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Ten proposals from the 2018 Alberta Alternative Budget

The 2018 Alberta Alternative Budget (AAB) was released yesterday—it can be downloaded here. An opinion piece I wrote about the AAB appeared yesterday in both the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal.

Inspired by the Alternative Federal Budget exercise, this year’s AAB was drafted by a working group consisting of individuals from the non-profit sector, labour movement and advocacy sectors.

Here are 10 proposals from this year’s AAB.

  1. Introduce a 5% provincial sales tax. The AAB gives the Notley government credit for generating additional revenue by increasing both personal and corporate tax rates, while also increasing tobacco and fuel taxes. However, in light of the very substantial loss in revenue as a result in the drop of the price of oil, we’d like to see the Alberta government take one step further and introduce a provincial sales tax. A 5% provincial portion, added on to the 5% Goods and Services Tax, could result in a 10% Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). This would generate approximately $5 billion annually.

 

  1. Introduce an HST rebate for low-income households. It’s well-known that sales taxes in general have a larger impact on low-income households than on higher income households (that’s because lower-income households spend a larger proportion of their income on consumption). To counteract that, the AAB proposes the introduction of an HST rebate for low-income households.

 

  1. Introduce provincial pharmacare. Many low-income Albertans currently struggle to afford prescription medication; and many employers (especially small businesses) struggle to afford health and dental programs for their employees. Not only would a universal coverage prescription drug plan ensure prescription drug coverage for all; it would take advantage of bulk purchasing, reducing costs for both households and employers.

 

  1. Increase staffing in long-term care facilities. This year’s AAB would hire more registered nurses and health care aids for Alberta’s long-term care facilities. We would spend enough to bring facilities up to the minimum recommended staffing levels. This would result in improved quality of care.

 

  1. Reduce class sizes in K-12 education. Specifically, the AAB proposes to bring class sizes at the K – 3 level down to levels recommended by the Alberta Commission on Learning. We’d do this by hiring more teachers, education assistants and support staff.

 

  1. Reduce tuition fees for all post-secondary students in the province. While we believe the complete elimination of tuition fees is a laudable long-term goal, for this coming budget year, the AAB proposes to reduce tuition fees for all post-secondary students in Alberta by 20%. The AAB would also eliminate the interest on the provincial portion of student loans, as well as invest in grants to current students.

 

  1. On the Indigenous file, create an Intergovernmental Relations position in each provincial ministry. The AAB would invest in cultural capacity-building in all 22 provincial ministries. One Intergovernmental Relations position would be created in each ministry; that role would focus on relations between the ministry and Indigenous peoples, keeping in mind challenges when working across ministries and departments at all orders of government.

 

  1. Implement universal child care. The AAB would expand the Notley government’s current pilot program of $25-per-day child care, making subsidized and regulated child care to all Alberta households. Among other things, we expect this to result in increased labour market participation by women.

 

  1. Increase social assistance benefit levels. Social assistance (i.e., ‘welfare’) recipients have seen the monthly value of their benefits decrease in real terms over the past several years. Today, a single adult (without dependents) on social assistance in Alberta receives just $8,000 annually to live on.[1] The AAB would increase monthly benefit levels by $150 and index these benefits to inflation going forward.

 

  1. Create more affordable housing. The AAB would fund the repair of existing social housing units; it would also provide funding to build new affordable housing for vulnerable populations (e.g., persons experiencing absolute homelessness, the frail elderly, persons with HIV/AIDS). Further, it would provide funding for rent supplements (i.e., financial assistance for rent) to low-income households.

 

In Sum. Budgets are always about choices, and that principle has guided alternative budget exercises across Canada for over two decades. This year’s AAB proposes a costed-out set of policy proposals that would improve labour market, health and education outcomes, while also addressing principles of reconciliation and reducing income inequality.

 

[1] A person with a severe disability can receive more.

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Comments

Comment from Jean Hawse
Time: March 21, 2018, 11:07 am

The government is going to kill any company that is based in Alberta that sells anything anywhere!! There are zero profits now the way things are. . What are these officials thinking!?

Penalizes Alberta business for the responsabitly to help pay for the continuation of community programs and welfare??? Please do NOT do this!!! There will no reason to stay in Alberta anymore!! ??

Comment from Carol Wodak
Time: March 23, 2018, 9:44 am

Good work – and so useful.
But I have one suggestion, after a quarter-century of close interest in eldercare, which is much the same across the country as here in Alberta.
Long-term care facilities are being replaced by other settings, usually referred to as assisted or supportive living, and always here in Alberta, owned and operated by private investors, often with public capital subsidies and operating contracts, and by diverting folks to home care as well as these “alternative settings”. The justification often includes a promise of a wider range of care services, which of course would be a Good Thing, even in LTC where the range of services has been increasingly limited.
You can’t describe an elephant with a microscope [outside a lab, anyway].

Comment from Randy Robinson
Time: April 12, 2018, 12:56 pm

Great work here. On the sales tax, you can not find a more lucidly reasoned rationale for introducing one (in the middle of a recession, yet) than that laid out in the Ontario budget in 1961 by Conservative Finance Minister James N. Allan. Check it out at http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/historical_documents_project/57-61/ONTARIO_1961_BUDGET.pdf . Still makes sense today!

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