United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith announced a new tax credit to keep postsecondary graduates in Alberta while New Democratic Leader Rachel Notley made a pitch to conservatives to vote across party lines as both seek support in a neck-and-neck provincial election.
The campaign entered its fourth day on Thursday with the party leaders making announcements in battleground Calgary. Political pollsters and pundits say voters in Alberta’s largest city will determine who emerges victorious on voting day.
Speaking at an automotive shop, Ms. Smith announced a plan for job growth and diversification that would see the expansion of certain tax credits and loan-guarantee programs, expedite credentialing for in-demand workers and push another $100-million into the Alberta Enterprise Corporation for venture-capital investments.
She said the UCP will also introduce a non-refundable tax credit of between $3,000 and $10,000 for graduates who stay in Alberta, estimated to cost $50-million over four years. Additionally, her party will provide a $1,200 signing bonus for certain skilled workers as part of the Alberta is Calling campaign, forecast to cost $17-million yearly.
“To keep our economy growing, we need skilled workers for our new and existing industries and not only do we want to attract them, we want to keep them here,” Ms. Smith said.
Earlier this week, she promised a tax cut worth $1-billion annually and hundreds of millions more in fuel-tax savings this year. In a pre-election pledge, she committed $330-million over three years for the Calgary arena deal.
The UCP’s pre-election budget assumed that the North American benchmark West Texas International oil price would average US$79 per barrel in 2023-24 and projected a $2.4-billion surplus. The price now sits at US$68 per barrel as the recent U.S. banking crisis and concerns over China’s economic recovery weigh on oil prices.
Prices were 20 per cent higher this time last year.
UCP spokesperson Dave Prisco, when asked how this plan would fit into Alberta’s fiscal standing, said the party is committed to keeping the budget in the black. “Strong fiscal discipline by our United Conservative government has lead to back-to-back balanced budgets and a notable surplus for the years ahead.”
Outside Calgary’s historic McDougall Centre, Ms. Notley called the UCP’s Graduate Retention Tax Credit “rich” considering recent tuition hikes in Alberta. She said it’s “a little bit like closing the barn door long after the horses have left.” She said the NDP will release a plan for recruitment and retention soon.
Her focus on Thursday was attracting undecided voters and those who have previously supported conservative parties to back the NDP. She said New Democrats have heard from Tories at the doors that Ms. Smith does not represent their values or priorities.
“There’s no question this is a tight race and every vote will matter. So, today I’m asking voters who are frustrated with Danielle Smith and her antics to give us a chance to show you what we’ve got,” Ms. Notley said.
“You have every right to be looking for stability, for common sense, for trusted leadership. And you’re looking for a more positive vision for the future. And that’s what I’m working to provide to Albertans each and every day,” said Ms. Notley, criticizing Ms. Smith for what she called her flip-flopping on issues.
She reiterated the NDP’s commitment to improve health care and drive economic growth in Alberta, with advice from Todd Hirsch, former chief economist for ATB. Ms. Notley also repeated her promise to not raise income taxes for four years and to freeze insurance rates, while underlining support for the oil and gas industry.
In response to Ms. Notley, Ms. Smith made a pitch of her own for traditional New Democratic voters. She said union workers should support the UCP because of the job policy she announced Thursday.
“The NDP instead, with their ideological approach on resource revenue, will cost blue-collar jobs,” she said. “Why would any front-line health professional support the NDP? They had four years to work on making changes to the health care system – they failed.”