“This is by far the most significant relief package in Canada,” Matt Jones, minister of affordability and utilities, told reporters.
Jones said the relief measures are tied to the price of oil as represented by West Texas Intermediate crude.
“We want Albertans to benefit from their resources. That’s why you see us flowing through benefits in oil and gas prices to protect Albertans from where they pay more for oil and gas prices,” he explained.
But the opposition New Democrats were quick to point out that the act reindexes income benefits to inflation, which the NDP had done in 2018.
Jones had promised a host of tax breaks, direct payments to low-income Albertans, and heating rebates a week earlier, when on Dec. 7 he introduced Bill 2, now the Inflation Relief Amendments Act.
The act provides six monthly $100 relief payments to seniors and families with children whose annual household incomes are less than $180,000, with payments ending in June. The act suspends the 13-cent per litre provincial fuel tax on gas and diesel over the same period, while also deferring electricity costs above 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour in January, February and March for customers on the regulated rate option.
Costs above that threshold will be gradually tacked onto customers’ electricity bills through April 2023 and December 2024. The act provides temporary price guards on natural gas through the end of March.
It also bumps Albertans’ provincial income tax credits by about 2.5 per cent for fiscal year 2022, with another six per cent raise for 2023. The extra credits mean that Albertans won’t pay provincial income tax on the first $21,000 they make in 2023, striking 95,000 citizens off that year’s tax rolls, according to Jones.
Income supports, including Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped and benefits to Persons with Developmental Disabilities, will also go up by six per cent in 2023, and will stay indexed to inflation moving forward.
The UCP deindexed AISH, PDD and seniors’ benefits in 2019, shortly after the party took over the legislature from Rachel Notley’s NDP.
“The UCP justified the cruel decision by saying that they couldn’t afford the increased costs and running deficits, yet they paid for their ridiculous war room and gave away handouts to wealthy corporations,” New Democrat Marie Renaud (St. Albert) told the house Wednesday.
Thanking Renaud “for the history lesson,” Seniors Minister Jeremy Nixon answered that the UCP is now in a position to help.
“We inherited a fiscal train wreck from the members opposite, and we brought our fiscal house in order for the sustainability of programs going forward,” Nixon said.
Renaud shot back that by “ignoring the fact that they’ll be responsible for people impacted in society with three years’ worth of cuts,” Bill 2 amounted to too little, too late.
“Just apologize and do better,” Renaud demanded.
Meeting with community journalists after the floor exchange, Minister Jones said the act would support all Albertans, regardless of age, ability or income bracket.
When asked why payments and affordability measures are timed to lapse after May’s provincial election, Jones said the government needs to gauge the act’s success.
“We’ve always envisioned this as an inflation relief package for the problem that exists now, which will give us time to evaluate the situation over the next six months, so that we can respond appropriately, based on our financial position and the realities at that time,” he said.