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Alberta Finance Minister Jason Nixon, pictured during a news conference in 2020, says sending cash payments to people, as Manitoba and Quebec have done, ‘would be counterproductive.’Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

Alberta expects to collect a record $28.4-billion in energy royalties in the current fiscal year, but the government said it will not write cheques to residents to ease the burden of inflation, in contrast with Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.

The energy-rich province more than doubled its forecast for revenue from non-renewable resources when it revised its 2022-23 budget Wednesday. Alberta now expects a surplus of $13-billion, instead of the $515-million it predicted when it released the budget in February.

Finance ministers across the country are grappling with how to bolster consumer finances in the face of sharply rising costs. Manitoba on Wednesday said it will send cash to some residents, despite running a provincial deficit. Saskatchewan, which last week recalculated its budget to show a surplus thanks to resource prices, is distributing $500 to all adults. And Quebec in March expanded direct support in the province, with plans to transfer $500 to some adults, building on a policy introduced in November. Alberta does not intend to join this trend.

“Going forward with payments like that would be counterproductive … and could make the inflation issue worse,” Finance Minister Jason Nixon told reporters Wednesday. Instead, the governing United Conservative Party is focused on continuing a fuel-tax holiday, when oil prices are high, and on rebates for natural gas and electricity bills, which Mr. Nixon claimed help people save money while lowering inflation inside the province.

Alberta may adjust its strategy if necessary, he said, but “our core principle will be to do no more harm.”

Alberta now forecasting $13-billion surplus in dramatic turn of fiscal fortunes

The province’s $28.4-billion revenue forecast for energy royalties bests the record it set last year, when Alberta raked in $16.1-billion from non-renewable resources. Prior to that windfall, the province’s healthiest haul was the $14.3-billion it collected in 2005-06. In 2005, then-premier Ralph Klein announced a plan to give $400 to every adult in the province, through a program dubbed Ralph Bucks.

Alberta is flush with cash thanks to maturing oil sands projects and higher energy prices spurred in part by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Mr. Nixon said Alberta will once again index personal income tax brackets to inflation, a policy the UCP scrapped earlier in its term as it tried to prop up the province’s finances.

Gillian Petit, an economist at the University of Calgary, said this will save the average Albertan about $66 per year in income tax. While not as immediately attractive as Saskatchewan’s $500 cheque for every adult, Ms. Petit favours Alberta’s approach because indexing shields people from future inflation.

“It is good fiscal policy,” she said.

Alberta did not reinstate indexing for benefits such as Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped. Mr. Nixon argued Alberta’s AISH program is the most generous in the country, warned against decisions that could contribute to inflation, and said it is important the province avoid the temptation to spend when times are good.

Alberta intends to direct cash toward paying down debt and socking money into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, Mr. Nixon said.

UCP members are slated to select a new leader Oct. 6. That person will become premier and could rewrite Alberta’s fiscal strategy, although Mr. Nixon believes the front-runners agree with the thrust of his plan.

Meanwhile, Manitoba on Wednesday earmarked $87-million for inflation relief. Under the plan, families with children under 18 and a household income of less than $175,000 will receive $250 for the first child and $200 for each additional child. Manitoba said about 1450,000 families will receive these one-time cheques.

When asked why the province is choosing to help families earning as much as $175,000 annually, Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said people at that income level are also feeling the effects of inflation.

“We know that these pressures are being felt in many, many Manitoba households,” Mr. Friesen said. “You cannot tell me today that a teacher married to a police officer, that a household of a social worker with an entrepreneur, are not feeling the pinch.”

Manitoba seniors with less than $40,000 in family income who claimed an education property tax credit in 2021 will be eligible for $300. This will affect about 52,000 households, Manitoba said.

Childless people collecting monthly employment and income assistance will receive an additional $50 per month and monthly EIA disability benefits will climb by $25 per household per month.

Quebec, when it tabled its budget in March, said every adult earning $100,000 or less will receive a one-time payment of $500 after filing their income taxes, costing the government $3.2-billion and covering an expected 6.4 million people.

With files from The Canadian Press

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