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Alberta NDP takes jabs at upcoming provincial budget promises

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Alberta’s UCP government is set to table its provincial budget on Tuesday as opposition critics continue to take jabs at pre-elections spending promises.

NDP energy critic Kathleen Ganley addressed reporters Saturday suggesting Premier Danielle Smith is taking aim at crucial programs and increasing costs for Alberta families.

She highlighted affordability as a top concern, touching on a cost of living that has seen its highest spike in 40 years and as Alberta is seeing the slowest rate of wage growth in the country.

“Meanwhile, the UCP have done generational damage to the services that Albertans rely on. The health care budget is $1.7 billion short of where it would have been if they had simply tracked inflation and population,” said Ganley

“The UCP has a war on doctors, especially family doctors, and has left tens of thousands without a family doctor, impacting health burdens and driving people into the acute care system.”

Ganley also voiced concerns over a UCP education budget that she says is “underspent by $1 billion over two years” and was critical of “a plan to hand $20 billion to oil companies to clean up wells they’re already legally obligated to clean up.”

She was also critical of the UCP plan to de-index payments for AISH and other social benefits.

“They even changed the AISH payment base to push back payments into the next fiscal year and fake a better bottom line causing pain and stress to the Albertans who could least afford it,” added Ganley.

“The UCP's last budget included $200 million in additional income taxes and nearly $900 million in taxes on additional car insurance premiums.”

When asked about the NDP releasing a shadow budget, Ganley says the party is still waiting on a report it has commissioned on the provincial budget.

“We have already rolled out our family healthcare teams intended to give access to family doctors, we’ve committed to funding enrollment growth in education and we’ve rolled out our competitiveness, jobs, and investment strategy which shows how we would invest into the future.”

UCP RESPONDS

Saturday afternoon, Danielle Smith's press secretary Rebecca Polak sent the following statement in reaction to Ganley's comments:

"Rich that the NDP would criticize a budget they haven’t even seen yet," she said. "Instead of fear-mongering, the NDP should read the budget and see the good news it will bring for businesses, investors, workers, and their families. 

"Budget 2023 will continue positioning Alberta for diversified, long-term success. It will boost Alberta's advantage by focusing on jobs and the economy, keeping life more affordable, ensuring Albertans have quality healthcare where and when they need it, and keeping our families and communities safe."

"How typical of the NDP," she said, "to criticize a budget they’ve never read. Make no mistake, this will not be a debt ridden, tax-hiking NDP budget. It will be balanced and focused on job creation, affordability, health care, safe communities and the other priorities of Albertans."

'HELP IS ON THE WAY': ALBERTA GOVERNMENT PREVIEWS BUDGET PROMISES

Last fall, Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews announced the current budget year, which finishes at the end of March, is expected to record a $12.3-billion surplus.

That surplus comes with $2.8 billion set aside over the next three years to cover ‘inflation-fighting programs and payouts’ to shield Albertan families, seniors and the most vulnerable from higher costs.

Travis Toews delivers the 2021budget in Edmonton Alta, on Thursday February 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Earlier this week, Toews posted a video announcing that he will not be purchasing new budget day shoes, but instead polishing up the ones he already has.

“Into 2023 I want to make wise spending decisions today so that one day the next generation of Albertans can actually afford the shoes or boots that they need to succeed,” said Toews.

“Like a good budget I want these boots to last so they’ll need some protection from the elements. That’s why I’m committed to ensure our spending stays measured and sustainable and that we maintain a strong balance sheet."

Toews says his budget this Tuesday will reflect health care as a top priority along with investments into education to reflect large class sizes and growing enrollment in the K-12 system. The UCP has also said it will cap post-secondary tuition growth at two per cent beginning in 2024-2025.

Meanwhile, Premier Danielle Smith has also recently been focussing on healthcare as one of her top priorities.

She announced commitments to spend an extra $243 million over three years into primary health care to reduce bottlenecks for those trying to see a family doctor.

She touted what she calls a “record breaking” $275 million for addictions and mental health as part of a recovery-oriented model that has received hefty criticism from harm reduction advocates.

Health minister Jason Copping also announced earlier this month a promise of $158 million to address Alberta’s healthcare worker shortage, as part of the government’s new Health Workforce Strategy.

Among other pre-budget announcements, the UCP is expected to include money to help municipalities to transition away from the RCMP and a $27 million commitment to help Ukrainian newcomers with housing and language.

'TOO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS': POLITICAL ANALYST

Lori Williams, political analyst with Mount Royal University, says despite the UCP government’s focus on helping address affordability issues, there are a number of unanswered questions on the minds of voters that still need to be answered ahead of a spring election.

“Albertans still have questions about what's going to happen with their pension, with their policing, frankly, with their health care system because there's a lot long-term that needs to be done to make a difference there,” said Williams.

Political expert Lori Williams says Chrystia Freeland’s testimony revealed the government's financial failings in handling the protests.

“If the government doesn't give answers to those questions before the election, they will look like they're being evasive and unaccountable and that's exactly the sort of thing that's gotten governments in trouble in the past in this province.”

Williams notes that the UCP have recently been more evasive with Travis Toews posting a video online about his budget shoes instead of taking questions from reporters for example.

She says the provincial government’s winning strategy appears to focus on fighting for Alberta against the federal government, but polling suggests that affordability and healthcare still remain top focusses.

“I mean, these are issues that they have been fairly focused on, and despite polling indicating most Albertans don't want to get rid of the RCMP, they don't want to get rid of the Canada Pension Plan either,” she said.

“The UCP seems to have gotten fairly far down the road of getting support for what they want. They’ve said there were panels that they will study these things, and they'll get back to us after the election. That's not going to be good enough for Albertans.”

It is not yet known if there will be a referendum question on the future of a pension plan in Alberta that will appear on the general election ballot on May 29.

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