Skip to main content

Tag: Government of Alberta

Hands on a steering wheel with instructor on the side

​​Advanced road tests eliminated for GDL drivers

Advanced road tests are no longer required for Alberta drivers currently in the graduated driver licensing program. For those with clean records, this represents savings of $154 for the advanced road test to get a full Class 5 or Class 6 licence.

During his April 1 announcement, Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen noted that basic road test requirements would be stepped up at the same time.

Eligible GDL drivers are those with no suspensions or demerits within their last 12 months of probation. This includes zero tolerance for any alcohol or drug consumption. To exit the program, drivers must also have completed 24 months of probationary driving and be at least 18 years of age.

Drivers who exhibit poor driving behaviours, incurring demerits or tickets for other unsafe driving offences in the last 12 months, will have their probationary period extended for an additional year.

About 700,000 people are currently  in the GDL program, with around 500,000 potentially able to exit the program under the new rules.

“This number continues to grow because the advanced road test is a costly administrative hurdle that causes many drivers to just simply not take that test,” Dreeven said.

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

“The actual experience of being behind the wheel, demerit and suspension free, is a way better indication that a driver is actually ready for a full driver’s licence here in Alberta,” he added.

In the past five years, about 65 per cent of eligible GDL drivers did not take their advanced road test, along with 99 per cent of motorcycle riders.

“Existing GDL drivers who meet the requirements will automatically exit the GDL program and will receive a letter from the Government of Alberta confirming that they have exited the program,” said Dreeven.

The letters will automatically be issued beginning June 25.

In the meantime, all restrictions of current GDL licences remain in place until drivers receive their letters.

Those with an urgent need to exit the program — needing a non-GDL licence for a job, for example ­— can go to a registry office to confirm their eligibility. Registry agents can determine eligibility and issue a non-GDL licence at no cost.

Removal of the requirement of an advanced road test took effect April 1.

Travis Toews, man with short grey hair and glasses, and dressed in a blue suit jacket, white shirt and blue tie, speaks to reporters

UCP unveils Budget ’23 ahead of spring election

Finance Minister Travis Toews tabled Alberta’s 2023 budget Feb. 28, predicting a $2.4-billion surplus through a fiscal plan that relies heavily on oil and gas royalties to swell Edmonton’s coffers.

The budget, released roughly 90 days ahead of this spring’s provincial election, contains a massive bump in health-care spending and a plan to boost policing. 

Speaking to rural journalists the next day, Toews touted the United Conservative Party’s “fiscal responsibility” since taking over from Rachel Notley’s NDP in 2019. The UCP has done much “heavy lifting” to curb the government’s per-capita spending, which had been roughly $10 billion higher in Alberta than in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, the minister said. 

Fiscal responsibility remains “a key theme” in this year’s budget, with Toews outlining legislative steps to rein in deficit spending in the years ahead.

 

Display of fall clothing at at Emerald & Ash Clothing in Crowsnest Pass.

 

“Those fiscal rules will require a balanced budget, with appropriate exceptions [for heavy revenue shortfalls, sudden emergencies, etc.], and the fiscal rules will provide a strategy and a framework for surplus management.” 

Budget 2023 projects roughly $71 billion in revenue by the end of next March, $18 billion of which is expected to come from oil and gas. 

“The fact is, Alberta has a volatile revenue structure. We do still depend to a significant degree on royalty income [from non-renewable resources] to cover operational spending,” Toews acknowledged, qualifying in the next breath that Alberta’s economy was rapidly diversifying. 

Vowing that “support levels for our most vulnerable cannot be dictated by globally set commodity prices,” Toews highlighted several commitments to boost health care, many of which had been announced before budget day. 

 

Young girl in multi-coloured jacket and bright pink helmet and ski pants, grins broadly while skating with arms outstretched.

 

To that point, the budget provides nearly $1 billion to shave ambulance wait times, plus $4.2 billion over the next three years to boost health care in rural and Indigenous communities. 

The budget meanwhile provides 13 per cent more for the ministries of Justice and Public Safety. Toews said he would hold Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis accountable for putting 200 extra law enforcement officers on Alberta streets, mostly in the form of provincial sheriffs. 

Toews did not say how much money the province has spent on exploring the possibility of replacing the RCMP with an independent Alberta Police Service, echoing Ellis’s comments last month that the government hasn’t made up its mind. 

“We’ve obviously made no decision as would be reflected in this budget. But we have made a decision to increase enforcement in the meantime,” Toews said.

 

 

Notley’s NDP panned the budget, pouring scorn on Danielle Smith, who succeeded former premier Jason Kenney last fall.   

