Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen introduced National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy Act last week

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Alberta switching to digital registration, licence renewal reminders

By Karen Bartko | Global News

EDMONTON – Albertans will soon no longer receive a letter in the mail reminding them to renew their driver’s license or vehicle registration.

Beginning in April, the province will begin sending out electronic reminders via email for registration, licence and identification card renewals.

The province said the mailing of government reminders is a dated practice and an unnecessary expense in a digital age. The move is expected to save taxpayers $3 million a year.

“During these tough economic times, it’s particularly important for government to find smart ways to save taxpayers’ money,” Danielle Larivee, acting minister of Service Alberta said in a news release.

Albertans with disabilities will continue to receive reminders in the mail. Seniors over the age of 70 will continue to receive mailed reminders until April 1, 2017.

The province will launch an awareness campaign, and registry agents are being asked to remind people of the changes when they come in to renew.

There are three ways for Albertans to be reminded when it is time to renew:

  1. Visit your local registry agent and sign up for an email reminder.
  2. Sign up online to receive a reminder from one of the following:
    1. E-registry (Vehicle Registration and Driver’s Licence)
    2. Alberta Motor Association (Vehicle Registration)
    3. MyAlberta (Available April 1, 2016)
  3. Check your licence plate or vehicle registration and mark the date in your calendar.

Drivers can also renew their vehicle registrations online.

Uber threatens to leave if Alberta government doesn’t move on insurance

Excerpted article by Metro

Uber is yet again threatening to leave Edmonton — this time if the Alberta government doesn’t move swiftly on new insurance regulations for the rideshare industry.

The company did not return calls Tuesday, but in an email sent to its members it said it needs approval of a new insurance product and proposed licensing requirements to continue operating in Edmonton.

“Without approval by the NDP government before March 1, thousands of Albertans will lose their ability to earn by providing rides, and tens of thousands will lose access to a much needed transportation option,” said Ramit Kar, the company’s general manager, in the email.

“If the provincial government doesn’t act on driver’s licensing and insurance before March 1st, Uber will be unable to operate in Alberta.”

Last month, city councillors approved a new bylaw for ridesharing that would allow Uber and other similar companies to operate legally as of March 1, but requires provincially regulated insurance for rideshare drivers.

In the protracted debate that led to the recent bylaws passing, the company also threatened to leave Edmonton if city council did not approve the bylaw.

Intact Insurance is working with the compnay on a proposed insurance product, but Alberta’s superintendent of insurance has not made a decision on that insurance product.

In an email, Aileen Machell, press secretary to Transportation Minister Brian Mason, could not provide any details or a timeline for the government’s decision.

“Alberta is committed to finding an appropriate solution allowing rideshare companies to operate in a fair manner, while also protecting drivers, passengers, and other road users,” she said, in the email.

Mayor Don Iveson said the issue is now in the province’s hands.

“Ontario has shown us it can be done and it’s ultimately in the consumer’s interest and the public safety interest to see this resolved.”

Alberta may qualify for federal cash injection from little known program

By Andy Blatchford and Joan Bryden

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ The Liberal government is eyeing a little-known federal program as it searches for ways to help Alberta cope with the financial squeeze of sinking commodity prices, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Alberta government is bracing for a steep fall in revenues in 2015-16 due to sliding resource prices, which could result in the province qualifying for cash relief from Ottawa through the so-called fiscal stabilization program.

Provinces can make claims under the program when their revenues tumble by more than five per cent from one year to the next.

But at roughly $250 million, the maximum withdrawal Alberta can claim under the program’s current formula is relatively modest for the province’s economy. Payouts were capped in the late 1980s at $60 per provincial resident; Alberta’s population is about 4.1 million.

A fiscal-stabilization payment is just one of several possibilities Ottawa is exploring as it hunts for ways to ease the pain of hard-hit Alberta, said a senior government source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

As it draws up its spring budget, the federal government has instructed bureaucrats across many departments to come up with “innovative ideas” to help the Alberta economy, said the source, who wasn’t authorized to disclose details publicly.

With the federal budget’s release expected in March, and the province’s treasury facing pressure, the clock is ticking.

The source said potential solutions being floated include speeding up infrastructure spending and tweaking the typical, per-capita infrastructure funding disbursement formula to reflect economic need. Another possibility under consideration is a boost to direct transfers to individuals, perhaps through adjustments to the employment insurance program.

