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Albertans will have to wait for potential action on car insurance, electricity rebate changes

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Albertans will have to wait for more information on electricity bill relief for more consumers and whether the government will address rising car insurance costs.

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At a Monday morning announcement, Affordability and Utilities Minister Matt Jones announced that those seeking six $100 monthly payments meant to combat inflation will be able to apply for the payments starting Jan. 18 via the government portal Alberta.ca/affordable.

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Jones was asked if Albertans could expect the UCP government to put a cap on car insurance rates and said “all options are on the table,” but did not offer details or a specific timeline.

“We share Albertans’ concerns about the escalation in insurance rates and we are continuing to meet with industry and within government on potential solutions — that is occurring over the coming weeks,” he said.

In December, Premier Danielle Smith said she wanted to take action on the file starting early in the new year, shortly after an Ernst and Young report found Albertans are paying the highest car insurance rates in Canada.

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It sampled automobile insurance rates with an effective policy date of Sept. 1, 2022, across nine provinces for 27 customer profiles, with varying driver demographics, numbers of drivers, vehicles and accident history. For all but one of these profiles, Alberta’s insurance costs were the highest.

Alberta’s Opposition NDP has blamed the UCP for the rates, citing the government’s 2019 move to scrap a rate increase cap on auto insurers that had been imposed by the previous NDP government.

On Monday, Calgary-Bhullar-McCall NDP MLA Irfan Sabir said at a news conference the UCP isn’t serious about addressing the affordability crisis, and pointed to a bill he introduced in December that would have frozen auto insurance premiums for one year.

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“The UCP refused to debate us and even shut down the legislature early,” he said.

“We would have done many things differently before the cost of living would have reached a crisis point,” said Sabir.

The UCP’s inflation relief package, set to cost $2.8 billion over three years, also includes the continued suspension of the provincial gas tax, utility bill rebates, and the reindexation of income tax and government benefit payments to inflation.

Alberta is set to unveil its 2022-23 budget at the end of February.

Jones also said Monday the UCP government is looking at ways to make post-secondary education more affordable, although he did not offer further details or clarify whether that might include a cap on tuition fees.

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Electricity rebate expansion still in the works

First announced in March by former premier Jason Kenney, the province’s $50-per-month rebate program was designed to show up on the bills of more than 1.9 million homes, farms and businesses, and was later extended to April, for a total of $500 per household.

However, customers who are sub-metered, like some living in apartments and condominiums, are not eligible, which has drawn criticism from community advocates. The government has said it doesn’t track how many such customers there might be in Alberta.

On Monday, there was still no news about how the government might get sub-metered customers access to its $50 per month electricity rebate.

Six weeks after Jones said his department had started looking into expanding eligibility for the program, potentially through an application portal, Jones again cited the complexity of getting that money out the door to customers currently ineligible.

“We will have more details when we figure out the best way to do that. It is technically challenging to do that because we don’t have all the information on units behind the sub-meter, but it is our desire to get electricity rebates to those Albertans,” he said.

The Alberta government does not send texts or emails about its rebate programs.

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