“Frankly, the best news in Danielle Smith’s first budget is that it could be her last one because, very soon, Albertans will have a choice to turn the page,” Notley said. 

The Opposition leader swung at Smith’s contentious revamp of the province’s RStar program that rewards petro companies for meeting their legal obligations to reclaim spent oil wells, calling Budget 2023 “a fraudulent budget designed to buy votes ahead of the election and then spring the costs on Albertans after the polls have closed.”

 

Blue mailbox with envelopes spilling out of it in the breeze symbolizing letters to the editor, op-eds and submitted content

Who is minding Alberta’s fish and wildife?

Probably by the time you read this, your search will be endless for fragments of the old Fish and Wildlife Division. It will not exist under any recognizable name or department.

This was the Alberta government agency that inventoried and assessed fish and wildlife populations, allocated opportunity for hunting and fishing, determined species at risk and their recovery, ran fish hatcheries, provided hunter training and conservation education, enforced fishing and hunting rules, and, most importantly, provided advice on proposed land uses to ensure fish and wildlife populations were conserved.

The UCP government has been stealthily engaged in the final gutting of what was left of the Fish and Wildlife Division. Fish and wildlife allocation has been hived off to Forestry, Parks and Tourism, under the auspices of a minister who coincidentally has one of the largest guiding and outfitting companies in Alberta. I’m sure that isn’t a conflict of interest.

The fish culture section (all the hatcheries) has been sent to Agriculture and Irrigation, leaving the species-at-risk function behind in Environment and Protected Areas.

Previous conservative governments transferred enforcement (the Fish and Wildlife officers) to the Solicitor General’s department. Much of the fish and wildlife inventory and habitat development function went to the non-government Alberta Conservation Association. Resource education was privatized under the Alberta Hunter Education Instructors Association. 

 

Bottle of Huckleberry Tea Liqueur against purple background on an ad for Lost Things Distillery in Pincher Creek.

 

The UCP touts grass roots democracy and red tape reduction. Yet, none of these recent changes have had any public consultation, let alone input from conservation organizations. As to red tape reduction, how parcelling out the functions of fish and wildlife management between four government departments and two non-government organizations makes things more efficient defies logic.

These changes are the equivalent of sending hospitals to Municipal Affairs, family health to Education, trauma and emergency services to Transportation, and diagnoses to Public Safety. It’s hard to imagine any successful business that would operate on such an unco-ordinated and non-integrated approach.

Like a successful business the delivery of government programs, in the public interest, need to function in an integrated way under the umbrella of one departmental administration with a similar purpose and direction. 

For fish and wildlife to be managed well, there needs to be adequate, timely inventories of populations; an assessment of what the allocation should be to hunting and fishing interests; ways to monitor population responses to harvest; robust habitat protection; policy development to ensure biodiversity is always part of government agendas; responses to the legal (and moral) requirements for species at risk, with necessary recovery actions; provision of additional recreational angling opportunities through fish hatchery operations; and a level of enforcement to ensure rules are followed.

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

These functions are not divisible, hinge upon each other, and can only work as a unified whole.

How fish and wildlife management and conservation will happen, in such a fractured way, between four departments, all with differing mandates, priorities and directions, is a question unanswered (it may be the question was never thought of at all).

The real risk is that our fish and wildlife populations will slip through the bureaucratic cracks, the intents for conservation will be weakened, and red tape will increase with interdepartmental conflicts over mandates, budgets and staff levels.

I admit some bias in this assessment as I was a part of the Fish and Wildlife Division before the hemorrhaging began, when it was still considered one of the elite fish and wildlife agencies in North America.

Like selling provincial parks and throwing the eastern slopes open to coal exploration, gutting fish and wildlife management is another example of how out of touch the UCP is with Albertans over the conservation of resources considered as provincial treasures. It speaks to a most extraordinary and dangerous hubris.

Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.

Lethbridge

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

 

Tires on ad for safe winter travel with winter tires from Fountain Tire in Pincher Creek

 

 

You may also be interested in:

If the trout are gone, is it still Trout Creek?

Reader opposes Sovereignty Act

Dream to conserve the Yarrow comes to fruition

 

 

More Local Stories

 

 

Alberta government 2022 highlights from MLA Roger Reid

Our communities have received significant levels of investment and support from the Alberta government, and I am proud of the role I have been able to play in this. Alberta is leading the nation in job growth, which means our neighbours are going back to work and providing for their families again. And with investment pouring back into our province across a variety of sectors, I anticipate more growth ahead.

Our government is committed to tackling this affordability crisis, fixing our health-care system, maintaining our economic momentum and making life better for all Albertans.

