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Alberta projects $12.3B surplus for budget in latest fiscal update


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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Alberta is revising down this year’s budget bottom line as it doles out inflation-fighting payouts but still expects to finish with a petro-powered $12.3-billion surplus.

“Our fiscal situation has improved substantially,” Finance Minister Travis Toews said Thursday as he released the mid-year update for the 2022-23 budget.

“Challenges are ahead, but we’re leaving no one behind.

“We’re able to provide significant help to Albertans and their families, to keep more money in their pockets for groceries, gas, utilities and other rising costs of day-to-day living.”

The plan is to put the bulk of the windfall into debt repayment, reducing the taxpayer-supported debt by $13.3 billion to a new total of just under $80 billion when the fiscal year ends on March 31.

The government has also set aside $2.8 billion over the next three years to cover a batch of inflation-fighting programs and payouts to shield Albertans — particularly families, seniors and the vulnerable — from higher costs due to inflation spikes.

Premier Danielle Smith announced the payouts and rebates this week while building on existing relief measures that began in the spring under former premier Jason Kenney.

Among the changes, the province has paused its 13 cents a litre tax on gasoline at the pumps and is rebating $50 a month on household electricity bills.

Smith’s United Conservative Party government is re-indexing personal income tax brackets and benefit payments to seniors and people with disabilities — the same programs it de-indexed three years ago.

Middle- and lower-income families with children under 18 will be getting $600 total per child over six months starting in January.

The same $600 benefit will go to middle-income seniors and those in need.

Alberta has a rebate program in place in case heating prices spike, but the trigger point is not expected to be reached at least through to the end of this year.

Opposition NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips said while the province is flush with cash, Smith’s government is failing to use it wisely.

Phillips noted the province is not committed to funding the overburdened health system at a rate to match population growth plus inflation. She said many deserving Albertans have been frozen out of the $600-per-person aid package.

On top of that, she said the province had to abandon a previous pledge to put $1.7 billion into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to pay for the inflation-fighting package, although Toews said no final decisions have been made on that.

“This plan is poorly thought out, it is frantic, it misses a wide swath of Albertans, and it doesn’t come anywhere near undoing all the damage they (the government) have authored themselves,” said Phillips.

Non-renewable resources are expected to bring in $28.1 billion, with revenue from the oilsands alone making up 70 per cent of that windfall.

Total revenue is pegged at $76.9 billion and total spending at $64.6 billion.

Spending is up slightly to cover big-ticket items such as $174 million in a new pay deal for physicians.

Personal income taxes is to take in $13.3 billion and there will be $6.3 billion in corporate income taxes.

Total spending on COVID-19 and an economic recovery plan are estimated at $2 billion.

The long-term outlook looks bright. Real GDP growth is pegged at 4.8 per cent this year and Alberta is welcoming 22,000 more people — the biggest net migration among all provinces and the biggest influx to Alberta since 2014.

Inflationary pressures have receded but remain a concern, says the government’s outlook. Headline inflation — the raw figure that includes such volatile price swings as gasoline and food — is predicted to be 6.3 per cent this year.

“Volatility in the market is extreme, and that’s why we must continue to make smart, responsible budgetary choices,” Toews said.

It has been a vertiginous ride for Alberta’s resource-reliant economy. In February, as the global economy reawakened from a two-year COVID-19-induced hibernation, Toews tabled a budget forecasting a modest $511-million surplus after years of multibillion-dollar deficits.

But as global demand for oil shot up and Russia invaded Ukraine, putting more strain on energy supplies, the benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil price went through the roof, averaging more than US$100 a barrel for months.

In August, Alberta’s budget surplus was revised from $511 million to $13.2 billion before being revised yet again Thursday to $12.3 billion.

The West Texas price has softened somewhat and is expected to remain as such in the near future, but still hovers in the very healthy $80 a barrel range.

The government says the WTI needs to average out no lower than $81.50 a barrel the rest of the way in order to meet its budget targets.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

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McDavid enters history books, Skinner shines as Oilers top Kings 2-0

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Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 300th career goal, against the Los Angeles Kings during third period NHL action in Edmonton on Thursday March 30, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

By Shane Jones in Edmonton

Connor McDavid scored his 300th career goal, Stuart Skinner made 43 saves for Edmonton’s first shutout of the season and the Oilers defeated the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 on Thursday.

McDavid became the first player in NHL history to have five different 10-game point streaks in a single season, breaking Wayne Gretzky’s record of four in the 1986-87 season.

McDavid also became the fifth player in league history to reach 300 goals and 500 assists before playing 600 career games. Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Peter Statsny and Bryan Trottier are the others.

Evander Kane scored the other for Edmonton (44-23-9), which has won three in a row and gone 12-2-1 in March.

The Oilers also moved ahead of the Kings for second place in the Pacific Division by one point.

Joonas Korpisalo made 35 saves for Los Angeles (43-22-10), which has lost two in a row on the heels on a franchise-high 12-game points streak.

Kane opened the scoring with just 52 seconds left in the first period. Leon Draisaitl made a beautiful behind-the-back spin pass to Kane, who was able to send a one-timer past Korpisalo for his 15th of the season.

Draisaitl picked up his 70th assist and extended his point scoring streak to 11 games on the play.

