The Alberta government will spend the coming weeks focusing on its new tax legislation as well as its fight against Ottawa’s energy policies, according to Monday’s speech from the throne, which made no mention of the government’s plans for a provincial pension plan.
Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani delivered the speech in the legislature Monday afternoon to mark the start of the first session of the 31st legislature.
It’s the first sitting for MLAs since the May 29 election that saw the governing United Conservative Party retain power but also the Opposition New Democrats grow their benches by 15 members.
Here are some of the priorities spelled out, and missing, in the throne speech.
Sovereignty act suggestion
The speech asserts the province is at a “critical juncture” where it must challenge the federal government’s draft clean electricity regulations which the province characterizes as an existential threat.
“There are powerful forces in our country, including in the federal government, that believe our province must fundamentally alter our provincial economy and way of life,” the speech states.
“Alberta’s government will not permit the federal government to inflict these destructive policies on the people of Alberta.”
It further states that if Ottawa fails to heed those warnings, the government will introduce several motions under the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act to oppose policies the province believes are unconstitutional and harmful.
The act was brought in late last year but has yet to be employed and its own constitutionality has also yet to be tested in court.
‘Taxed too much’
The speech also states that “Albertans are taxed too much,” citing federal sales and carbon taxes as well as touting the government’s Bill 1 which would put any new tax increase to a referendum.
It states the government “will do its part” to lower taxes, citing the creation of a new tax bracket for those with an income under $60,000 and the extension of the fuel tax pause until the end of the year.
“Albertans will reap the benefits of these tax cuts and consumer protections.”
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No mentions of pensions
The province’s push for a provincial pension plan was entirely absent from Monday’s speech.
Government house leader Joseph Schow said Friday that legislation — the Alberta Pension Protection Act — establishing the legal groundwork for a provincial pension plan will be coming later this week.
“This legislation … will ultimately enshrine into law that should we proceed with an Alberta pension plan, it will be done through referendum with specific criteria.”
The speech also notes Alberta’s coming population boom, which it claims could see the province become Canada’s second-most populous by 2050 and be home to nearly 10 million residents.
“This growth presents both incredible opportunities and massive challenges.”
Among those include housing, education, health care and infrastructure.
“The province also needs to significantly expand our provincial transportation and highway network and build commuter rail links between our two largest cities and their growing neighbouring communities and airports.”
Ongoing affordability challenges were also noted in the speech with the government pledging to introduce what it terms “a package of substantive reforms” before its pause on approvals for renewable energy projects ends in February.
That overhaul appears to include an emphasis on natural gas-generated electricity as well as a review of the regulated rate option which reached a record-high last summer.
The speech also includes a commitment to address rising insurance costs by limiting increases to premiums for drivers with clean records, though the government’s freeze on rates introduced last year remains scheduled to lift in 2024.
United carbon tax opposition
Both the government and NDP Opposition prepared separate motions challenging the federal government’s carbon pricing reversal on home heating oil, a product most commonly used in Atlantic Canada.
The NDP’s motion, expected to be introduced Tuesday, calls for a unanimous vote on the changes that the party says “should be applied to all Canadians, regardless of geography or home heating method.”
The government’s motion calls for the end of the federal carbon tax and recognition that the recent changes “will create inequities among Canadians.”
Indigenous financial backing
The speech also outlines a doubling of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation’s (AIOC) loan guarantee, up to $2 billion and rising to $3 billion in 2024-25.
The money allows the AIOC to offer loans with better terms than would normally be accessible.
At a news conference earlier Monday, Enoch Cree Nation Chief Cody Thomas said the backing is vital to improving economic conditions and creating jobs, saying it represents “a substantial stride towards a brighter future.”
NDP: Speech ‘riddled with vague commitments’
In a news conference following the speech, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley took issue with its lack of specifics, saying it was “riddled with vague commitments that appears to be completely silent on the major stresses faced by Albertans today.”
“This is a government that doesn’t care about many of the major challenges everyday Albertans face.”
She also noted the government’s “unspoken” push for a pension plan, calling it “a train wreck and Danielle Smith is the conductor.
“This is Danielle Smith’s signature economic policy and not a single mention.”
“Albertans are hurting,” Notley said.
“But as we saw today, these are not the priorities of the UCP.”