Alberta unveils first budget under Premier Danielle Smith

Alberta unveils first budget under Premier Danielle Smith

The Alberta government will reveal its first budget under Premier Danielle Smith on Tuesday, with a provincial election three months away. Observers anticipate that the provincial treasury will be overflowing with non-renewable resource revenues, and the government will need to decide whether to prioritize more spending, bolstering its savings, or debt repayment.

These decisions come as public opinion polling shows support for Smith’s United Conservative Party government almost on par with the Opposition NDP.

With Alberta coffers expected to be left with a record $28 billion in resource revenues, it will be important for the premier to set out a path for the government and communicate the good news to the Alberta electorate.

After years of economic pain inflicted by low oil prices, a sluggish economy, and the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith’s government has hinted at spending on short-term programs to help citizens with the cost of living after a period of punishing inflation.

Smith has also suggested spending on public infrastructure projects such as new roads and schools. In her mandate letter to Finance Minister Travis Toews, Smith said any increase in spending should be lower than inflation plus population growth. However, Toews still has billions of dollars of leeway.

University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe says that as the oil and gas sector’s boom-and-bust cycle is doomed to repeat, a provincial conversation about a more sustainable source of provincial funding is overdue.

Smith’s government delayed a plan last year to increase the amount it would inject into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund. During the past few weeks, ministers have been soft-launching new investments in advance of budget day, including funding boosts for mental health and addiction, bursaries for internationally trained nurses, and $158 million for a new health workforce strategy to address staff shortages.

NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips expects the government to table a campaign-style budget that does little to bolster the province’s economic resilience.

Phillips said the government has no thoughtful plan to improve a struggling health-care system or fund K-12 schools to keep up with population growth and inflation.

Affordability programs that grant millions of Albertans rebates on their power bill, and send $100 monthly payments to parents, seniors, and people with disabilities, are chaotic and exclude vulnerable people, Phillips said.

»Alberta unveils first budget under Premier Danielle Smith«

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