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EDITORIAL: Election budget throws money with close provincial race

EDITORIAL: With an election mere months away, it was the biggest selling point for the UCP’s who are neck-and-neck in the polls with the NDP.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

Health, education, public safety and affordability measures are all part of the latest provincial budget put forward by the Alberta government.

But with the budget largely being words on paper until passed and work begins on hundreds of projects and goals, it will remain unknown what long-term impact it will have on the Bow Valley.

And with an election mere months away, on May 29, it was the biggest selling point for the UCP, who are neck-and-neck in the polls with the NDP.

In the lead-up to the election, the budget hikes spending across the majority of ministries.

Several announcements were publicly dumped in the weeks leading up to the release of the budget, such as the more than $150 million to recruit and retain healthcare workers and the almost $250 million over the next three years to help reduce emergency room wait times.

While there’s $1.8 billion set aside over the next three years to help kindergarten to Grade 12 enrolment to reduce class sizes, a post-secondary cap is also promised to begin in 2024. A return of auto insurance hikes – originally established by the NDP and eradicated by the Jason Kenney government – is proposed to return.

A plan to only have balanced budgets – with the exception of emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic – was also introduced, but with the intent to return to a balanced budget within two years of such an emergency.

The fuel tax holiday will continue until June 2023 – or a few weeks after the election – while monthly rebates for electricity will keep going just before the election. The province’s natural gas rebate, though, will be permanent as opposed to a selling point before people head to the polls.

Of course, with the potential for a new provincial government in a few months, many of the budget promises could remain ink on paper.

The $68.3 billion budget for 2023-24 is no small amount of change and is estimated to have a $2.4 billion surplus by March 2024.

The province has been gifted a torrential downpour of cash that has shattered the levies and are pouring into provincial coffers.

Tourism will continue to play a key part in the UCP's economic engine, with hundreds of millions dedicated to growing rural tourism, outdoor recreation on Crown land, Indigenous-led tourism and film and television shooting.

Though tourism has always played a key aspect – with the tourism levy projected to bring in $97 million and grow to $109 million by 2025-26 – the investment in environment and parks only slightly increases.

The budget remains silent on the income raked in from the Kananaskis Conservation Pass and the transparency called for by many in the Bow Valley. The controversial provincial police force and Alberta pension fund – both parts of Premier Danielle Smith’s leadership campaign – were also eerily quiet.

Many groups and organizations from the NDP, CUPE, Public Interest Alberta and Friends of Medicare have labelled it an election budget, while Finance Minister Travis Toews did little to hide that.

A budget presented so close to any election is bound to turn on the taps and let the money flow.

It is ultimately up to voters to not take in last-minute promises and look at the overall picture for any government attempting to remain in power or party attempting to regain its spot in the legislature.

While aspects of the budget have potential and promise, the saying beware of Greeks bearing gifts comes to mind.

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