Ten things to know about this year’s Alberta Alternative Budget

The Alberta Alternative Budget (AAB) is an annual exercise whose working group consists of researchers, economists, and members of civil society (full disclosure: I’m the Editor). Our general mandate is to create a progressive vision for Alberta to boost economic growth and reduce income inequality. This year’s document was released on June 24, 2019, and here are 10 things to know:

  1. The NDP government of Rachel Notley government made important advances with respect to childcare, but much remains to be done. Specifically, the Notley government introduced a $25/day childcare pilot project and increased the provincial childcare budget by 27% since taking office. However, gender equality and women’s labour market participation in Alberta could be improved even further with universal childcare. This year’s AAB proposes that important steps be taken to get that done by investing an additional $1.65 billion in childcare over the next year.
  2. More than 80% of Alberta’s Kindergarten through Grade 3 classes currently exceed the provincial government’s own class size targets. What’s more, almost half of the province’s Grade 4 through Grade 12 classes exceed the government’s class size targets. And in high schools across the province, roughly half of all core subject classes exceed the Alberta Commission on Learning (ACOL) targets set in 2003. The AAB therefore recommends substantial increases in spending on k-12 education while also recommending that Alberta’s provincial government reduce funding for private schools (which are currently subsidized at higher rates than those in any other province).
  3. When it comes to gender and public policy, Alberta has a long way to go. Women in Alberta face the largest employment gender gap of any province. They are over-represented in lower-paying careers and their hourly pay for full-time work is only 80 cents on a man’s dollar. Further, Alberta lacks pay equity legislation. The AAB recommends that the annual budget of Alberta’s Ministry for Status of Women be increased by 30%, and that the provincial government create a pay equity task force to both investigate the reasons and propose solutions for the large gender pay gaps across industries and occupations in the province.
  4. There are nearly 6,000 reported cases of wage theft (i.e., unpaid wages) in Alberta each year. Further, in 2017/18, only 41% of wage-theft complaints were resolved within 180 days. And it’s generally accepted that formal wage-theft claims represent a small fraction of all instances of wage theft. The AAB therefore proposes that 75 additional employment standards officers be hired in the province, in order to prevent and remedy wage theft.
  5. One in 5 Alberta workers will be injured on the job this year; one in 11 seriously. This year’s AAB will therefore invest an additional $70 million in enforcement of Alberta’s occupational health and safety laws in order to make workplaces safer.
  6. Tuition fees as a share of university operating revenue have roughly tripled in Alberta over the last 30 years. The Notley government did freeze tuition fees in 2015, and recently introduced legislation that would tie tuition fee increases to inflation; but those measures alone don’t cut it. The AAB proposes a five-year ‘phase out’ of tuition fees, starting with a 20% reduction in tuition fees for all post-secondary students, including international students.
  7. Alberta still has, by far, the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of any province. Alberta’s net debt-to-GDP ratio for 2018-19 is projected to be 6.5%. The next lowest is British Columbia’s, which stands at 15.2%. Though Alberta’s net debt-to-GDP ratio has risen quite quickly since the slump in oil prices, it’s hard to make the claim that the province is living beyond its means.
  8. Albertans collectively are taxed less than residents of any other province. According to Alberta Treasury Board and Finance, if Alberta’s provincial government adopted a tax structures similar to the next lowest-taxed province in the country (British Columbia), Alberta would generate an additional $8.7 billion in annual revenue.
  9. Alberta remains the only Canadian province without a provincial sales tax. The AAB Working Group estimates that the implementation of a 5% provincial sales tax in Alberta would generate approximately $5 billion in new revenue annually. What’s more, even after the implementation of this tax, Alberta would remain Canada’s lowest-taxed province!
  10. This year’s AAB further proposes that a new provincial sales tax be harmonized with the federal Goods and Services tax. The federal government already collects a 5% sales tax in the form of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Following the lead of several other provinces, we propose that Alberta introduce a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which would allow the province to generate its own share of the revenue collected by the federal GST. Introducing a 5% provincial portion of a HST would still leave Alberta with a combined HST of 10%.

In Sum. In addition to providing a costed-out public policy alternative to the status quo in Alberta, each AAB chapter also provides a primer on the public policy topic in question. I think the document makes for excellent reading for researchers, educators, students and non-profit leaders. The media release, along with a link to the full document, can be found here.


Nick Falvo is a Calgary-based research consultant, a research associate at the Carleton University Centre for Community Innovation, and a CCPA research associate. Follow him on twitter at @nicholas_falvo

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