Breakenridge: Smith keeps jabbing feds over affordability yet offers nothing here to help

For as much as the premier talks about an affordability crisis, it’s remarkable just how absent it’s been from the government’s agenda

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The spring session of the Alberta legislature wrapped up last week, and much of the focus has been on the many bills rammed through at the 11th hour.

However, this session was also notable for what it did not deliver on, especially the issue Albertans are most concerned about right now. For as much as the premier talks about an affordability crisis, it’s remarkable just how absent it’s been from the government’s agenda.

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The UCP seems far more interested in consolidating power and crafting legislative obstructions that target a federal government whose days are likely numbered. It’s hard to see how any of that offers any positive tangible benefit on anyone’s lives.

That’s not to say Albertans necessarily blame the UCP for the cost-of-living crisis, but it’s clearly a major worry. A survey for CBC by Alberta pollster Janet Brown found that cost of living was most identified as an issue of importance — surpassing health care, housing and the economy as the issue most cited as top of mind for respondents.

It was definitely a major focus in last year’s provincial election. In a statement last week marking the one-year anniversary of that election, the premier made specific mention of “this Canada-wide cost-of-living crisis” and cited her government’s fuel tax holiday and the reindexing of tax brackets.

Of course, those were measures implemented more than a year ago and the gasoline tax has now been fully restored (at a time when other provinces have reduced or paused theirs, and the federal Conservatives are pressing Ottawa for a gas tax summer holiday). The UCP also campaigned on a promise to lower the tax rate from 10 to eight per cent on income under $60,000, relief that would help Albertans at a “time when they needed it most.” That promise has been abandoned.

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The only affordability measure of any real significance was a bill to reduce Calgary’s local access fee on electricity — but that won’t happen until next year. Last year’s measures and next year’s measures (and whatever year we might see that tax cut) aren’t really useful for folks in the here and now. If the premier believes that the affordability crisis has subsided in 2024 and therefore the focus must turn to other matters, perhaps she should stop referring to an ongoing affordability crisis.

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Brown’s polling shows that the government’s aggressive posturing toward Ottawa remains quite popular among the UCP base, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it remains a preoccupation for this premier (and, in fairness, Alberta does have some legitimate beefs with the feds). But this is a political strategy that offers diminishing returns — perhaps none at all by the time the next election rolls around.

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It’s no coincidence that Rachel Notley and the NDP managed to win an election prior to Justin Trudeau taking office, and then lost two straight with him as prime minister. Federal politics were a non-factor here in the 2015 election. However, Trudeau loomed large in the 2019 election and even more so in the 2023 election as his unpopularity continued to mushroom.

However, it’s almost impossible to envision a scenario where he remains in power while Alberta contests an election in the fall of 2027. By then we may have had two years of a Conservative government dismantling much of his agenda and a dramatically different Alberta-Ottawa dynamic.

So the question of “who do you trust to stand up to Ottawa” probably won’t be on the ballot in three years’ time, but “are you better off than you were four years ago” very likely will be. Even as inflation ebbs, the cascading effects of mortgage renewals over the next couple of years could keep the affordability issue at the forefront for some time.

This government would do well to stop ignoring it.

“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on QR Calgary (770AM/107.3FM)

[email protected]

X: @RobBreakenridge

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