Skinner was later able to keep the Kings off the board midway through the second period, making a big glove save on Adrian Kempe’s breakaway backhand shot.

Edmonton outshot Los Angeles 27-24 through 40 minutes after a scoreless second period.

McDavid made it 2-0 3:53 into the third period when he picked off a pass and sped away on a short-handed breakaway to score his 61st goal of the season. It was also his fourth short-handed goal of the campaign.

Skinner made huge saves on Vladislav Gavrikov and Viktor Arvidsson in the dying minutes and collected his 10th win in the month of March to set a franchise record for wins in a single month.


The Kings entered the game with a 9-1-2 record in March and the league’s best point percentage for the month, while Edmonton was second. Edmonton leads the NHL with 4.71 goals per game in March, while the Kings are fourth at 4.00. A major difference is that the Kings also had the lowest goals against per game at 2.08 during that span … Edmonton had also scored four or more goals in 11 of its 14 games this month and its power play has operated at 42.3 per cent during their 7-0-1 run coming into the contest. … Edmonton became the first team to have two players record 70 assists in the same season since the 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and just the 21st team in NHL history to do so … The Kings were without Gabriel Vilardi (upper body), while the Oilers were missing Ryan Murray (back), and Ryan McLeod (upper body).


The Oilers play host to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

The Kings play the third game of a four-game road trip in Seattle against the Kraken on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.

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Appropriate for Alberta premier to discuss COVID case with accused, deputy says

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Kaycee Madu shakes hand with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith after he was sworn into cabinet in Edmonton, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Madu says it was appropriate for his boss to phone up a pastor charged over pandemic-rule protests and discuss the accused’s upcoming criminal trial. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Alberta’s deputy premier says it was appropriate for Premier Danielle Smith to phone up a pastor and discuss his upcoming criminal trial on charges stemming from protests over pandemic restrictions.

Kaycee Madu, who is also the province’s former justice minister, said Thursday that Smith is working to make Alberta better, adding that she is free to contact whomever she wants in pursuing that mission.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley labelled Madu’s comments a dangerous “la la land” rationale and the start of a slippery slope toward a “tinpot dictatorship.”

Smith faces renewed criticism over a leaked phone conservation she had with Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski in January about his looming criminal trial for his role at a protest over COVID-19 health measures that blocked the United States-Canada border-crossing at Coutts, Alta., in January 2022.

Audio of the call was obtained by the Opposition NDP and played for reporters Wednesday.

In it, Smith is heard commiserating with Pawlowski over her government’s trial tactics, offering to make inquiries on his behalf and saying the Crown is pursuing politically motivated charges against him.

Legal and political observers say the call is a profound breach of the firewall separating politicians from those who decide who gets prosecuted.

Smith has long been critical of COVID-19 masking, gathering and vaccine mandate rules, questioning if they were needed to fight the pandemic. She has called them intolerable violations of personal freedoms.

Madu, when asked by reporters whether it was proper for Smith to have called Pawlowski, said: “COVID policies were divisive for the people of Alberta. I am looking to see us pass that particular era and focus on the people’s priorities.”

He said Smith’s focus as premier has been on things that matter to Albertans, such as affordability, economic growth and taking care of the vulnerable.

“In the course of that particular work, the premier is free to speak with anyone that she wishes to speak with.”

Notley said those remarks, coupled with Smith’s words on the phone call, put Alberta on a slippery path to the politicization of its justice system. She called for an expedited independent inquiry into the matter before the writ is dropped next month for a scheduled provincial election.

“We’re on the verge of a tinpot dictatorship,” Notley said.

“You start ripping apart the fundamental tenets of democracy, you move into dictatorship. It’s that simple.”

Madu moved out of the justice portfolio under former premier Jason Kenney after a third-party report found he tried to interfere in the administration of justice by calling up Edmonton’s police chief to complain about a traffic ticket.

Madu was given a new portfolio under Kenney, then promoted to deputy premier when Smith won the party leadership and became premier in October.

Smith has not spoken to reporters since the audio was released, but in a statement Wednesday reiterated she has acted strictly within the parameters of advice from justice officials and has not spoken directly to Crown prosecutors.

“There is no need for further investigation of this matter,” Smith said in a statement Thursday.

Notley said the call is dramatic and disturbing proof of Smith breaching the judicial firewall.

“You cannot have unfettered power in the office of the premier. There are limits,” Notley said. “Our Constitution for as long as we’ve been a country has said that those limits are defined by an independent judicial system.”

Calgary-based pollster Janet Brown said the controversy will reanimate voter concerns with Smith.

“Why was she even taking a call from someone facing a criminal offence and talking about their criminal charges?” said Brown in an interview.

“This will give undecided voters pause. They will be wondering about her judgment, and her judgment is her Achilles heel.”

Political scientist Duane Bratt said Smith is exerting pressure on the justice system by constantly questioning justice officials about why they are pursuing COVID-19 cases.

“Even if this isn’t about talking to Crown prosecutors, this is clear pressure on (Justice Minister Tyler) Shandro,” said Bratt, with Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Constitutional law professor Eric Adams, with the University of Alberta, said the call threatens public trust in the courts.

“You expose the administration of justice to the reasonable concern of the public that some people have access to the premier and preferential treatment and some people don’t,” said Adams.

“Our system can’t function on that basis.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.

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