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Budget sends Alberta deeper into the red

The 2021-22 budget predicts a deficit of $18.2 billion and debt ballooning to a record $115.8 billion by the end of the year.

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Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews introduced a budget Thursday that will see the province sink even further in debt.

The 2021-22 budget predicts a deficit of $18.2 billion and debt ballooning to a record $115.8 billion by the end of the year.

But Toews said there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Toews said widening distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the second half of 2021, along with the rebound of the oil and gas industry and changes to the public sector salary structure will help the province recovery financially.

The deficit target of $18.2 billion is $2 billion less than the 2020-21 forecast. Deficits of $11 billion and $8 billion are targeted for 2022-23 and 2023-24 respectively.

Total expense in 2021-22 is $570 million less than the forecast for 2020-21. Total expense is $58.4 billion in 2022-23 and $58.9 billion in 2023-24.

“Budget 2021 ensures health-care funding to see all Albertans through the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, it lays the foundation for economic growth and job creation while carefully managing Albertans’ hard-earned tax dollars. It’s a budget that protects our health-care system and positions Alberta to emerge from COVID-19 stronger than ever,” said Toews.

“The economic outlook is slightly more positive than in previous reports. This is mainly due to rapid vaccine development, higher oil prices and slightly better 2019 ‘actuals’ than expected,” reads the budget.

Government of Alberta budget

The debt is now expected to reach $116 billion by the end of the fiscal year. The interest on the debt will cost $2.8 billion, or more than $600 per Albertan, every year.

In 2021-22, total revenue is estimated to be $43.7 billion. This is $1.4 billion more than the 2020-21 forecast of $42.3 billion.

Watch the news conference

Government of Alberta budget figures

The budget makes large increases in health spending, including a $900 million overall increase, $1.3 billion in new contingency funding specifically for COVID-19, $97 million to clear surgical backlogs caused by the pandemic, $143 million over three years for new health care facilities, $200 million to boost continuing care, and $140 million for mental health supports.

Watch the budget speech

“Budget 2021 gives the health system the resources it needs to keep fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, while keeping Albertans safe and healthy. With another record investment in health, our government’s absolute commitment to Albertans’ health and well-being is clear. Alberta’s government will continue to support and invest in quality health care, both during and after the pandemic,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

There is $5.4 billion for physician compensation and development, “as the government continues to manage these costs through the physician funding framework.”

The budget keeps K-12 funding the same with new funding for the construction and modernization of 14 schools as part of the overall $1.6-billion investment in education.

Post-secondary institutions take a cut.

“There is a modest decrease from the 2020-21 forecast reflects the government’s commitment to bring post-secondary institution spending in line with other jurisdictions,” said the budget.

The three-year Capital Plan provides $191 million to support post-secondary institution projects to expand student capacity and learning environments, including new funding of $50 million for the Mount Royal University Re-purposing Existing Facilities project.

It includes new financial supports for working parents, $3.1 billion in economic recovery programs and stimulus, and the continued advancement of the largest infrastructure stimulus spend in Alberta’s history – $20.7 billion that will create 90,000 high paying jobs, Toews said.

Budget 2021 is also asking the public service to take a pay cut.

“Alberta is broke. And we aren’t talking about darn-I-missed-a-cellphone-payment type broke. Seriously broke,” said Miranda Rosin UCP MLA for Banff-Kananaskis.

“Over the past year, our Government has done what necessary to protect the health and financial security of those living in our province, and today’s budget, centered around the very theme of Protecting Lives and Livelihoods, will reflect that.

“Let me be clear: I, nor anyone in our government will never ask Albertans to do that which we are unwilling to do ourselves, which is why us MLAs took a five per cent reduction in pay immediately upon entering office in 2019, and why our staff recently took a similar reduction. Now, it is time for the rest of the public sector to do the same,” said Rosin.

“Budget 2021-22 does commit to finding labour efficiencies in government, keeping debt-to-GDP below 30 per cent, and gradually bringing spending in line with other provinces.”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation criticized the 2021 budget for a lack of effort to save money.

“Every business and family have found ways to save money during COVID-19 and the downturn, so why is the only place we can’t seem to find savings the Alberta government?” said Franco Terrazzano, the CTF’s Alberta Director.

“We need to see leadership at the top, but instead the Premier’s office is increasing its own budget by $2 million and that’s unacceptable.”

