EDMONTON – Alberta’s spring legislature session will focus on diversifying the province’s battered oil-based economy, laying the groundwork for a carbon tax and cracking down on payday loan operators.
Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday there will also be $340 million in tax benefits for needy families and legislation to streamline and reduce a sprawling network of 301 boards, agencies and commissions.
The tax benefits are expected to help 380,000 children. A low-income single parent with two children would receive just over $3,000 a year.
“Today’s speech from the throne outlines an ambitious agenda of support for families, our economy, our energy and our environmental future,” Notley told reporters before the throne speech.
The speech, which highlights government goals and priorities, was read in the legislature chamber by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell to officially open a new session of the legislature.
The sitting is expected to run until early June and will include the 2016-17 budget, which Finance Minister Joe Ceci announced will be delivered on April 14.
Ceci has already said the projected deficit could be $10 billion — double the amount of earlier forecasts.
Notley’s NDP government has resisted calls to cut public-sector jobs and services to reduce the red ink in lean times.
Instead, it has increased spending for health, education and social services and ramped up capital spending to boost the economy and build schools, roads and hospitals.
“I would reject the notion that we simply cover our ears, cover our eyes, cross our fingers and sit in a corner hoping that the economy recovers,” said Notley.
To that end, the government put forward as Bill 1, a plan to expand job creation and diversification.
The government now plans to work with its $23-billion credit-union system to encourage more such investment.
A climate change plan, introduced last year, is to be given regulatory teeth with legislation that will include a new broad-based carbon tax to begin Jan. 1.
Notley said Albertans will learn in the budget the cost details of the carbon levy.
The carbon tax, which is estimated to bring in $3 billion a year, is to be on everything from gas at the pumps to home heating and electricity bills.
The government estimates 60 per cent of Albertans will receive some level of rebate.
Opposition Wildrose Leader Bran Jean says the carbon tax is a misguided plan that builds on poor decisions made last year by Notley to hike corporate taxes and some personal income taxes.
“The NDP government outlined in today’s speech that they are doubling down on their ideological approach to the economy,” said Jean.
PC Leader Ric McIver said the diversification initiatives, outlined in the government’s flagship Bill 1 legislation, are too vague.
“All it does is enable the (Economic Development) minister to do some stuff later without deciding what the stuff is,” said McIver.
Greg Clark of the Alberta Party said the throne speech delivered nothing on how the government will get spending under control.
“They’ve given up any pretense to try to balance the budget,” said Clark.
Rules are also planned to stop payday loan outfits from charging what the government terms unfairly punitive interest rates.