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Alberta Budget 2022: Natural gas rebate planned for next winter


Albertans could see a rebate on their monthly energy bills next winter, but no immediate government relief from rising inflation costs

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Albertans could see a rebate on their monthly energy bills next winter, but those looking for immediate government relief from rising inflation costs won’t find it in Thursday’s provincial budget.

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Alberta’s latest fiscal plan introduces a rebate on natural gas beginning in October 2022, if prices jump to $6.50 per gigajoule, which would be well above current rates. Direct Energy charged its customers approximately $4.82 per gigajoule for February.

Prior to tabling Thursday’s budget, Finance Minister Travis Toews said the government determined the threshold by following a similar program created by Ralph Klein’s government in the early 2000s, while accounting for inflation.

“I can’t predict whether we’ll actually hit the threshold,” said Toews. “But as Alberta consumers take a look at what’s happening in Europe and Asia, and see natural gas prices hitting the $20 or $30 mark, they can rest assured that if the trigger of $6.50 is broken, that there will be government price protection.”

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Customers that consume fewer than 2,500 gigajoules — including most households, apartments, farms and small businesses — will be eligible for the rebate that will be applied monthly until March of 2023 for every month the trigger price is met.

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The rebate — which will not address rising electricity prices — will be financed from a contingency fund. It is not clear how much the rebate could cost the province, with additional details expected to be announced later this year.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the government’s plan won’t provide immediate support to rising utility bills and could potentially never come into effect.

“I was shocked, really quite shocked, that this government put nothing in this budget to help with the sky-high bills that Albertans are paying right now,” said Notley. “Albertans are on their own this winter and very likely they’ll be on their own next.”

Toews said the government expects inflation to come in at about 3.2 per cent in 2022. He said he believes salaries in the province will match inflation and potentially exceed the rising cost of living.

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“Anecdotally, I hear employers — whether it’s restaurant owners or manufacturers or others — I hear them talking about increasing wages to attract skilled employees and to retain them,” said Toews.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews during a news conference in Edmonton.
Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews during a news conference in Edmonton. Photo by Ed Kaiser/Postmedia files

Meaghon Reid, executive director of anti-poverty advocacy group Vibrant Communities Calgary, said there is little immediate relief in the budget for Albertans struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living.

“In the short term, I would see no sort of alleviation for people that live in poverty right now and the risk of that is that people fall further into poverty and start losing assets like homes, transportation, etc.,” said Reid.

Reid said there are supports in the budget, such as funding for retraining programs and reducing barriers to employment, that could help Albertans in the long term.

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However, she noted there were missed opportunities in the budget to assist the most vulnerable Albertans, such as reindexing the Assured Income for Severely Handicapped (AISH) and other support programs to inflation.

“There are a number of people who are on income supports who are unable to work because of disability or other reasons, and so we’re not quite sure where this leaves them,” said Reid.

The province will commit an increase to AISH that is smaller than predicted inflation rates. The budget earmarks $1.37 billion to the program, about a one per cent increase over the previous budget.

Toews said the increase in this year’s budget is to account for more people accessing the program.

“Our AISH payments, monthly payments, to users of the program, remain approximately $400 per month more than the next closest province,” he said.

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Trish Bowman, CEO of Inclusion Alberta, said the continued de-indexing will mean AISH recipients will feel tightening financial pressures.

“It’s been three years, I believe, since we’ve seen any increase. So they effectively are living on less money every year as is, and we know the cost of everything is really going up. So this is going to make a bad situation worse for a whole lot of people,” said Bowman.

Alberta’s tax plan remains relatively similar to previous years, with Albertans paying less to provincial coffers than other Canadians pay to their home provinces.

The government argues the low taxes will keep more money in Albertans’ pockets while helping to drive investment and employment in the province, further offsetting inflation costs.

The province also set aside $666 million for its share of the Canada Alberta Early Learning and Child Care Agreement that was previously announced.

dshort@postmedia.com

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