Banning corporate and union donations: Check.
Restoring funding to health, education and human services: Check.
Increasing corporate taxes: Check.
Introducing a new climate change strategy: Coming soon.
Phasing in a $15 per hour minimum wage: Coming soon.
Reviewing Alberta’s natural resource royalty framework: Coming soon.
Progress is the order of business in Canada’s so-called Conservative heartland as Premier Rachel Notley’s newly elected Alberta NDP government begins implementing the main promises from their winning election platform. Leaders of the previous PC regime, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice, styled themselves as Progressive Conservatives, their actions rarely matched their words. The NDP proposed a fairly moderate progressive agenda and it is refreshing to see it take action so quickly after the election.
Revenue and tax reform was a big issue before and during the recent election, with Mr. Prentice and the opposition argued over how best to remove Alberta from the oil revenue roller coaster. It remains clear that Alberta cannot continue to rely on revenues generated from oil and gas royalties to fund the provincial operating budget. Both the PCs and NDP proposed tax increases in the recent election, but Mr. Prentice’s refusal to increase corporate taxes, even symbolically, was a huge miscalculation.
While conservatives preach doom and gloom, our province still has corporate and personal tax rates lower than when Ralph Klein was premier, no provincial sales tax, and huge reserves of oil and gas. Alberta will now have the same corporate tax rate as Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
But there is still plenty more for the new government to do. Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier should extend protections to farmworkers injured on the job. Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous should follow calls from Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton’s Don Iveson and Michael Janz to reform municipal election finance laws. And the province can do much more to clean up provincial election laws, something that a new all-party committee will be tasked to do soon (and they should consider adopting some of the amendments made by Wildrose MLAs during recent debates in the Legislature).
Apologizing for previous governments lack of action to stop residential schools and calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women was absolutely the right step to take but action needs to follow. Justice and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Ganley needs to show through government policy that this apology is more than just political posturing.
The government also announced it will soon take action to improve Alberta’s record of poor environmental management and lack of action of climate change, which has helped fuel international opposition to pipeline expansion and the oil sands. On climate change, the PCs lost the public relations battle years ago. Now the challenge will fall to Ms. Notley, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips and Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd to win the policy war on climate change.
I do not have enough room in this post to even begun to discuss the challenges facing Health Minister Sarah Hoffman and Education Minister David Eggen (which will be included in a series of future posts).
As the new government moves forward with what in most other provinces would be considered a moderate progressive agenda, Canada’s conservative outrage industry is gearing up its attacks on the Alberta’s new government.
Talking heads like Ezra Levant are fuelling the paranoia of right-wing fringe conservatives afraid we are witnessing a Red Dawn-style communistic coup (federal Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte and Wildrose MLAs Drew Barnes and Rick Strankman were among the registered spectators at one of Mr. Levant’s travelling circus shows). And recent opinion editorials by critics like conservative economist Jack Mintz, who suggested Alberta could be the next Greece, have verged on the bizarre.
Ms. Notley and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason moved quickly to quell criticism of their fiscal plan by announcing last week that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge will be advising the Premier on infrastructure investment issues. Hiring Mr. Dodge is a smart move and shows a willingness to bring in talent from outside traditional NDP circles.
Aside from the angry conservatives, the new government appears to still enjoy popular support from Albertans, who tossed out the scandal-ridden and tone deaf Tories on May 5. Recent polling shows Ms. Notley, still in her honeymoon period, enjoying the approval of 53% of Albertans, making her the second most popular premier in Canada next to Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall.
The NDP need to be careful not to cut short their honeymoon by making small mistakes. They have already faced criticism for hiring too many provincial outsiders and the media is poking around the perceived influence of Ms. Notley’s husband. These are minor issues that I am sure most Albertans will look past today but the small mistakes can pile up quickly if the new government is not careful.
If the NDP can continue to limit their missteps, focus on implementing their popular platform, and remember why Albertans endorsed Ms. Notley’s charismatic leadership, they will enjoy a warm welcome on the summer political barbecue and parade circuit.