by Colin Smith
Alberta and economic prosperity have been synonymous for a good long time. During the past 20 years, the province has lead all others economically, and from 2003 to 2013 its annual GDP growth was 3.5 per cent.
In 2013, per capita income in Alberta was close to $60,000, higher than Norway, the U.S., and Switzerland. However, recent figures show poverty rates higher than in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.
The job losses and government budget shortfall resulting from last year’s oil price drop has demonstrated once again the vulnerability of Alberta prosperity to volatility in demand for energy resources.
Morinville News asked the candidates standing for election in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock what steps they would take to ensure a brighter economic future for Albertans.
We also asked how they felt the province could contribute to municipal prosperity.
Jobs and the economy
NDP candidate Tristan Turner sees his party’s job creation strategy, along with a balanced budget, as key to Alberta’s economic future.
“First, the NDP will empower entrepreneurs and business to hire tens of thousands of new employees with the Job Creator Tax Credit,” he said. “This new policy will cover up to 10 per cent of the wages of new hires to ensure that when Albertans go looking for a job, there are strong local business who will be offering them.”
The party will also seek to get more out of Alberta’s resources through upgrading raw bitumen at refineries here in the province.
“Additionally, we will make the investments in our future that Alberta needs. By focusing on improving the quality of both our public K-12 education system and ensuring a more accessible post-secondary education system, we will be making smart investments that will be strong economic drivers for decades.”
The Progressive Conservatives would continue to work hard to promote diversification of the economy and to stabilize our revenue streams, according to candidate Maureen Kubinec.
Pointing to the local example of Champion Petfoods, she said that strong leadership and encouragement of entrepreneurial spirit will help to overcome current fiscal challenges and build new strength in the economy.
“They tell me that the help that they have received from our Department of Agriculture in making contact with key government officials in India and China are enabling them to expand their market to those two countries.”
Kubinec said the building of new pipelines continues to be at the top of the party’s agenda in order to maximize revenues and reduce our reliance on selling our raw product to the U.S.
“The new Redwater upgrading project is another example of creating local jobs and selling a finished product,” she said.
Fiscal responsibility is one of the cornerstones necessary to ensure a brighter economic future for all Albertans, declares Glenn van Dijken.
“The Wildrose Party believes that as much money as possible needs to stay in the hands of the individuals that earn it,” he said. “Charging more taxes, whether it is from businesses or individuals, will have an immediate impact on the money available to be circulated in the economy. Available cash flow is critical to the strength of any economy.”
The party would address the mismanagement and wasteful spending, working to put an end to cronyism, pet projects, and corporate welfare.
“When Alberta shows the business community that we are serious about fixing this spending problem, they will be confident to continue investing in Alberta to ensure a brighter economic future for all Albertans. This is how real jobs are created.”
Turner says that NDP believes in working with municipalities to make the necessary investments in infrastructure that are specific to each community.
“As Morinville grows, it is critical that our town receives an honest and clear commitment from our province when it comes to the infrastructure and support that municipalities need,” he said. “Instead of the much needed overpass that our town was promised, we received a Band-Aid solution: a set of lights on a major highway and expensive signs advertising how grateful we should be to our government for backing down from their commitments.”
New revenue sources for municipalities may be considered by a re-elected Progressive Conservative government, states Kubinec.
“The MGA — Municipal Government Act — is in the process of being rewritten in consultation with local governments across Alberta,” she said. “This topic is being discussed at all levels to find the right path forward. We need to ensure there is a level playing field and that a stable and secure source of funding is available for long-term municipal planning.”
Kubinec also pointed to the Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding as a stable revenue source that enable municipalities to plan effectively for local community needs and the work of the Department of Transportation in building roads and water projects that each municipality identify as the highest local priority.
Van Dijken’s position is that municipal prosperity is essentially a function of sound business opportunities being allowed to operate and generate the economy. “Whether it is the harvesting of renewable resources, the extraction of non-renewable resources, the development of technology and tourism or any other industry, the province’s role should be minimal,” he said.
“The government’s role is to protect the well-being of the province through properly developed regulations in consultation with industry and community.”
While there may be a role the province can play in bringing ideas forward for business to consider, it should not be the lead driver of any business project.