,” Bratt said.
“What Smith announced, I think it wouldn’t take much to see any Alberta government doing the same thing.”
Both Young and Bratt questioned the “inflationary” aspect to Smith address. Young said that it doesn’t matter if that extra money comes from deficits – as the Premier credited Ottawa spending with contributing to current inflation pressure – or if it comes from a windfall due to energy prices. Adding more money to the system would likely boost potential inflation pressure with more money circulating, Bratt added.
“It’s better to call it affordability measures,” he said.
The extent of the measures, all under the umbrella of inflationary measures provided a bit of political cover, both said. Many of the measures, as Notley had pointed out, were reversals of prior UCP action.
So, what’s the political impact?
Young said the measures are pretty broad reaching, but it’s unclear if they’re enough to get past the skepticism many Albertans have about Smith. It may compound the skepticism, particularly given the timing, six months out from a scheduled provincial elections.
“Those centrist voters who move back and forth between parties – how strong are their views of Danielle Smith, and is this enough to make them move away from their their prior views? Or does this just reinforce their notion that she’s cynical just trying to buy their vote,” Young said.
Bratt said with an election on the horizon, the most Smith could promise was six months of relief. But, he does think it will reverse some of Smith’s negative sentiment. Particularly because the relief was targeted and avoided the potential big income earners would also reap benefits.
“I think these are going to be very popular policies. It’s going to be tough for the NDP to really get traction criticizing them,” he said.
“We are clearly in the election season.”