Sawhney, hopeful in UCP leadership, says she would issue inflation relief checks

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In an echo of so-called Ralph dollars, UCP leader hopeful Rajan Sawhney says she would hand out inflation relief checks derived from the province’s energy windfall to every Alberta household.

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In an attempt to mitigate inflation that has reached at least 7.7 percent, the highest rate since 1983, those checks would amount to $75 for each urban household and $90 in rural areas.

That would increase by $25 and $30 for each child in urban and rural households, respectively, Sawhney said Tuesday.

“This windfall should do more than reduce our debt, as important as that,” Sawhney said.

“A portion should also be used to protect Alberta families from something many have never experienced: the unaffordable rise in the cost of living due to rising inflation.”

Sawhney would also re-index several low-income benefit payments, such as Income Assurance for the Severely Disabled (AISH) benefits, though she acknowledged she lost that coverage against inflation while she was social and community services minister.

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“It’s no secret that I fought against further cuts,” Sawhney said in a statement.

“AISH must be indexed to inflation, period and period, and a government led by me will do it immediately. This is the first and critical step in helping these vulnerable Albertans at this time.”

The Calgary-North East MLA and recent transportation minister said what she calls affordability checks would cost just over $780 million, which is 20 percent of the $3.9 billion budget surplus for 2021-2022 announced to end of last month.

As a reward for sacrificing himself to pay off provincial debt, then-Prime Minister Ralph Klein issued $400 Alberta Prosperity Bonds to every Alberta in 2006, taking a $1.4 billion bite out of cash-filled government coffers from non-renewable energy.

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Critics called it an irresponsible, politically motivated act that ignored the realities of Alberta’s boom and bust economy.

Sawhney’s pledge comes just ahead of an expected announcement this week by his government of additional inflation relief in the form of energy and fuel-related savings.

The UCP government has already suspended its 13-cent-a-liter gasoline tax, which is costing it $1.4 billion, and has also promised to deliver rebates on electricity and natural gas this month and in October respectively.

Anti-poverty advocates have been calling on the province to take more immediate action to protect Albertans, particularly low-income Albertans, from what they call a devastating tsunami of runaway inflation of groceries, utilities , fuel and rentals.

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The opposition NDP also joined in on that refrain, with a call Tuesday from the party’s energy critic to provide more relief from skyrocketing electricity prices by extending the $50 per month rebate on electricity charges beyond its duration of three months and until winter.

“Albertans deserve to know they have a government behind them, not one focused on domestic politics,” said Kathleen Ganley, referring to the UCP leadership race.

The UCP’s decision to lift the cap on electricity prices imposed by the then NDP government, he said, has allowed those rates to rise sharply with no end in sight.

“Some bills are hundreds of dollars a month higher than they were this time last year… In July, prices for July regulated rate options will be 20 percent higher than June prices, reaching levels that we haven’t seen each other since last February,” Ganley said. .

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As for Sawhney’s promise on inflation relief, Ganley said it’s good to hear UCP MLAs talk about the need to help cash-strapped Albertans, but more than promises are needed.

“Words are just words without action and this is a government that has been extremely long on words and short on actions – they promised natural gas rebates but they didn’t come until months later,” he said.

He also questioned how Sawhney can be trusted to re-index the benefits when he oversaw them being taken away.

“We’re talking about a minister who has a history, a minister who was in charge of those very benefits,” Ganley said.

“What I can promise you is that an NDP government would stay focused on the people, would act quickly to address the challenges they face.”

The UCP will choose a successor to Prime Minister Jason Kenney in October from what has become a packed field of candidates, most of whom are MLAs or former cabinet ministers.

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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