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The Alberta NDP is taking early aim at the UCP’s upcoming 2023 budget, set to be tabled next week, saying it’s lacking in supports for a struggling health-care system and rampant affordability issues, while Premier Danielle Smith boasts of the plan’s coming investments to tackle those problems.

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NDP energy critic Kathleen Ganley claimed to reporters Saturday the budget that will be tabled on Tuesday will increase government spending as the UCP attempts to “buy back votes” with surplus revenue generated by high oil prices.

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“The UCP has spent the last four years cutting programs and increasing costs on Alberta families. They’ve cut funding to health care, to economic diversification, while increasing taxes, fees and tuition, and allowing utilities and car insurance to skyrocket,” said Ganley.

The UCP has announced sizable contributions to health care set to come through the 2023 budget in the last couple of weeks, including what Smith touted as a record-breaking boost to mental health and addictions, expanding that ministry’s budget to $275 million, and more than $2 billion to improve primary health care.

But the NDP alleges this budget may be a step toward making people pay out of pocket to see their family doctors, an idea Smith has raised in the past through the use of a health spending account.

“Danielle Smith has said she wants to make Albertans get used to paying for health care,” said Ganley

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Elsewhere Saturday, in her weekly Corus radio talk show, Your Province, Your Premier, Smith said the NDP has long mischaracterized her comments surrounding health care. Smith has stated a commitment to public health care while expanding access to out-of-pocket wellness services through health spending accounts.

“I want to find a way to facilitate us being able to help people pay for those things that they have to pay 100 per cent for, so that’s the context of why I want to bring in a health spending account,” said Smith. “We’re still working out the details of how it would work, but it’s to enable more comprehensive coverage so that we’re helping to defray the costs of things that people have to pay for out of pocket.”

Ganley also criticized the government’s attempts to ease inflation-related pains for Albertans via affordability payments, planning for a provincial police force, among other issues ahead of the budget presentation.

“The cost of living is the highest it’s been in 40 years. Yet, under their plan. Alberta has the slowest wage growth in the country. There are fewer businesses open today than when the UCP took office, even as Ontario, B.C. and Quebec have seen growth post-pandemic,” she said.

Meanwhile, Smith boasted of a fourth consecutive year of record-breaking investments in the province’s technology and innovation sector, citing a report from the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association that said Alberta attracted $729 million in investments in 2022.

“That’s extraordinary,” said Smith. “I think it’s up 20 per cent while the rest of the country is down. We’re finally punching at the weight that we should from a business attraction point of view.”

Smith’s government is set to table its first budget on Tuesday.

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