The Liberal government pledged to enhance EI during last fall’s election campaign and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to pump an additional $60 billion over 10 years into infrastructure projects. However, only $17.4 billion was earmarked to flow during the Liberals’ first four-year mandate.

Next week, Trudeau is scheduled to visit Alberta, where the Liberals had an electoral breakthrough in October by winning four ridings. Before that, the party hadn’t won a seat in the province since 2004.

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci told The Canadian Press in an interview that he’s hoping to discuss his province’s battered books with his federal counterpart, Bill Morneau.

“Certainly, I’m aware that there are some things that we could be following up with together to possibly improve the situation temporarily around the availability of federal monies,” Ceci said Wednesday.

“I would just discuss finances with (Morneau) and I’m interested in seeing if there’s any possibility we can count on federal monies in the near term that would help us through this difficult time.”

Ceci didn’t get into specifics, but when asked whether he might ask Ottawa for a loan, he replied:  “Yeah, potentially.”

Asked for more details, Ceci’s press secretary later said the minister was “really just musing about potential options” when he raised the possibility of requesting financial help from Ottawa.

Leah Holoiday stressed that Ceci remains focused on seeing federal infrastructure investments fast-tracked and more support for getting pipeline access to tidewater.

Ottawa is well aware of Alberta’s significance when it comes to economic growth across Canada, said the federal source.

“Alberta is almost 20 per cent of Canada’s (gross domestic product) even though it’s only 11 per cent of the population,” the source said.

“Alberta’s dragging down the entire Canadian economy.”

When it comes to a more targeted approach to helping Alberta, another senior federal source described a recent article written by University of British Columbia economist Kevin Milligan as making a lot of sense.

Milligan argued that regional strategies are more helpful than a nationwide plan to stimulate the economy because the oil-price shock only causes significant problems in certain areas.

In an interview, Milligan also pointed to EI enhancement as an adjustment that can provide well-targeted, quick relief to the hardest-hit regions, where job losses have been piling up.

The fiscal stabilization program could be another form of assistance, added Milligan, who said he had never heard of it.

“One of the reasons why fiscal federations are a useful thing is that we provide insurance,” Milligan said.  “When one region is doing well, we scoop a little off the top and share it around, as we do with our equalization.”

Equalization payments are designed to transfer funds from so-called “have” provinces, those on a more secure financial footing, to their “have-not” counterparts.

Because it’s calculated on a three-year average, this year’s equalization formula calls for Alberta to continue to pay into the program, even though it is reeling from a precipitous drop in oil prices.

Morneau has rejected calls to tweak the controversial equalization formula, saying that fiddling with the program would be complex.

But Milligan said the federal government might consider adjusting the fiscal-stabilization program to provide more relief to Alberta.

In October, the Alberta government predicted its revenues would drop 11.5 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16. Milligan said it could be worse than that, since oil prices have continued to fall.

Albertans are “hurting,” Ceci declared.

“We’re doing what we can here in Alberta to take care of each other, but federal government public sector investment would be a significant help at this time.”

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More than 31,000 new jobless in Alberta as EI rolls climb to 544,200

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Five ways low oil prices and the falling loonie can affect the federal books

By Andy Blatchford

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ Five ways tumbling oil prices and the sliding loonie can affect the federal government’s bottom line:

1. The biggest impact from falling oil prices is the fact they chew into Canada’s nominal gross domestic product (the country’s economic output before adjustments for inflation). That, in turn, erodes federal revenues. The Finance Department views nominal GDP as “the single broadest indicator of the tax base.”

2. The fallout of lower crude prices could also have negative effects on the Employment Insurance balance, said Pedro Antunes, deputy chief economist for the Conference Board of Canada. As oil producers cut costs and lay off workers, the EI fund may be forced to pay out more cash and receive less than before.

3. Cheaper oil can also have indirect consequences, such as a stock market decline, Antunes says. From there, he says consumer confidence can take a hit, particularly if people feel like they have less wealth or a shrinking nest egg. This scenario can dampen economic activity, which translates into lower tax revenues for the government.

4. Thanks to declining bond yields linked to the grimmer economic outlook, the federal government could find savings down the road, says CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld. It would be able to borrow at cheaper rates and lower its interest costs in future years, he adds.

5. The weaker exchange rate could have a minor negative effect on Ottawa’s budgetary balance if, for example, any resulting inflation pushes up the costs of buying equipment, Shenfeld says. However, he points out it wouldn’t have a big impact on the government’s fiscal situation since it spends most of its cash on things like salaries and transfer payments.

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