On Monday, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Salma Lakhani delivered the 2023 speech from the throne at the Alberta Legislative Assembly, signalling start of the 31st session of the legislature.
The annual speech laid out the government’s goals and priorities for the new session, promised to defend the province from federal overreach by using the Sovereignty within a United Canada Act when necessary, and to hold a referendum on new tax increases.
The speech, the first since Premier Danielle Smith and the United Conservative Party’s win in the May 2023 general election, sends a message to Albertans, as well as the province’s counterparts in Ottawa. But that message was not entirely confrontational.
The throne speech clearly declares that Alberta’s government will do everything in its power to prevent the federal government from imposing “destructive policies” on the province. That includes policies such as capping emissions and production from the oil and gas sector, and transitioning the provincial energy grid to be net zero by 2035.
To address concerns around the province’s electricity market and what is described as a “rushed” transition from fossil fuel-generated power, the Alberta government plans to increase the power supply through incentives around the construction of new natural gas energy generation projects.
The speech speaks volumes with what it doesn’t include as well.
Notably, the Canada Pension Plan, or the provincial government’s plan to opt out of CPP and develop its own pension plan, is not mentioned at all in the throne speech. A public consultation about a potential Alberta Pension Plan is underway and set to conclude on December 10. In recent weeks, Premier Smith has said a referendum on the issue, and whether they’d be better off with a provincial plan, may not materialize if a public consultation indicates the idea isn’t popular with residents. The absence of comment on the issue in the throne speech is interesting, given the recent comments from officials in British Columbia, Ontario and the federal government opposing Alberta’s support for withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan. On Friday, federal Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland will be holding a meeting with her provincial and territorial colleagues to discuss Alberta’s potential withdrawal.
The speech also includes some tangible measures to reduce the cost of living for Albertans. This includes the creation of a new eight per cent tax bracket for residents earning less than $60,000 a year and an extension to a break on taxes for fuel until the end of 2023.
In her press conference after the delivery of the throne speech, Premier Smith outlined the conditions under which her government would utilize the Sovereignty Act to protect Alberta’s interests. Those include a cap on oil and gas emissions such as methane and fertilizer use, that is too “aggressive,” or a 2035 target for a net-zero electricity grid.
In her party’s response to the throne speech, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley described the speech as being full of gimmicks and new uncertainties. She called on the government to address the high auto insurance rates, electricity costs and tuition rates as well as the lack of housing in the province.
Issues outlined in the Speech from the Throne
Alberta’s provincial rights
The government of Alberta intends to use the Sovereignty Act to protect Albertans from policies it believes are unconstitutional. This includes ensuring that Albertans have access to affordable and reliable electricity and increasing the export of natural gas and other energy products to Asia and other jurisdictions to replace the use of coal and wood and “meaningfully reducing carbon emissions” around the world.
Alberta’s government must set priorities through the lens of understanding that by 2050, the province is projected to have a population approaching 10 million people. This rapid growth, the province is expected to surpass five million residents by 2025, presents opportunities and challenges in the years ahead. It will require massive infrastructure improvements and new recreational and entertainment opportunities to build quality of life and culture.
The government of Alberta intends to address the challenges of rising costs for rents and mortgages, food, fuel, electricity, and insurance premiums.
The government will introduce the Taxpayer Protection Amendment Act as its’ first piece of legislation in the new legislative session. The bill will ensure there are no new provincial taxes, or increases to existing personal or business taxes, without approval by Alberta residents in a referendum. A new tax bracket of eight per cent will be introduced for incomes under $60,000, which is expected to save taxpayers $750 annually, and the fuel tax pause will be extended to December 31, 2023.
Attainable housing strategy
The government will expand rent supplements for Albertans to help the capacity of the existing rental market be more affordable for Albertans. It will also work to support an additional 12,000 low-income households through rent assistance and build 25,000 new units by 2031 through $9 billion in housing investments. Alberta will work with municipalities to drastically increase private construction.
Alberta’s government will work with industry and consumers on a package of reforms to ensure the electricity grid gives them access to affordable and reliable power and ensure ample natural-gas generated electricity is brought on to the grid to support the expansion that will need to more than double the base load of the power grid in the coming decades. The government will incentivize investments in carbon capture, utilization and storage, nuclear, geothermal and other reliable sources of power as well, all while moving towards a carbon-neutral electrical grid by 2050.
The government of Alberta will implement a series of reforms to limit increases to premiums for drivers who have safe driving records and assist insurers to keep premiums reasonable and competitive with the rest of the country.
Public safety and addiction crisis
The province will provide funding to support the hiring of hundreds of new policy officers and introduce justice system reforms to arrest and put criminals behind bars. The government will also introduce legislation to create a compassionate intervention program for those who are a danger to themselves and others, and establishing 11 new recovery communities to add to the publicly funded addiction treatment spaces available across the province.
The government will have more to say in the coming weeks on actions to decentralize decision-making and move additional health resources and professionals to the front lines.
The government of Alberta will further integrate mental health supports within schools and continue to implement additional educational assistants into classrooms to address the unique and specialized needs of students. Alberta will work to strengthen career education by funding new and enhanced dual credit programs’ bringing more collegiate schools online across the province to create pathways for students’ and explore new way to attract and bridge qualified tradespeople, health care professionals and other experts into the teaching profession. Alberta’s government will champion skilled trades and professions to ensure young people will know that apprenticeship education has as much merit and value as any other form of post-secondary education.
Alberta’s government is forming a cross-ministry working group to review and reform how it regulates natural resource development. It will incentivize the development of new and emerging industries, such as hydrogen, rare earth minerals, technology, new forestry products, tourism and culture.
The government of Alberta has been working closely with municipalities to finalize a new funding framework, tied to provincial revenues to provide more predictability for capital planning at the municipal level. The province needs to significantly expand the transportation and highway network and build commuter rail links between Edmonton and Calgary, including high speed raid through the Calgary – Red Deer – Edmonton corridor to meet future demands.
The government of Alberta will balance the provincial budget every year, limit spending increases to below inflation, plus population growth and pay down debt until the province is debt-free.
- Throne Speech 2023 (Government of Alberta)
- Protecting Albertans against future tax hikes (Government of Alberta)
- Alberta leading on economic reconciliation (Government of Alberta)
- Alberta takes charge of its future (Government of Alberta)
- [Video] Alberta Speech from the Throne – October 30, 2023 (CPAC)