'It's kind of bittersweet': How some Calgarians feel about UCP government's affordability package

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is seen giving a televised address on Tuesday. (YourAlberta/Youtube - image credit)
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is seen giving a televised address on Tuesday. (YourAlberta/Youtube - image credit)

There's mixed reaction from residents in and around Calgary to Premier Danielle Smith's proposed affordability package announced Tuesday, which targets a large portion of its funding at parents and seniors in the province.

Part of the proposed measures offers families $600 for each child under 18 and each senior citizen in the household, as long as their combined income is under $180,000. Recipients of income support, PDD and AISH will also get the same amount.

Lee Neufled lives in Airdrie with his wife and three young children, and describes their household as middle-income. He says he'd never turn away extra cash, but he thinks it could've been spent elsewhere.

"I feel like there's better ways that our government could future-proof our province," he said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"It's kind of bittersweet.… It's nice, I guess, but at the same time, why not attack the root of the problem as opposed to putting a Band-Aid on it?"

The UCP government announced the $2.4-billion Inflation Relief Act as a way to help Albertans face the rising cost of living.

"Too many moms and dads are having to choose between nutritious food for their children and making their rising mortgage payments. Many seniors are choosing between filling their needed prescriptions and fuel for their vehicles," said Smith during the announcement.

"As a province, we can't solve this inflation crisis on our own, but due to our strong fiscal position and balanced budget, we can offer substantial relief so Albertans and their families are better able to manage through the storm."

Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi says he thinks the cash injection will make a big difference to some Calgarians, but he sees flaws in the way the package was designed.

"For example, a married couple with two kids who earns $175,000 a year will get $1,200, but a single person working at Tim Hortons who makes $35,000 a year will get nothing," he said in a discussion on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"If you're not going to have a universal program, it should really be focused on people who are struggling. And the simple fact of having children or being a senior isn't necessarily what makes you struggle."

Neufeld says in his case, his family doesn't need these funds immediately. As household expenses continued to rise over the past several months, they've made the necessary adjustments to make their lifestyle work.

He says he'd rather see the government's surplus saved for programs with a wider reach, such as daycare subsidies, which have allowed him and his wife to work.

"That's a way that our government has kind of future-proofed something like that to really help working parents," he said.

LISTEN | Albertans react to Premier Danielle Smith's televised address Tuesday:

Dorothy Began, a senior citizen living in southeast Calgary, had a similar assessment of the cash. She's changed her shopping habits, cancelled her cellphone and spends more time at home to combat rising costs.

"I don't think any senior would say no to an additional amount of money, but it's not a solution," she said.

"I feel like it's a carrot that they're dangling, and I mean, they're giving both seniors and young families with children exactly the same, but our needs are not anywhere near the same."

Non-profit happy to see relief

Alberta's Minister of Affordability and Utilities Matt Jones says most households across the province will benefit from the measures introduced Tuesday.

The government intends to follow through on re-indexing provincial tax brackets and social support programs to inflation, to increase electricity rebates and to suspend the provincial gas tax for the next six months.

"There is continued broad-based relief for all Albertans as we roll out additional, targeted supports to where they're needed most," he said.

Jones made the announcement Wednesday at a news conference where the province announced $20 million in support of food banks and other agencies, as well as expanded funds for low-income transit passes, something welcomed by Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

"But we shall see what the details are," she said Wednesday.

Others are not so happy.

In a statement, the president of the University of Calgary Students' Union, Nicole Schmidt, said young people in the province aren't seeing any relief targeted at their financial pressures, such as increased tuition payments, interest on student loans and cuts to tuition tax credits.

"All of this has made student life less affordable. Now students have been left to fend for themselves through the current inflation crisis," she said. "Students have been left out by the province once again."

The package is still a good start, according to Kris Sims, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who says they're getting weekly phone calls from Albertans who are working but struggling to make ends meet.

"Inflation and taxation are hitting people really hard right now. And so we were really happy to see, generally, the relief coming from the premier yesterday."

She added the government does need to proceed with caution, ensuring it allows the good times to happen but also save for a rainy day.

The details of the Inflation Relief Act are still being finalized, according to Premier Smith. She says her government will introduce the legislation next week.