Alberta legislature building. Photo: Hiroki Nakamura/Flickr

The 2018 Alberta Alternative Budget (AAB) was released this week — it can be downloaded here. You can read an opinion piece I wrote about the AAB in 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 per cent 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 per cent provincial portion, added on to the 5 per cent Goods and Services Tax, could result in a 10 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). This would generate approximately $5 billion annually.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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 per cent. The AAB would also eliminate the interest on the provincial portion of student loans, as well as invest in grants to current students.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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 (a person with a severe disability can receive more). The AAB would increase monthly benefit levels by $150 and index these benefits to inflation going forward.

10. 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.

Photo: Hiroki Nakamura/Flickr

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