Even though our economy is strong, far too many Alberta families are struggling to pay their bills right now due to inflation. To help families cope with these costs, we have passed a landmark inflation-relief package that will make life better for all Albertans, but particularly our most vulnerable.

This package includes targeted relief payments to seniors and families with dependent children under 18 whose household incomes are under $180,000 per year, as well as to Albertans receiving AISH, PDD and Income Support.

We have also introduced inflation relief that is non-targeted and benefits a wider segment of Albertans through making fuel and electricity more affordable.

We are cutting the full 13-cent fuel tax on gas and diesel between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2023, regardless of oil prices. This will ensure Albertans continue to pay among the lowest fuel prices in Canada.

 

 

In addition, we are providing $500 in electricity rebates for 1.9 million households, farms and small businesses. This will help Alberta households cope with high electricity prices at this challenging time of year. 

We can provide this substantial relief because our budget is back in balance and our fiscal position is strong. Alberta is succeeding again, and our United Conservative government is committed to reinvesting that success into everyday Alberta families, so they can grow and thrive. Our government has continually prioritized a balanced budget and strong fiscal policy, which has led to our thriving economic position.

Additionally, we have continued to focus on our resources and the economic growth that comes from diversifying and supporting these large industries. I am proud that our government has embraced these industries that help make Alberta the wonderful and successful province we all know and love.

Another major focus of our government is health-care reform. We have heard repeatedly from people across our province that changes need to be made to our health-care system. This is one of the reasons that our government is working to take immediate action to have AHS improve EMS response times, decrease surgical backlogs and cut emergency room wait times.

Additionally, our government knows that rural health care is unique and requires a different approach. This is why we are working to address health-care staffing challenges, particularly in rural areas, through improving health workforce planning, evaluating retention policies, leveraging the scope of allied health professionals, streamlining immigration and certification processes, and further increasing the number of training seats for health-care professionals in Alberta.

 

Solar panel on ad for Riteline Electric in Pincher Creek

 

We are also working with municipalities, doctors and allied health providers to identify strategies to attract and retain health-care workers in rural Alberta.

These steps are just a part of the more long-term changes that will strengthen our health-care system and ensure that everyone has access to timely high-quality care.

One of the steps we are taking to do this is looking into creating more spots in post-secondary institutions for health care related fields. This will help ensure that more Albertans are able to pursue this valuable education closer to home. We are also looking into continued long-term consultation with front-line workers to improve the decision-making processes in our health-care system.

I am hopeful that these steps will be the foundation of ensuring our province and our people continue to have world-class health care for generations to come. 

 

 

These are just a few of our major government accomplishments this past year. Our government is committed to continually taking steps to improve life here in Alberta. We are doing this by introducing legislation that is beneficial to Albertans in the most valuable ways while maintaining a strong fiscal position.

These types of policies have helped to stimulate our economy, which has led to our continued economic success. I am proud to be a part of a government that prioritizes not only what is best for our province but what is best for our people.

I look forward to seeing the continued success of our wonderful province and communities over the upcoming year. I know that this success would not be possible without all the wonderful people who call our communities home, which is why I would like to extend my sincerest wishes of a happy holiday season to you and your families. 

May 2023 be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for all!

Roger Reid
MLA, Livingstone Macleod

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping giving bill 4 announcement from a podium in front of a background of provincial and Canadian flags.

Bill 4 announcement met with skepticism at Pincher Creek hospital

 

Pincher Creek’s chief doctor remains skeptical about prospects for an enduring partnership between Alberta doctors and the provincial government after Bill 4 announcement.

Dr. Gavin Parker, community medical director at Pincher Creek Health Centre, spoke with Shootin’ the Breeze Dec. 5, shortly after Health Minister Jason Copping vowed to repeal the province’s authority to unilaterally scrap its funding commitments to the Alberta Medical Association, which represents roughly 1,600 practising physicians across the province.

Copping said the Alberta Health Care Insurance Amendment Act, 2022 (Bill 4) heralds “a collaborative environment founded on mutual respect and trust” more than two years after the United Conservatives, under then-premier Jason Kenney, ended the AMA’s contract and imposed a new one.

The amendment, which Copping endorsed alongside AMA president Dr. Fredrykka Rinaldi, underscores a deal that the two sides brokered over the summer and which was ratified in September by 70 per cent of doctors, Copping said.

The UCP government will undo section 40.2 of the original act, used by former health minister Tyler Shandro in February 2020 to terminate the AMA’s last contract. In return, the AMA will drop its pending lawsuit against the government.

The proposed legislation comes roughly a week after Edmonton removed a cap on the number of daily patient visits that doctors can charge to Alberta Health Services.

