PHOTO: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley addressing the Alberta Chamber of Commerce yesterday.

Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley yesterday continued a tradition of “state of the province speeches” to chamber of commerce audiences long beloved by the province’s Progressive Conservative premiers.

PC premier Jim Prentice gave the last one to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce in December 2014 and said the state of the province was not good – oil prices were sliding and he told the business crowd Alberta has a $6- to $7-billion hole in its budget.

Ms. Notley sounded considerably more upbeat yesterday, notwithstanding having the difficult job of dealing with a real $6-billion deficit, the result of Mr. Prentice’s promised revenue hole. She got plenty of applause and even a half-hearted standing ovation at the end, promising to drive diversification and to keep Albertans working while the province’s oil economy languishes.

“Our government will support jobs and we will support families, because that’s the Alberta Way,” she said, getting a round of applause.

“In my view, this is part of government’s role, to act as a shock absorber during difficult economic times,” she added, a view for which there is a certain sympathy among chamber types even if it makes hard-core conservatives grind their teeth.

Having taken some mischievous heat in the local media for announcing more health-care infrastructure spending in Calgary than Edmonton in the 2015 budget, the always-polite Ms. Notley became a little more forceful in defending her government’s approach. She pointed back at the Conservative government for failing to plan properly for big projects in Edmonton.

“I personally can recall the previous government’s announcements of funding for hospitals here in Edmonton. Like you, I know that our hospitals in our city need repairs, modernization and more. But upon taking office, our government learned that funding had been promised without any real plan in place. Certainly not the level of planning that multimillion investments require.

“Money was committed quite frankly for the sake of a press release,” Ms. Notley stated, which certainly sounds like a fair assessment of the no-plan PCs the blogosphere had come to know and love.

“And that is not the way my government will govern,” she went on to more applause. “Capital investment which is so fundamentally important to the path that we take forward must be decided on the basis of carefully considered planning … Previous governments played politics with things that are important to Albertans.

“I fundamentally reject that kind of politics. When public dollars are scarce, Albertans expect money to be supported by a careful value for money analysis of each proposed project,” Ms. Notley said. “Capital projects will be justified by the evidence, and then announced! It will not happen the other way around.”

Premier Notley also usefully assessed the likely impact of the alternative approach to deficit financing now being proposed by the Wildrose and Conservative Opposition parties:

“Now I want to speak clearly,” Ms. Notley said. “There are some who have called for immediate, massive, reckless cuts. But they aren’t being transparent about what cuts of that magnitude would mean for families. And I can tell you right now that it would mean much more than laying off a handful of managers in health care.

“It would mean chaos in our health system; eliminating thousands of front-line health care positions. And it would mean thousands of new students entering the school system without the teachers they need to help them to succeed. And in my view that is not the right way to deal with a fiscal shock of the nature that we are struggling with here in Alberta.”

This got even more applause, evidence, perhaps, that Alberta really is changing.

One thing is clear, the Notley Government is stickling to its guns, determined to be a fiscal shock absorber and not the grim messenger of austerity that is the automatic default of all so-called conservative Canadian political parties. It’s refreshing, and it’s sound economics.

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  1. I hope that Rachel sticks to this message throughout the party’s first mandate. While the election may have partly been a fluke–the right was evenly divided while the Liberals did a disappearing act that made the centre-left vote virtually an NDP monopoly–, it did reflect the fact that a huge minority of Albertans have for some time wanted a progressive provincial government. In 2004 and 2008, four out of ten voters backed either the Liberals or the NDP. And in 2015, four out of ten voters backed the NDP. If the government remains a defender of public services and extends them (with $25 a day daycare, for example, and more money for mental health and homecare and long-term care), most of the 2015 voters will become the core vote for the provincial NDP. The party’s high voting score in the recent Mainstreet poll after the budget was announced emphasizes this. And if the government is lucky and oil prices rise, they could get enough non-core votes to win again in 2019 even if the Wildrose and Tories unite (which could cause many people to see the Wildrose as simply an effort to bring back the old corrupt Tory regime). And what if the NDP panics because oil prices don’t rise and deficits remain relatively high? Well, if they start cutting, some of their base will erode and they’ll get no thank yous from non-base voters who can always vote for “real conservatives” if it’s cuts that they want. That was the message of the Rae regime’s demise: they might have lost anyway in 1995 because the 1990s recession had not yet lifted, but at least, had they continued to be a progressive regime, they would have almost certainly held their base and remained an important party in Ontario.

  2. Most of the people who voted for the NDP are Tory voters like myself. We voted for change. Will we get this change with the NDP party? I am not sure.

    It is more important for the NDP government to provide the changes we seek in areas like continuing care than running a few deficit budgets. We had a few deficit budgets with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta with many poor decisions in terms of spending such as the Kananaskis golf course which seems to be a taxpayer waste of cash on an ongoing basis. This investment is simply a poor one and the government of Alberta should have walked away from the contract designed by the Tories.

    It will cost the province between $3.8 million and $8.8 million, depending on how much money the province gets from an increased $5-million federal flood mitigation fund.

    The failures of the NDP party to deal with legacy investment problems like this one in a cost effective way is not a good sign of fiscal prudence. This is all public money coming from ordinary citizens and we are investing in a project subject to flood risks? How does this make sense?

