Alberta announces cut in school fees in throne speech of spring sitting

By , on March 2, 2017

Notley (right) says they will now be consulting to see how to reduce fees further. (Photo: Rachel Notley/Facebook)
Notley (right) says they will now be consulting to see how to reduce fees further. (Photo: Rachel Notley/Facebook)

EDMONTON—The Alberta government says its first job of the spring sitting of the legislature will be to cut school fees.

The government revealed proposed legislation in its throne speech Thursday which would ban charging parents for essentials such as textbooks or bus transportation for children who live within their designated school area.

“School fees should not be a barrier to kids getting a good start in life no matter their circumstances,” Notley told reporters after tabling Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees.

The bill is expected to save parents about $50 million a year in fees, representing about one quarter of the total fees paid.

About 600,000 students will see their fees reduced and the province plans to find the $50 million within government to cover off the cost.

Notley says they will now be consulting to see how to reduce fees further.

The bill will also give the education minister more say and oversight in all fees relating to public schools.

Education Minister David Eggen said the fees grew under the old Progressive Conservative government with few checks or balances.

“School fees just went in so many directions. It was a bit of a wild west out there for many years,” said Eggen.

Opposition critics say whether it’s direct fees or government spending, all of it comes from the same source — the taxpayer.

And with a budget deficit at $10.8 billion this year, they say Notley’s government has to find a way to rein in costs.

“There’s no such thing as a free ride to school on a bus,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver.

“That’s going to have to be paid for. The government doesn’t think Albertans are smart enough to figure that out.”

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said increased spending and new levies such as the carbon tax are making a crippled economy worse.

“Their budget has hurt future generations,” said Jean. “They are limiting Alberta’s full potential.”

The throne speech outlined the goals and priorities of Notley’s government as it begins a new legislature session that is to run until June 1. Government house leader Brian Mason had already said there will be at least 15 bills introduced, including the budget on March 16.

Other initiatives outlined in the throne speech include a consumer bill of rights.

Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean said details will be rolled out in the coming days, but said the bill of rights will provide the compass to guide future legislation to protect consumers.

“This will be a statement of how we’re taking our mandate to make life more affordable for Albertans seriously,” said McLean.

The province has already passed legislation that bans door-to-door energy sales and eliminates what was viewed as predatory interest rates charged by payday lenders.

Legislation to help and protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence is also expected.

The province, working with the federal government, plans to make sure orphan oil wells are safely closed and the land reclaimed.

It also says it will keep fighting for more pipelines to the coast. It will seek intervener status in court actions filed in British Columbia against the recently approved expansion of the Trans Mountain line.

There are to be new measures to expand whistleblower protection and strengthen conflict-of-interest laws.

The province also hopes to pass legislation giving legal teeth to a promise made last year to cap electricity rates so families won’t be hit with price spikes as the province moves off coal-fired power to renewable energy.

Notley’s government indicated it will also continue to pursue programs to diversify and grow the economy using financial incentives and incubator programs.