EDMONTON — Just days before the Alberta legislature is set to return, Premier Danielle Smith addressed Albertans in a suppertime televised speech Tuesday evening, announcing a suite of inflation-fighting measures and promising to solve the issues plaguing the health-care system.
In her address — the first of its kind since she became premier in October — Smith promised better health care and several measures to ease the financial burden on Albertans.
She also acknowledged, after a rocky start to her premiership, that she was “not a talk show host or media commentator any longer,” and that while she has views on hundreds of subjects in the public domain, many have evolved over time.
“My job today is to serve each and every Albertan with everything I have and to the best of my ability, however imperfect that may be at times,” she said.
As in other provinces, inflation has hit Albertans, with the rate sitting at 6.8 per cent, year over year, according to the most recent provincial government estimates, Food prices have climbed by more than 10 percent, and energy costs by more than 13 percent.
Right off the bat, Smith took aim at the federal government, saying the crisis has been “primarily caused” by spending and a “continual string of anti-energy policies.”
“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 said.
Every family with kids under the age of 18 earning less than $180,000 will receive $600 per child over six months, Smith announced. Seniors will also receive $600 per senior in the home over the course of six months. Those on AISH, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, will also receive the money.
In April, under former premier Jason Kenney, the 13-cent fuel tax was eliminated as gasoline prices spiked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While it partially returned—at 4.5 cents—on Oct. 1, Smith has made the promise to completely eliminate the provincial fuel tax for six months, and Smith has vowed permanent fuel tax relief after that.
The government will also re-index payments for those with severe disabilities, and for those on several other assistance programs, and for income tax rates. Back in 2019, when the Alberta government was facing budgetary pressure, Kenney’s government paused indexation of income tax brackets and several social programs. This meant, basically, that the rate of funds paid out to those who depended on the programs was held stable, instead of growing with inflation, and tax brackets, too, did not increase annually. It garnered considerable criticism at the time, and from the other conservatives Smith ran against to become UCP leader. Smith has now vowed to re-index those payments and tax brackets.
Smith also promised a further $200 electricity rebate over the winter months, and additional funding for Alberta’s food banks.
What did not make an appearance, however, was some variant of Alberta’s famed Ralph Bucks, when former premier Ralph Klein mailed $400 checks to some three million Albertans in 2006. The idea of ”Dani Dollars” had been floated recently, and in neighboring Saskatchewan , Premier Scott Moe’s government is mailing $500 to some 900,000 residents.
Smith kiboshed the idea in a recent interview with the Calgary Sun, promising instead “targeted” affordability measures, and that handing out checks could well make inflation worse.
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On the health-care front, Smith spoke primarily about last week’s announced reforms to Alberta Health Services, and said the changes — including changes to 911 dispatch and finding a way to keep paramedics on the roads instead of in hospital — would “result in better health care for Albertans, when and where you need it most.”
“The answer is not the opposition’s plan to throw billions more into the system. They already tried that once,” Smith said. “It failed and nearly bankrupted the province.”
And, in a clear nod to the supporters who pushed her over the top in the UCP leadership race, Smith also spoke about her sovereignty act, which is expected to be the first piece of legislation tabled in the legislature. It will be, Smith said, “a constitutional shield to protect Albertans.”
“By restoring and respecting the constitutional rights of our creative and diverse provinces, including Alberta, Canada will become stronger, more prosperous and more unified than ever,” she said. “As Albertans, we must no longer ask permission from Ottawa to be prosperous and free.”
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