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Tag: Travis Toews

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.

 

 

“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. 

 

Shootin' the Breeze connection to more local stories

 

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.”

 

UCP promises extensive affordability measures heading into winter

“Work is underway to get the system set up and running, and we will provide a more detailed update before the holidays if this legislation is passed,” Affordability and Utilities Minister Matt Jones told reporters at an Edmonton press conference.

Reporters grilled Finance Minister Travis Toews about the timing of monthly payments to seniors, families with children, and people receiving disability benefits, now set to end one month after May’s provincial election.

Toews said the government’s massive budgetary surplus allows the UCP to help Albertans. The government will reassess Albertans’ needs after the six-month time frame is up, he added. 

“The average Alberta household with or without children, with or without seniors, or vulnerable Albertans will receive up to an estimated $900 in broad-based relief alone,’’ Jones told reporters last Wednesday.

Jones made a similar statement in a Nov. 29 tweet, in which he quoted himself telling the Calgary Herald that “The broad-based relief alone will provide the vast majority of households — with or without children, with or without seniors — with up to $900 or more in relief.”

 

 

Jones then reiterated commitments Smith made when she publicly unveiled the plan on Nov. 22. The plan promises $100 payments to seniors and people receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Persons with Developmental Disability (PDD) payments for six months every month for the first half of 2023. Families that make less than $180,000 per year will get the same payments for every child. The income eligibility would see monthly payments go to 80 per cent of families in the province, Jones said. 

 Albertans already receiving core support programs like seniors benefits, AISH, PDD and income support wouldn’t have to apply for the plan’s monthly payments. Families with children would have to apply through a government website, where they would be asked to provide income information.

The payments will be non-taxable, Jones said.

The government will boost AISH, PDD, income support and seniors benefits by six per cent starting in the new year, which Jones said would match inflation for 2022.

 

 

The plan would defer a portion of winter electricity bills for consumers on regulated rate option plans for the first three months of the new year. Charges above 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour will be spread over monthly bills starting in April. This includes municipalities and energy suppliers not covered by the Alberta Utilities Commission. 

Seventy-five-dollar rebates will go to 1.9 million electricity consumers in January and February, with $25 rebates in March and April. Credits will carry over where electricity bills come in below $75, Jones said. 

The government will halt the province’s 13 per cent fuel tax on gas and diesel from January through the end of June, costing the treasury an estimated $600 million in lost revenue. The plan also increases provincial income tax exemptions and provincial tax brackets by just under 2.5 per cent. 

“I don’t have information on timing,” Jones said when pressed on the rollout for the proposed regulatory framework. The minister said he hoped to see permanent “natural gas price protection” starting in the new year, but again balked at providing a hard timeline.

 

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.” 

 

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

 

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.