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s finances found that the Alberta government would spend $10 billion less every single year if it brought its per person spending in line with comparable provinces, such as British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

“I don’t think too many Albertans are laying away at night wishing the Premier’s office would increase its budget by $2 million,” said Terrazzano.

“Taxpayers are struggling, and they need to see their tax dollars used more efficiently. The pandemic has increased costs for everyone in some areas, but the rest of us outside government have found other ways to save money. The Alberta government doesn’t seem to have a coherent plan to find savings.”

Premier Jason Kenney has ruled out the introduction of a provincial sales tax. 

“As much as I hate deficits, now would be the worst time to cut billions of additional dollars in spending when we need it in health care and we need it to help stimulate economic growth,” he said this week.

The NDP had called on Kenney to invest in health care.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard and the Vice-President: News Editor of Western Standard New Media Corp. He has served as the City Editor of the Calgary Sun and has covered Alberta news for nearly 40 years. dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com

News

O’Toole says his carbon tax is ‘not a tax’, denies breaking promise

And he said he didn’t break his promise to kill the hated Justin Trudeau carbon tax because with his tax, the money doesn’t go to the government.

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Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says his proposed new carbon tax is “not a tax”, and that he didn’t break his promise to kill the Justin Trudeau carbon tax because his carbon tax’s revenues will be managed by bankers appointed by him, and not be held in government accounts.

“Well I’ve always been consistent on wanting to eliminate Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax, and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday.

O’toole on ctv’s question period

“The low carbon savings account we’ve proposed will be kept by consumers, not one cent goes to government.”

In a shocking flip-flop, O’Toole tore up his leadership campaign’s signature promise to end carbon tax last Thursday, and will be campaigning on a large, re-branded carbon tax in the next federal election. O’Toole written pledge with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation included a clear commitment to not replace the Trudeau carbon tax with “any future national carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme.”

O’Toole is proposing to charge a $50/tonne carbon tax on everything from gasoline to home heating fuel, and use the money to fund government-controlled bank accounts, which Canadians can use to purchase government-approved, environmentally friendly products.

Canadians would pay a carbon tax beginning at $20 per tonne, increasing to $50 a tonne, but the Tories promised it would go no higher than that. However, O’Toole promised emphatically that there would be no carbon tax at all under his leadership.

When running for party leader, O’Toole signed a Canadian Taxpayers Federation pledge to oppose the federal carbon tax. The vow said: “I, Erin O’Toole promise that if elected Prime Minister of Canada, I will: Immediately repeal the Trudeau carbon tax, and reject any future national carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme.”

O’Toole repeated his pledge to fight against any consumer carbon tax during the campaign for the Tory top spot.

The O’Toole carbon tax may also leave less money in taxpayers pockets than the Trudeau plan does.

Under the Trudeau plan, a portion of the federal carbon tax is rebated to taxpayers to spend as they see fit. Under the O’Toole plan, revenues will go into personalized “green” savings accounts that Canadians could only spend on government-approved environmentally friendly products.

People could then draw on those accounts for “things that help them live a greener life,” according to the Secure The Environment document. 

“This will not be a government-run program, it will be something that we view the industry doing in a similar way that the financial services industry developed and innovated with the Interac system, which people use far more now than then traditional old currency,” said O’Toole on CTV.

“This will be an account that is then tracked, it will not be big government, it will be actually run in a similar fashion to a loyalty-type program.

“I hear all the time from all parties on the spectrum saying every Canadian needs to take their role in a climate change plan. This allows that through full transparency, and for people to have their low carbon savings account and make smart decisions.”

The flip-flop angered the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“O’Toole is insulting our intelligence, of course this is a carbon tax,” said Franco Terrazzano, the CTF’s Federal Director.

“If you’re going to break your promise and hammer Canadians with a carbon tax at least have the spine to admit it.

“Instead of playing word games with Canadians, O’Toole should live up to his promise and fight carbon taxes.”

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

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News

Feds say costly Super Bowl ads needed to make Canadians aware of COVID

Authorities earlier credited millions in advertising, not blanket news coverage, for alerting Canadians to the risks of COVID-19.

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The feds paid almost $182,000 for COVID-19 safety ads aired during the Super Bowl, says Blacklock’s Reporter.

That works out to $1,347 per second of taxpayers’ money for 135 seconds of Feb. 7 ad time. The total cost was $181,879.

An estimated 8.8 million people in Canada watched a portion of the game.

Authorities earlier credited millions in advertising, not blanket news coverage, for alerting Canadians to the risks of COVID-19.

