Premier Danielle Smith has issued mandate letters to multiple government ministers yesterday to address the affordability crisis. One of these letters went to Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jeremy Nixon.
"Our Cabinet faces an extraordinary task: to deliver on a clear and bold mandate in a limited period of time. Albertans are counting on us, and they rightfully expect their government to address the challenges they are facing with our full attention and action. First, I ask you to keep the inflation and affordability crisis top of mind. Affordability is the primary challenge facing Albertans today, and as a government we will ensure that Alberta families are able to manage through this storm by taking decisive action in the coming weeks and months," Smith wrote in the letter to Nixon.
While other focuses like healthcare and job creation were listed, affordability is the biggest concern and the area which Nixon has the most control over. To address affordability, Nixon said the government has already taken steps in the past by reducing the electricity and gas bills, and producing the gas tax by 13 cents a litre which he says "reduced the cost of literally everything as a result." However, with the new mandate letter, Nixon said he will now look at more ways to help Albertans through inflation.
"Right off the get go we're looking at re-indexing social supports like AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped), income support, as well as senior benefits. And we are looking at options to continue to expand our affordable housing, as well as giving more resources to our food banks and expanding our network of food banks to make sure that nobody is going to go hungry this winter," Nixon said.
Nixon explained re-indexing these supports will be on a go-forward basis, which would allow the government to account for inflation each year. He added the supports returning is a permanent thing, and the go-forward basis refers to adjusting for inflation, rather than cutting the supports again. As for why the government cut the supports in the first place in 2019, Nixon explained it had to be done for financial sustainability, but with the economy looking strong again, it was possible to re-index supports.
"Three years ago we were in a structural deficit, our financial situation was dire and our government had to take measures to make sure that we got back in the black, which we've done. We are now running a surplus two years in a row, so we're in a much better financial position and the long term viability of these programs is secured. We're at a position now where we can invest in these programs and make sure that that prosperity is shared with all Albertans, especially that we can focus on helping our most vulnerable."
As for Smith's comment about being in "a limited period of time," Nixon took this as meaning action needs to be taken right away since this is an urgent issue. He said it's possible Smith was referring to the upcoming general election in May as the time limit, but he personally took it as "the fact that we need to act urgently to address this immediate crisis,"