Alberta politicians unhappy with changes to federal fiscal stabilization program

·2 min read

Changes to a program meant to help the provinces weather extraordinary drops in revenue have been given a thumbs-down by both government and opposition politicians in Alberta.

Federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland announced the changes to the fiscal stabilization program while delivering her government's economic update on Monday.

The cap currently set at $60 per person is set to jump to $170 per person in the current fiscal year. Provinces are eligible for extra funding if they experience a five per cent year-over-year drop in non-resource revenues, or a decrease of more than 50 per cent in resource revenues.

When asked about the changes on Tuesday, Finance Minister Travis Toews said they weren't what Alberta was asking for.

"Very disappointed that the caps weren't lifted entirely," he said. "It really doesn't go far enough."

The changes announced by Freeland aren't retroactive, another disappointment for the government.

If Ottawa removed the $60 cap for the period going back to the 2015-16 collapse in global oil prices, Toews says Alberta would be entitled to receive another $2.9 million in stabilization payments.

He argued Alberta taxpayers contribute $20 billion each year when times are good so the federal government should step in with more help when the bottom drops out of resource revenues.

Toews received some support for his position from an unexpected source — NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who was Alberta premier from 2015 to 2019.

"We also put forward the same position when we were in government that the finance minister is currently putting forward that there should be no cap," Notley said, adding that she agrees the payments should be retroactive.

Notley questioned the credibility of the United Conservative government on the issue.

She said Toews is advocating for this extra funding at the same time he isn't distributing more than $300 million set aside by Ottawa to pay top-ups to essential workers during the pandemic. The provincial government has to match one-third of the funding.

The province says it is still talking with its federal counterparts about the money.