 

Chinese noodle dish and chopsticks on ad for Bright Pearl Restaurant in Pincher Creek

 

The amendment pledges $750 million to “stabilize the health-care system” over the next four years, delivering a more than five per cent pay bump for family doctors. It also holds out “the potential” for binding arbitration should future contract negotiations break down, according to Copping.

Rinaldi thanked Copping for making a show of good faith, but stopped short of a glowing prognosis.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a panacea,” she told reporters. 

Over at Pincher Creek Health Centre, Dr. Parker was less optimistic. Most of Bill 4’s substance had been hammered out months earlier, he said. Meanwhile, the medical community is perhaps less willing to trust the UCP than Copping let on.

“That’s great that they’ve said they’d take (section 40.2) off the books. But, I don’t think we can safely assume this kind of legislation will never come back,” Parker said. 

The health centre and attached medical clinic now have five full-time doctors, less than half of the 11 docs that were on-staff when Shandro tore up their contract.

 

Beauty products on ad for Providence Salon & Spa in Pincher Creek

 

“It was pretty disastrous at the time,” Parker remembered.

Two doctors left the health centre to practise in urban centres in Alberta. One left the province altogether, highlighting the AMA’s aborted contract in their resignation letter. Others left to retrain in other medical specializations, while another doctor retired, according to Parker.

The health centre has recently brought on extra staff and “Alberta is still a great place to practise medicine,” Parker said, noting that doctors are paid well.

Surgeries are still performed at the health centre. “We’re one of a few places that still provide obstetric care,” while there’s none to be had in neighbouring Fort Macleod or Cardston, Parker said.

And the clinic has held on to its patients, despite the shortage of doctors.

“But, it’s been really tough,” Parker said, “because we haven’t been able to provide the same level of service and efficiency that people have come to expect.”

 

 

Emergency room patients with routine health concerns can wait up to eight hours to see a doctor if that doctor is busy performing a cesarean section, he said.

The health director also praised former health minister Shandro for his role in bringing a new CT scanner to the health centre.

“I’m glad to see the province’s finances are better now than when we were looking at contract negotiations a few years ago,” Parker said.

Watch news conference

Reader opposes Sovereignty Act

 

If adopted, the Sovereignty Act will forever change how Alberta functions inside or outside of Canada.

There has been a lot of press coverage of the Sovereignty Act over the past few months. It was a major plank in Danielle Smith’s campaign to become leader of the UCP.

As we all know, Danielle won with just over 60,000 votes, in a province with more than four million citizens. With that as a mandate, she took over as premier, and has embarked on a program that will fundamentally alter the relationship of Alberta with the rest of Canada.

The premier had repeatedly asked that the Sovereignty Act not be judged until it had been tabled in the legislature. That happened last week, and there were some surprises in the package the government submitted.

Taking the premier at her word, I read the act carefully, and was surprised. I am not a lawyer, but I cannot help but think most members of the cabinet must have skipped the high school classes on how our democracy works.

The first and most important point is that you rarely get everything you want. You have to be gracious when you win, and accept it when there are outcomes you are unhappy with.

Canada and its laws are not a smorgasbord. You do not get to pick and choose the laws that you like, and ignore the ones you do not like.

If you believe a law, any law, is wrong, there are ways to express your views. The most serious is to take the law to court, and to abide by the ruling.

If we adopt a pick-and-choose approach, things start to fall apart. If the provincial government can ignore certain laws, why couldn’t a city do the same thing to provincial laws? Indeed, why would a private citizen be required to follow a law that disadvantaged them?

The situation gets even more complex when you note that Bill 1 would allow the provincial government to rule against things that have not even happened. The language in the bill allows government to act against any perceived intention by the federal government to do something.

A basic aspect of our laws is that we cannot be convicted for simply thinking about doing something illegal. Even talking about doing something is not usually a crime. In Bill 1, that assumption of innocence seems to have been forgotten.

Our system also requires that the legislature have an opportunity to debate changes to laws. Bill 1, as written, will allow cabinet to make laws and proclaim them, without any debate in the legislature. Those laws are in force for up to two years, and can then be renewed without legislature debate for a further two years.

There are news reports that the bill will now be amended to remove the lawmaking portions. This raises the question of why the bill was introduced with that language in it. Do the politicians not read their own legislation? Or was it a power grab that they hoped no one would notice?

Neither option is reassuring. In one reading, they are just incompetent. In the other, they are dictators-in-waiting.

So, we have a bill that will allow a small number of legislators to try and cancel a national law. It further allows cabinet to direct a large number of other bodies, including your local hospital, police force and the whole educational system, to also ignore federal law.

