Recently, the Alberta legislature resumed its proceedings armed with proposals for a tax referendum and escalating threats to draw upon legislation the reigning United Conservative Party (UCP) claims serves to shield Alberta from federal overstepping.
The inaugural throne speech since the UCP’s triumphant May election, voiced by Premier Danielle Smith, vehemently declared no new personal or business taxes, or tax raises, would be implemented in Alberta without the sanction of its citizens via a referendum.
This address, framed by Lt.-Gov Salma Lakhani, aimed to sketch a broad blueprint of the government’s intentions and priorities. However, the Leader of Opposition New Democrats, Rachel Notley, criticized the speech as a ploy teeming with uncertainties and gimmicks.
Notley urged for realistic plans, accusing Smith of merely seeking to instigate fights. The initial bill up for discussion seeks to revise existing legislation blocking the instigation of a sales tax without a referendum. The proposed law, expanded to cover personal and corporate tax rises and alterations to tax brackets or credits, was to be proposed later that Monday.
Smith responded to media queries by revealing confidence in the new policies to yield desirable outcomes such as enhanced business certainty, investment influx, and future tax increases. She advocated for creating a business-friendly ambiance, which she believes will result in tax benefits secondary to attracting entrepreneurs.
In addition to this, the government has made commitments to lessen living expenses, including a new tax bracket for citizens with an income below $60,000. Under this provision, their taxes would be reduced by $750 annually.
Notley, however, has warned that the bill risks reinforcing Alberta’s recurring pattern of prodigal budgets during prosperous oil price periods, followed by restraint during unfavorable times. She argues that the government could increase living costs without tax hikes, and believes the UCP has already leveraged several such methods. Notley cited the escalating costs of tuition, electricity, and insurance as being among the numerous burdens placed onto average households by the government.
The government plans to extend a fuel tax reprieve until year-end and aims to reform the province’s electricity market, currently the most expensive nationwide. This comes despite Smith accepting her party’s rule has seen electricity prices quadruple, which she attributes to a hasty shift from fossil fuel-powered energy. Her government’s proposed solution is to ensure reliable power supplies and mitigate new natural gas-powered generation construction risks.
The throne speech refrained from mentioning any proposed exit from the Canada Pension Plan. Smith clarified that public disapproval might see the projected referendum scrapped. Notley, on the other hand, maintains the UCP continues to consider the controversial pension withdrawal, despite rising public discontent.
The throne speech reiterated the Smith government’s promise to enact portions of its sovereignty act if federal climate change measures are deemed unbeneficial to the province. Smith issued stern warnings of “powerful forces” keen on disrupting Alberta’s lifestyle and curtailing its oil and gas production.
Despite not proposing which parts of the sovereignty act would be enforced, Smith declared several ultimatums to the federal government. These included a hard line on oil and gas emissions, fertilizer use emissions, and a target for net-zero emissions by 2035 that she said, if crossed, would compel Alberta to safeguard its jurisdiction.
As for the Legislature timetable, government house leader Joseph Schow has announced that the session will continue until early December, with approximately seven to nine bills up for discussion.
The opposition New Democrats responded with their alternative throne speech, imploring the government to tackle immediate concerns such as steep auto insurance and electricity costs, soaring tuition, and a shortage of housing.