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Danielle Smith promises checks, tax breaks, utility refunds

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Alberta’s premier is tapping into the province’s surplus to help people struggling with the rising cost of living with refunds, tax breaks and checks earmarked for families, seniors and people with disabilities.

Danielle Smith made the announcement Tuesday in a nine-minute prerecorded speech broadcast on the 6 pm news.

He did not respond to questions from reporters and did not say how much the new initiatives will cost the provincial treasury.

His 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 revenues from oil and gas.

Smith began his comments by blaming the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for rising inflation.

“The severity of this crisis has been caused primarily by years of record spending and debt by the federal government in Ottawa, combined with the continuing series of anti-energy policies that are raising the price of fuel, electricity, heating, food and everything else we need to live and raise our families,” Smith said.

“As a province, we cannot solve this inflation crisis on our own. But because of our strong fiscal position and balanced budget, we can offer substantial relief so Albertans and their families can better weather this storm.”

Smith then outlined nine initiatives, some of which were previously announced. She called them “first steps” in easing inflation.

Inflation Relief Act:

  • $600 for six months for parents for each child under the age of 18, as well as each senior (family income less than $180,000)
  • $600 for six months for AISH, Income Support and PDD recipients
  • Suspension of all 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 starting in January
  • Provide $200 per household in consumer electric bill rebates (January-April)
  • Limit spikes in winter electricity rates
  • Continue the natural gas rebate program
  • Invest in food banks and transit passes for low-income people

‘BEST HEALTH CARE FOR ALBERTANS’

Smith also took a few minutes to talk about the work underway to improve Alberta’s health care system.

Last week, he replaced Dr. Deena Hinshaw as chief medical officer for health and fired 11 Alberta Health Services board members.

Dr. Mark Joffe will replace Hinshaw on an interim basis, and Dr. John Cowell will serve as system administrator.

In his speech, Smith promised more health care staff in emergency rooms, more convenient prescription filling and more options for “alternative care” outside of hospitals.

He also wants to see fewer ambulances waiting to bring patients to the facility and vows to complete more surgeries and reduce wait times by using “specialized surgical centers” and “underutilized” rural hospitals and operating rooms.

Health Action Plan:

  • Reduce waiting times in emergency rooms
  • Improve ambulance response times
  • Reduce waiting times for surgeries

“This will take time and patience, of course, but I am confident it will result in better healthcare for Albertans when and where they need it most,” Smith said.

On Friday, one of the board members Smith fired published a scathing open letter accusing her of abusive and divisive attacks combined with “distorted” anti-science beliefs.

“(Albertans) have a right to a principled government that upholds decency and inspires confidence in its citizens,” wrote Tony Dagnone.

“The current Prime Minister defies all of those aspirations as she hurls ludicrous accusations against the Alberta Health Services and its valuable workforce.”

‘BLACK HOLE OF BUREAUCRACY AND VOTE BUYING’

Smith also provided a brief update on his proposed sovereignty law, which he referred to Tuesday as the “Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act.”

The controversial bill he promised while running for leader of the United Conservative Party was branded “dangerous and damaging” on Friday by the heads of Treaties 6, 7 and 8, who vowed to fight the act.

Several UCP MLAs also spoke out against the act during the leadership race with former leader Jason Kenney calling it “mockery” and “Alberta’s suicidal act” during his final days in office.

But Smith stands by the idea, saying it will bring the country “closer than ever.”

“Canada is our home, and Canadians are family. However, the federal government’s treatment of the provinces, especially Alberta, is unacceptable,” the prime minister said in her speech.

“The Ottawa government intentionally and systematically attempts to control and regulate all aspects of our province’s economy, resources, and social programs. Through equalization and transfers, they funnel billions of their tax dollars into a black hole of bureaucracy and voting purchase agreements in other parts of the country.”

Smith also addressed recent criticism that he has faced.

Last week, a room of First Nations people erupted with laughter when CTV News Edmonton asked a panel of chiefs about their claim to indigenous ancestry.

And on Monday, Smith came under fire from the NDP for a 2021 video in which she suggested Albertans pay out of pocket to see a doctor.

“I know I’m far from perfect and I make mistakes… I’m no longer a talk show host or a media commentator,” the premier said without specifically naming what mistakes or comments she was speaking of.

“When I mess up or make a mistake, I will seek to follow the example of our late dear friend, Prime Minister Ralph Klein. Admit it, learn from it and get back to work. Because that’s the Alberta way.”

‘WE DON’T BUY IT’: NDP

Smith’s words on Tuesday are nothing more than false promises and reversal of “bad” UCP decisions, NDP leader Rachel Notely said shortly after the announcement.

“Decisions that have cost Albertans more than $2 billion to date. We’re not buying it. And neither should you,” Notley said in his own speech delivered live from Calgary.

“Many people won’t remember, but 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.”

Notley argues that Smith’s 2021 healthcare comments are evidence that he believes Albertans should pay “out of pocket” for family doctor visits, calling him “un-Canadian”.

“I pledge 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, doctor or paramedic when you need one in your community,” he said.

The NDP has pledged to reverse cuts to programs like AISH, the Senior Citizens Benefit, the Children and Families Benefit, and Income Support. Notley also promised to help Albertans cut the cost of gas, food and tuition.

Political scientist Lisa Young of the University of Calgary said Smith’s plan had something for all Albertans.

“Retroactive de-indexation of income tax rates will mean everyone will end up a little better off, and I think high income earners will really see the benefit,” Young said.

“With the removal of the provincial gas tax, drivers will certainly benefit. So it’s broad and specific. It will certainly be a significant amount of money, but it will allow you to say that you are taking steps to help with the gas crisis. affordability”.

With the UCP trailing the NDP in some polls, Young said it is not surprising that Smith is making this announcement ahead of the spring election.


With files from Michael Franklin of CTV News Calgary and The Canadian Press

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