    The NDP government blames the Tory government for this current requirement to re-invest. This is wrong. No one forced the new NDP government to honor this contract; why did no one consider the benefits of breaking it in terms of future liabilities in the next flood?
    But I guess everyone wants to go golfing:
    “Let me be clear: we do not believe government should be in the golf course business,” Phillips said earlier in a release.
    “Unfortunately, the contract we inherited locks our government into either rebuilding, or walking away and leaving Alberta taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars now and further financial risk into the future. We will not throw good money after bad.”
    The course is expected to be ready for golfers again by 2017.
    Ms. Phillips indicates that the legacy problems the NDP government inherited from the Tories are twofold:
    They got stuck with a golf course business that seems rather elitist an investment.
    They have a contract that would cost too much money to get out of.
    Ms. Phillips is wrong in terms of both these problems and the NDP government’s responses to them.

    There is nothing actually wrong with the government being in the golf course business. It would be no problem if the golf course was profitable rather than a major drain in cash.
    The second problem is that there is a contract. So what? The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta made unprofitable decisions all the time in terms of investments and then flung public dollars away to get out of the business of doing business badly.

    So these sorts of excuses for doing the same sort of things as the Tories is what won’t fly with voters.
    We see through such poor decisions and understand that the NDP are simply doing the same sort of poor governance as the Tories and blaming the Tories for continuing in these bad decisions.
    So why then did we vote for the NDP party?
    If they are the same as the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta what change did we get?
    I guess we got a timid approach to change.

    This sort of timid approach to change is no change at all.
    It might work for the golf course disaster but not in areas like continuing care.
    In the area of continuing care I am still waiting for a solution to the many problems my family has encountered in this area. We are not the only family experiencing these problems but the family friendly NDP party has suddenly forgotten about us. We hear chatter but no action is taken.

    Why is this?
    The NDP party was given a majority by citizens.
    This means it can do the work we want them to do.
    We want a review of all continuing care legislation and we want change or new legislation established.
    We want oversight that actually finds non-compliances rather than sits around waiting for families to do the work of AHS auditors.
    We want Alberta Health to communicate with families who suffer retribution in continuing care for voicing complaints.
    The lack of transparency is reminiscent of the old Tory regime and the lack of family friendliness is also astonishing.
    And no, we don’t want to wait forever.
    We want change now.

    Our most vulnerable at risk seniors in care who are often severely handicapped are at risk and indeed feel at risk but don’t dare complain.
    These people matter.
    They need a voice at the table of power.
    They don’t have one now.
    But families will ensure their voices get heard.

    If the NDP government can’t do the work of change, then it won’t be deficits and loss of tax dollars that will do them in. They can do what the Tories did and still get re-elected. I mean we had 44 years of such junk bond government with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

    What will do them in is their failures to address the problems faced by our most vulnerable citizens who are without a voice. Families got the NDP to power. Families will dump them if they don’t help our families. In the area of continuing care we want the problems solved. We have had 44 years of studies, placebo solutions and junk chatter that is no longer acceptable to families. Only a few families are speaking publicly about these failures of both government and the continuing care sector. And based on the fact that I am getting sued for speaking publicly about these failures, the silence about the corrupt playbook of continuing care, AHS, Covenant Health and Alberta Health will continue in Alberta.

    It’s pretty sad.
    The federal Liberals will hopefully learn from the failures of the provincial NDP to take decisive action in important areas where families are concerned.
    If you don’t take action on issues that matter, you don’t get rehired back in politics. Stephen Harper’s recent failure to form a government is evidence of this. Ultimately people are more important than deficits. And the most important people are the ones in our own families.

    1. Dear Julie Ali,

      You didn’t really vote NDP. This Rachel Notley brand of NDP is NDP -Lite. It’s an Alberta blend (bland?) of NDP.

      Yes it is left of centre, but barely so, and certainly not what true dippers would expect. She didn’t go nearly far enough on the socialist scale to be considered NDP.

      If she had there would have been a sales tax, a few more tax brackets above $500,000, and much higher tax on businesses. They would have gone full tilt collecting all the taxes owed to them by corporations, and rich ranchers, (+ $1B in arrears) and completely gutted the incomprehensible royalty regime that was written in favour of oil and gas companies. She also would have done something about the sorry state of Athabasca University and its Tory dominated Board of Governors and their corporatist interim President, as well as their incompetent administrators.

      But hey, it’s early in her mandate and she may yet surprise me and be the NDP’r she should be.

      Maybe there

  3. I understand the comparisons to Ontario and Bob Rae, which I have heard before mostly made by “National” (ie. Ontario) media. However, there are some important differences between Alberta and Ontario that I think need to be kept in mind.

    First, in 1995 Ontario had two other parties with past experience in governing, Alberta only has the PC’s in recent memory. The Wildrose has never governed and for the Alberta Liberals, to put it nicely – it has been quite a long while since they have been in government (almost 100 years).

    Second, Alberta current precipitous economic decline is due to the volatile commodity price fluctuations. Ontario’s was due to a world wide economic recession and the ongoing decline of the Canadian manufacturing industry. If the world economy recovers somewhat, oil prices may improve considerably before the next Alberta election. Many of the manufacturing jobs Ontario has lost in the early 1990’s never came back.

    In any event, I agree the next few years will be difficult times to govern Alberta and the recovery (or non recovery) of oil prices will play a big role in how the economy does and therefore play a role in determining the fate of the current Alberta government in the next election.

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