With many changes occurring in the Alberta Legislature due to the election at the end of May, many portfolios have changed hands.
One of the significant changes occurring in the government is the loss of former finance minister Travis Toews, who opted to not seek re-election.
To fill the vacancy, Premier Danielle Smith has appointed second-term Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner into the role.
“I have the utmost respect for Minister Toews,” said Horner, in a recent interview.
“I know I can’t replicate everything he was. He did a lot of the heavy lifting … I’m confident I can continue what he started.”
Prior to his re-election, Horner spent two years on the Treasury Board with Toews, allowing him to build some of the “foundation and principals” of the job.
Horner notes that most of the staff at the Treasury Board were selected by Toews and that the deputy minister is also supportive.
“I feel amazingly well-resourced and supported,” said Horner.
On July 13, Horner received his mandate letter from the premier. In it, the premier outlines Horner’s priorities as continuing to balance the budget, limiting operational spending to inflation plus growth, lowering the provincial debt, and growing the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.
Additional items in the mandate letter focus on affordability for Albertans, with Horner saying that one of his first priorities will be to legislatively continue the provincial fuel tax pause until the end of December.
Horner has also been directed to continue the exploration of severing Alberta from the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) and creating an Alberta-made solution instead.
According to Horner, a report with up-to-date information from CPP was commissioned at the recommendation of the Fair Deal Panel, which was undertaken during the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) last term in office. Horner noted that there were “intricate” details in the report but nothing would proceed without the electorate having a chance to review and vote on it in a referendum.
“We’ve done the work,” said Horner.
Horner says the next step is to release the report “and have a conversation with Albertans.”
“It’s been made very clear that we would never proceed without a full referendum,” Horner said.
“We have a fully commissioned report here, with new data; we’ll see where that takes us.”
The new finance minister has been directed to work on another referendum item as well; Horner’s mandate letter from Premier Smith is directing him to introduce legislation that will prevent the provincial government from any sort of tax hikes without a referendum first.
When asked if such legislation wouldn’t hamper future governments and their ability to raise revenue if needed, Horner responded by saying that the framework for the legislation is already in place; the province can not bring in a provincial sales tax without a referendum. Preventing tax increases without a referendum would work on a similar legislative framework.
“We’re committed to this as a government,” said Horner.
“At the end of the day, if a new government is less committed than we are, they can repeal the legislation.”
Horner did say that if a subsequent government were to repeal the law, it would likely come at a political cost and that the UCP is introducing the legislation as a “pledge to Albertans to show that we are a low tax, pro-growth environment.”
Other areas that Horner has been directed into exploring, but with no specifics attached in the mandate letter, include reducing insurance costs and examining the feasibility of an Alberta tax collection agency.