A $120-million government-wide marketing budget included funding for “behavioral scientists,” according to a July 16 report.

“Up to $3.7 million is related to estimated salary costs for up to 16 (employees) that will support this initiative, including behavioural scientists and dedicated resources in the digital communications, public opinion research and advertising teams,” wrote staff in the Annual Report On Government Of Canada Advertising Activities.

Ken McKillop, assistant secretary to cabinet, testified June 16 at the Commons government operations committee the advertising blitz was intended to “get the news to Canadians” about the pandemic.

MacKillop credited the Privy Council’s own $49.5 million ad budget with “encouraging social distancing,” a claim disputed by committee members.

“COVID’s on the TV every second, every newspaper, every Facebook feed, everything, it’s Covid all the time,” said Conservative MP Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West):

  • MP McCauley: “Everyone knows about social distancing. Everyone knows there is Covid going on. Do you find it justifiable to spend the $50 million on something every single person knows about?”
  • Assistant MacKillop: “Well you know, you’re not wrong. People know about it because we’ve advertised.”
  • MP McCauley: “No, I think because it’s on the news cycle 24 hours a day. I’m asking, do you think this is a fair use of taxpayers’ money to advertise about something that every single person in the entire world knows is going on right now?”
  • Assistant MacKillop: “I do think it’s worth the money to advertise to Canadians on health and safety and what we’re asking them to do. Again, the virus has been unpredictable.”

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

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O’Toole wants carbon tax placed on Chinese imports

“It’s certainly something we’re interested in,” Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said.

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A day after flip-flopping on Canada’s carbon tax, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says the Liberals should slap one on imports from China, says Blacklock’s Reporter.

“Most Canadians don’t want to see Canadian jobs being shifted to China where they don’t respect the climate change commitments democratic countries are making, where their aluminum, where their steel is five, six, seven times more carbon intensive than the incredible production in the Saguenay region or in British Columbia or Ontario,” said O’Toole.

“That tariff will price out some of these bad actor countries’ products.”

The Conservative Party proposed the carbon tariff in a document, Secure The Environment.

“We will study the imposition of a carbon border tariff which would reflect the amount of carbon emissions attributed to goods imported into Canada,” it stated.

Access To Information records indicate the Department of Environment has researched the proposal for five years.

Department of Industry managers, in 2016 testimony at the Commons trade committee, said they had no way of punishing importers that pollute. Chinese steel mills produce more than 10 times the greenhouse gas emissions of Canadian plants, about 598 kilograms of carbon for every tonne of steel, by official estimate.

“It’s certainly something we’re interested in,” Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said.

“While we are very interested in the idea – we are working on the discussion with the Americans and with Europeans – I think anybody who says that’s something you could do in the very short term doesn’t really understand how it works.

“We are very positive with respect to the potential for border carbon adjustments, but I do think folks need to understand how complicated that discussion is. In order to actually put in place a border carbon adjustment you either need to have alignment between Canada and the United States – for example, on carbon pricing – or you need to be able to have agreement about how you’re going to impute carbon pricing that is associated with either investments or regulation.”

In a shocking flip-flop, O’Toole tore up his leadership campaign’s signature promise to end carbon tax Thursday, and will be campaigning on a large, re-branded carbon tax in the next federal election.

O’Toole is proposing to charge a $50/tonne carbon tax on everything from gasoline to home heating fuel, and use the money to fund government-controlled savings accounts, which Canadians can use to purchase government-approved, environmentally friendly products.

Canadians would pay a carbon tax beginning at $20 per tonne, increasing over time to $50 a tonne, but the Tories promised it would go no higher than that. However, O’Toole promised emphatically that there would be no carbon tax at all under his leadership.

When running for party leader, O’Toole signed a Canadian Taxpayers Federation pledge to oppose the federal carbon tax. The vow said: “I, Erin O’Toole promise that if elected Prime Minister of Canada, I will: Immediately repeal the Trudeau carbon tax, and reject any future national carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme.”

O’Toole repeated his pledge to fight against any consumer carbon tax during the campaign for the Tory top spot.

The O’Toole carbon tax may also leave less money in taxpayers pockets than the Trudeau plan does.

Under the Trudeau plan, a portion of the federal carbon tax is rebated to taxpayers to spend as they see fit. Under the O’Toole plan, revenues will go into personalized “green” savings accounts that Canadians could only spend on government-approved environmentally friendly products.

People could then draw on those accounts for “things that help them live a greener life,” according to the Secure The Environment document. 

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

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