By Trevor Busch
Deflecting harsh criticism has become par for the course for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, but she wasn’t expecting partisan pugilism directed at her provincial NDP during a federal election campaign.
During a press conference in Edmonton last week, Notley addressed comments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Montreal on Aug. 3 in which he criticized the Alberta NDP for hiking corporate tax and characterized Notley’s government as a “disaster” that has been “rejected by the population”.
“It is unusual for prime ministers and premiers to attack each other during a federal election campaign. We’ve all been elected to serve the people, and to do that, I believe we need to work to try and get along,” said Notley on Thursday. “We need to be able to maintain relationships that allow us to work together. For the record, I completely reject the Conservative campaign’s comments about the decisions the people of Alberta made last spring. Whether their federal government likes us or not, the people of Alberta decided they’d had enough of the conservative government in this province, and they decided to elect a new government.”
The premier defended moves that have been made by the NDP since taking office following the May election, and pointed out Alberta’s tax regime remains among the lowest in the country.
“(Our) new government that made a commitment — that we kept — to replace a regressive and unfair health levy. In place of that levy, we introduced a normal corporate tax rate, and we introduced a normal, progressive income tax system that asks those that have done the best to contribute a little bit more. We don’t have a sales tax in Alberta, so Alberta continues to have, by far, the lowest overall provincial taxes in Canada,” said Notley.
Rather than trade insults with Harper, who is looking to loosen the federal NDP’s death grip on Quebec voters, Notley took the high road and promised to work with any federal government that is elected — conservative or otherwise.
“We’re also not going to implement a billion-dollar cut to health care in Alberta, as the former conservative government proposed to do, and we set out these priorities during the Alberta election campaign. Now the conservatives — in two different flavours — laid out their cutback proposals, and the people of Alberta made their choice. So we’re going to keep working to deliver on the commitments that we made to the people of Alberta, and we will work to advance those commitments with whoever is elected to run the federal government on Oct. 19, as amicably and co-operatively as they choose to allow — because that’s what I believe Albertans voted for, that’s what Albertans are looking for from their leadership, and that’s what I will continue to endeavour to provide.”
Notley endorsed the campaign of federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, but confirmed she will remain focused on substantial tasks at hand that are currently being faced by the province.
“I have a great deal of respect for Tom Mulcair’s work as the leader of the official opposition, and I like him on a personal level, he’s a good guy. So that’s where I sit. That being said, I have a pretty major day job, and in my view that day job should be focused on the work the people of Alberta elected me to do, and so that’s what I’m going to focus on. I believe that in focusing on that, I have to do what I can to maintain co-operative and collaborative relationships with my colleagues federally in order to be productive.”
The premier admitted probable involvement in limited campaigning for the federal NDP, but would not be launching negative attacks against other candidates.
“You will likely see me involved in this campaign. It’s very possible you’ll see me at rallies in support of Tom Mulcair and the NDP. But my activity will be quite limited overall, and whatever engagement that I do have will be very much focused on talking about the policies that I like and the candidate that I support. I am not going to engage in negative campaigning against other candidates. I don’t see that as helpful.”
Notley was hesitant to suggest the NDP wave which swept Alberta in May will have a significant impact on federal fortunes on Oct. 19 — but she wasn’t ruling it out.
“I think it’s really hard — it’s a bit of a chicken or the egg argument — to determine whether the increased level of activity and excitement and prospects for the NDP federally in Alberta are related to our election or whether in fact it was already there, and this increased activity is a product of a change of opinion generally speaking,” said Notley. “There’s no question I have been quite encouraged to see the number of contested nominations going on in Alberta in federal ridings, places where we’ve never contested nominations before, so it’s certainly been encouraging.”
The provincial NDP leader suggested her party’s win may have “opened up opportunity” for the federal NDP in the province as a lengthy election campaign gets underway.
“I think people are very excited about the record of Tom Mulcair, I think they’re encouraged by the platform that Tom Mulcair is putting forward, and I think if any impact has been had, it’s that the provincial election in May showed people they can vote with their heart and it might get them the answer they were looking for. And so it’s opened up opportunity for the NDP in a way that perhaps hasn’t existed federally up to this point.”
Notley reserved limited criticism for the length of the 78-day federal election campaign, suggesting motives other than “good public policy” factored into Harper’s decision to call one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history.
“There’s no question the length of the federal campaign is a problem for people that are trying to get work done with the federal government, and it’s unfortunate, with respect to the fact that we’ve had to call a provincial by-election in the middle of it. It was a bit unexpected, and there’s been a lot of commentary on the strategic considerations. I don’t know that good public policy was necessarily one of the priorities that drove that decision.”