There appears to be no consideration of the degree to which at least some of those bodies must interact with the federal government, and that interaction requires the bodies to follow federal rules.

I find it disturbing that there does not appear to have been consideration of what the federal response to Bill 1 might be. There seems to be an assumption that the federal response will be either a legal challenge or nothing. However, that may be incorrect, as there are many actions that Ottawa could take that would have dramatic impacts on Alberta.

The premier has been loud in her demands that the Canadian government stay out of areas of provincial jurisdiction. Exactly what that might mean has not been spelled out, but there are some obvious areas where dramatic change might happen.

Health care is a provincial responsibility under our Constitution. Despite that, there are multiple shared-cost programs, where the provinces receive federal dollars to help deliver programs. If Ottawa stopped their cost-share, Alberta would lose several billion from the health budget.

The UCP government has vigorously promoted a provincial police force. They admit that would cost tens of millions of dollars more than the current arrangement. They also note that it would take several years to set up a completely new force. But, the current contract allows either party to cancel on two years’ notice. If Ottawa simply exercised that option, Alberta might have a very hard time replacing the RCMP by 2025.

Many students receive scholarships and similar support from federal bodies, especially at the university level. The universities and such also receive large sums from the federal government. If Ottawa decided that since education is a provincial responsibility they would stop their financial contributions, many students and institutions would be in serious trouble.

There will also be economic impacts. No large company is likely to start or expand operations where two levels of government are in a fierce battle. If there is an alternative place to invest, they will likely avoid Alberta until things are sorted out.

In short, this bill, if adopted, will forever change how Alberta functions inside or outside of Canada. If Ms. Smith really wants to make such sweeping changes, she should at least wait until after we have an election.

Alan Garbutt
Resident of Cowley, Alberta

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

 

Grey-haired man with glasses, wearing blue suit speaks

Toews speaks to Sovereignty Act

Premier Danielle Smith’s proposed Sovereignty Act, introduced Tuesday in the Alberta legislature, won’t hurt foreign investment by triggering constitutional battles with Ottawa, Finance Minister Travis Toews said Wednesday.

Toews told a roundtable of community newspaper reporters in southern Alberta that the UCP government is eyeing volatility now affecting international commodity prices, especially oil. 

“When we take a look at the uncertainty right now that we see in the economy globally, which always has an impact on commodity prices and creates volatility in those prices, we have to always budget with that in mind here in the province of Alberta,” Toews said.

But the Sovereignty Act, he said, will ensure “certainty and predictability” because it upholds the rule of law and the Canadian Constitution.

Toews was openly critical of Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty Act during the recent UCP leadership race, in which both were candidates, when Smith said the act would empower the province to override federal laws, policies and programs the legislature determined to be unconstitutional or hurtful to Alberta’s economic interests.

 

 

“I’ll just be really transparent,” he said Wednesday. “My concern was that (the Sovereignty Act) certainly would have the probability of creating unpredictability or a lack of certainty within our business environment.” 

But Toews now says the UCP’s rebranded Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act (Bill 1) shouldn’t worry investors that the province might upend the status quo.

The overwhelming bulk of Alberta’s budget surplus, now on track to hit $12.3 billion for the current fiscal year, comes from energy royalties and corporate tax revenue. Toews said his ministry anticipates “solid surpluses” of $5.6 and $5.3 billion in the next two fiscal years. 

The minister said he’s confident the province’s political stability will continue to make Alberta a smart place to invest, but he won’t unconditionally vote for the new Sovereignty Act.

“Look, I can support this act if it, in fact, respects the rule of law; if it’s constitutional, and if it can be implemented in a way that’s not going to create uncertainty and a lack of predictability in our business environment.” 

 

 

Toews stressed that the act “won’t and can’t” compel Albertans or businesses that operate in the province to “disregard federal law.” 

As it now stands, Bill 1 gives Smith’s cabinet the authority to direct Crown corporations and a host of provincial entities, including post-secondaries and school boards, not to follow federal laws the legislature deems unconstitutional. The law is silent on what would happen to these bodies should they refuse cabinet’s direction.

“We’re talking hypotheticals here,” Toews said, adding, “There’s a lot of assumptions that we would have to make in order to answer that question. My concern is that, whatever we do with this legislation, we do it in a way that’s going to continue to provide certainty and predictability within Alberta’s economic environment.” 

“It won’t undermine the rule of law and it will be constitutional,” he said. “And those two pieces will be important as we continue to attract investment for our economy.”

MLAs will deliberate Bill 1 between now and Christmas, as the legislature works through its fall session.