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OPINION: The provincial surplus is a wasted opportunity to help the most vulnerable

The United Conservative Party is failing vulnerable Albertans.

With an estimated surplus of over $13 billion for 2022, the United Conservative Party governing Alberta had the opportunity to do the right thing by paying down debt, socking away money and helping make sure the most vulnerable didn’t get left behind.

To their credit, the government got part way there.

Believe me, I understand the rationale behind paying down debt and putting money into the heritage fund for the next time oil slumps. History has a tendency to repeat itself, and oil and gas will slump again.

Paying down the provincial debt means that more money can go towards other government spending and operations and less on interest payments.

Paying down the debt also means that, in theory, the provincial credit rating improves and the province can secure better interest rates when money needs to be borrowed in the future.

However, all of that being said, the government failing to re-index Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), or other support benefits, so that those using those systems can keep up with the exploding cost of living just seems cruel.

Inflation has hovered around eight per cent for a large portion of 2022.

The absolute most someone can bring in on AISH is just shy of $1,700 per month.

When AISH was indexed, that amount would go up every year by the inflation rate to help keep up with the cost of living.

Not being indexed and with inflation sky-high, every year that goes by is more and more of a cut for those most vulnerable.

Additionally, even if those on AISH wished to work, the income support is very restrictive in how much you can make over and above the benefit before it starts getting clawed back.

The reason the United Conservative Party gave when asked about why those benefits were not being re-indexed was particularly disturbing.

According to Alberta’s finance minister, Jason Nixon, the province has no need to increase spending on those programs as the benefits are already more generous than anywhere else in the country.

Great.

I challenge any one of the politicians making these decisions to live on these “generous” $1,700 a month benefits.

I know I couldn’t do it; particularly not with the cost of everything increasing the way it has.

Just because the rest of the provinces hold their most vulnerable under the poverty line, is there need for Alberta to follow suit?

Even Statistics Canada defines the poverty line as incomes below $23,200 per year.

Rough, back of envelope math has someone on AISH having less than $20,000 a year in income, well under that Statistics Canada definition.

I understand, there is abuse of the system. There are likely people on AISH who shouldn’t be. Yet, those individuals are likely out numbered by the many more who should be on it for the simple fact that they have a permanent, debilitating, injury and can not work.

Yes, I believe paying down the debt is important. I also believe that not leaving anyone behind is just as important.

The government re-indexed income taxes. It continues to give tax breaks to corporations. It continues to fund its energy “war room” despite repeated fails.

Yet, the Alberta government had the opportunity to do the right thing, thanks to this unexpected windfall, and they blew it.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but the United Conservative Party isn’t it.

Opinion