The Alberta Legislature adjourned yesterday a week earlier than scheduled for two reasons. First, there is a lot of political work to be completed before the election later this spring. Both parties need to complete nominations and appointments to ensure all 87 election teams are established and prepared by both major parties. Fundraising will also continue in April so Albertans can anticipate more online ads from both parties. Second, although entertaining, the political noise drowned out some important legislation that was quietly passed this Session. Several amendments send strong messages of a commitment to economic growth and government stability.
Bill 9, the Red Tape Reduction Act included amendments to the Land Titles Act that allow Albertans to sign and submit certain documents electronically to the Land Titles Office. Service Alberta more than doubled Land Titles Office staffing, increased training, and made processes more efficient. That being said, modernizing the land titles system is the most effective way to scale up the land title process, as business activity has really picked up in Alberta.
The Act also provides the cities of Calgary and Edmonton with greater certainty around provincial funding for their LRT projects, encourages more businesses to bid on the LRT contracts, and helps reduce project costs by eliminating the need for contractors to build in a premium to protect themselves against the risk of provincial funding being withdrawn.
In addition, Bill 9 amends the Public Works Act to change the level of authority to make or amend regulations from Cabinet to the Minister of Infrastructure. This amendment also extends prompt payment rules to Government of Alberta projects. These changes are a nod to the sub-contractors and skilled trades who support and anticipate operating their businesses within Alberta’s prompt payment system.
Bill 10, the Financial Statutes Amendment Act requires all future Alberta governments to balance their annual budgets, with certain exceptions, and use any surpluses to first pay down debt and save for the future before investing in one-time initiatives. Previous governments have tried similar approaches, but this framework appears to be different. The fiscal framework requires the government to use 50 per cent of surplus cash to pay down debt maturing in that fiscal year. The rest would be deposited into the Alberta Fund, which can only be used for three purposes:
- to further pay down debt;
- to invest in the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund; or,
- for one-time initiatives that do not permanently increase government spending.
Bill 10 also included amendments to streamline the transfer of money from the General Revenue Fund to the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to allow the latter to retain all of its net income. The province would have saved billions of dollars more if this change had been made in the 1990’s. However as many Ministers have said throughout this legislative session, ‘the best time to start saving is today’.
Perhaps the most impressive (and surprising) change during this legislative session was the Ministerial Order from Energy Minister Guthrie under the Responsible Energy Development Act directed to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). Companies in that sector will now have to confirm that their unpaid municipal taxes across the province do not exceed the maximum threshold allowed, or they will need to have a repayment agreement in place whenever they apply for new licences or for licence transfers (i.e. because they’re seeking to sell their assets).
Municipal Affairs and the AER will be working together to create an annual list of companies whose unpaid municipal taxes exceed the threshold amount. Companies that exceed this threshold amount will be required to provide proof of tax payment to the AER.
This is a significant change in perspective from even a few months ago. There are several reasons a small number of companies refused to pay municipal taxes, but the rationale didn’t add up to the large and growing unpaid municipal tax burden in rural Alberta.
Politics can be a fun soap opera, a frustrating distraction, or a bit of both. The Assembly adjourning a week early could feed onto the view that the Official Opposition weren’t making any gains in Question Period. The reality is the new Premier and her government had a successful Spring Session with a positive budget and legislative changes that will help economic diversification, growth and stabilize revenues.
We’re Here to Help
For more information and insights about what these developments mean for Alberta’s political landscape, please contact:
Elysa Darling – Senior Strategy Advisor
Rick Fraser – Senior Strategy Advisor
Duane Monea – Senior Strategy Advisor
Colleen Potter – Senior Strategy Advisor
Mat Steppan – Senior Strategy Advisor
Jeff Sterzuk – President
Ben Thibault – Senior Strategy Advisor
Richard Truscott – Vice-President
To learn more about Prairie Sky Strategy, please visit our website.