Good morning. Wendy Cox here today.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is giving away $500 or so to 900,000 residents in October – a way, he said, to offset rising costs from inflation. A campaigning Quebec Premier Francois Legault is giving out between $400 and $600 to that province’s residents.
But buoyed by a windfall surplus now estimated at more than $13-billion, Alberta Finance Minister Jason Nixon resisted the urge to make a similar move.
Rather, Mr. Nixon indicated to Globe columnist Kelly Cryderman in an exclusive interview Tuesday that Alberta will make less blingy use of the money. The province will use the surplus to pay off a significant portion of its debt and will shovel $3-billion into the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund – the long-term savings fund created in 1976 to collect some resource revenue for future generations. The HSTF has long been neglected, Kelly wrote.
“Obviously we looked at every option,” the Finance Minister said, but in helping Albertans with the unprecedented inflation situation, “one of our focuses would be on trying to bring forward programs that did not create or make the inflation situation worse.” The advice they got is that direct payments could add fuel to the inflationary fire.
Premier Jason Kenney said in a video late Tuesday that the province will re-index personal income taxes beginning this year – a move that prevents “bracket creep” and a change called for by groups as different as the Opposition NDP and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
With Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party in the process of picking a new leader to replace him, Mr. Nixon’s outline of the province’s plans for this largesse wasn’t as jubilant as it might have been. Whoever comes next may have different ideas about how to manage the money.
But Mr. Nixon did take the chance to remind Canadians that Alberta’s good fortune is also theirs.
As volatile as world commodity prices continue to be, Mr. Nixon said the numbers he will lay out on Wednesday are repudiation of predictions the province’s oil and natural gas sector would never have the financial heft it once did.
“You’re also seeing some of those windfalls in the Canadian budget process,” he said, as the federal government recorded a $10.2-billion surplus for the first quarter of the fiscal year, in part because of higher commodity prices.
“This is something that we’ve been trying to emphasize to the rest of the country – the critical component of the oil and gas industry. Not only to Alberta’s economic future, but to the country as a whole.”
Mr. Nixon said payments to reduce Alberta’s overall debt will knock it down to below $80-billion. That will help to reduce debt-servicing costs that total billions of dollars annually, “more than many departments in government.”
Other “affordability programs” will continue for the time being. Alberta’s gasoline tax holiday will continue as long as resource prices remain high, Mr. Nixon said. And the electricity rebate program is showing significant promise in reducing the province’s inflation rate, he said. He expects the natural-gas rebate program coming in during the colder months will do the same.
The Alberta government talks often about its reigning in of spending. But the 2022-23 non-renewable resource revenues are also likely to be the highest on record, according to Mr. Nixon. And the temptation to spend every last bit will be difficult to resist climbing out of a pandemic hole.
“It’s actually a real challenge to be able to try to keep on the right trajectory, and to not make the mistakes of the past.”