Alberta throne speech tackles economy, payday loans
But opposition leaders denounce NDP for faulty economic plan
Alberta's NDP government is sticking with its plan to invest in infrastructure and diversify the economy in light of what Premier Rachel Notley calls the shock of low oil prices.
The government outlined its priorities for the spring session in the Speech from the Throne which was read Tuesday by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell.
"We are investing in Alberta, we are investing in Albertans, we are focused on supporting Albertans and we're focused on maintaining stability," Premier Rachel Notley said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
The government plans to create an energy diversification advisory committee, introduce legislation to enact the carbon levy and consolidate and eliminate some agencies boards and commissions,
The government also plans to introduce legislation to cap interest rates charged by payday loan companies — which can be as much as 600 per cent a year.
The government confirmed its plans to invest $34 billion in infrastructure over the next five years, and to roll out the Alberta Child Benefit this summer.
Notley repeated her assertion that governments need to act as a shock absorber during bad economic times by keeping people employed by building infrastructure.
"I would reject the notion that we simply cover our ears, cover our eyes, cross our fingers and sit in a corner hoping that the economy recovers," she said.
"I think Albertans elected a government that would reach out to them and do whatever they could and make whatever effort they could to work with them to get us all through this downturn."
Opposition, protesters slam NDP agenda
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean says the government is "doubling down on their ideological approach" to the economy.
"An approach that raises taxes on businesses, overwhelms our industry in even further red tape and finally punishes families from every corner of this province with a $3-billion carbon tax," he said.
The government's first bill of the session, the Promoting Job Creation and Diversification Act, offers few details on what the government plans to do about the economy, Jean added.
"It does not give any clarity whatsoever about the path of the NDP job subsidy program that has created exactly zero jobs."
Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver also chastized the government for failing to react to the slumping economy.
"There appears to be precious little in this government's legislative agenda that would give people in this province who have been hit by difficult economic times any hope that this government has their back," he said.
Outside the legislature, a group of protesters wielding signs carrying anti-Notley, anti-farm safety bill and pro-pipeline signs chanted "Rachel Notley has to go."
"Alberta has always been the greatest province. It's been a refuge of many that wanted independence and opportunity — and to have it thrown away, while attacking everything we've done, is the most ridiculous thing in the world," said George Clark, leader of the anti-NDP group called Albertans First.
Here is a list of some of the government initiatives outlined in the throne speech:
An act to end predatory lending
Only two provinces limit interest rates: Quebec and Newfoundland. Quebec caps the rate at a 35 per cent annual percentage rate (APR). Newfoundland has no regulation, which means it follows the Canadian Criminal Code which makes it illegal for lenders to charge more than 60 per cent APR.
Notley says taking action on these loans is urgent during bad economic times so vulnerable people won't dig themselves into a deeper financial hole.
"We believe it's really important to step in as quickly as we can to try and limit the damage that can occur in those situations," she said.
Details on the bill are still forthcoming, but the government intends to reduce the rate, then cap it.
Notley said the government is also interested in working with alternative lenders to offer short-term loans at reasonable rates.
Reform of agencies, boards and commissions
Alberta launched a review of the province's 200 agencies, boards and commissions [ABCs] last fall. Now it appears the government is ready to consolidate some and eliminate others.
- Rachel Notley's government must review high salaries at agencies, critics say
- NDP launch review of 300 Alberta agencies, boards and commissions
The compensation paid to board members and executives is also under the microscope. The government says pay varies greatly among ABCs, and can be greater than the salaries paid to staff in similar positions within the public service.
Establishment of the energy diversification advisory committee
This committee will advise the government on how Alberta can establish value-added initiatives like upgrading bitumen and building petrochemical plants to take advantage of the province's vast natural gas reserves.
The committee members haven't yet been named and there is no timeline for when they will deliver recommendations.
Climate leadership implementation bill
This bill will establish the $3-billion carbon tax set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2017. It will also exempt certain fuels and industries from the tax, as well as lay out a plan for how the money will be invested in renewable energy and public transit. Rebates will also be made available for low-income families and small businesses.
The government also plans to establish an agency called Energy Efficiency Alberta to help businesses, communities and households reduce their energy costs.
Alberta child benefit program
The $340-million program was announced last fall. The benefit will help low-income families in Alberta. The program starts July 1 with the first cheques expected to show up in August.
Repealing Bill 22
This bill was passed by the previous PC government but never proclaimed into law. It is a sore point for many indigenous leaders in Alberta.
Bill 22 set up a way for indigenous groups to take part in consultations with industry on proposed developments. Ironically, leaders said the bill was written without talking to them first.
The NDP government plans to repeal the bill and start over again.