By Trevor Busch
Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter is cautiously optimistic about the economic prospects for the province in 2017, but suggested Notley’s NDP government has more work to do to ensure prosperity for Albertans.
Speaking in the Capital View Room of the Federal Building in Edmonton last week minutes before Lieutenant Governor Lois E. Mitchell delivered the speech from the throne in the legislature to open the spring session, Hunter talked about the opportunity to participate in one of the province’s long-standing democratic traditions still steeped in pomp and circumstance.
“It’s actually a real privilege. You see the traditions, you see the history unfold. There is a lot of pomp and ceremony, but I think that’s actually one of the good things about the Westminster Parliamentary system, and it’s just nice to see this still enduring in our time when it seems like a lot of the traditions that we hold so dear are kind of being phased out. It’s just nice to be able to see this.”
Hunter outlined what he was hoping to see in last week’s speech from the throne, such as tax cuts and an emphasis on fostering an economic environment ripe for investment.
“Some of the things I’ll be looking for here will be lowering taxes to incentivise businesses to come back, are we going to be able to help the investment climate become stronger so that we can get some of those foreign investors to come back. I don’t think we’re going to see that, but that’s the kind of thing that I’d like to see here.”
With oil prices seemingly stabilized around the $50 per barrel mark, Hunter is guardedly positive about jobs and investment in 2017.
“There are some indicators, that because of the price of oil going up we’re getting a reprieve, but the level and extent of that reprieve is still yet to be seen. With the throne speech you’re going to see some indication of what the government is going to do to try to stimulate the economy — which I think is always important.”
Hunter was unable to elabourate on some of the legislation being considered by the NDP for the spring session, but noted one focus is likely to be labour legislation.
“I’m safe to tell you there will probably be some labour legislation, but that’s going to be… they actually haven’t told us very much about that, but there is an indication that they’re going to talk about changing labour laws.”
Suggesting that a party merger between the PCs and the Wildrose is probably a foregone conclusion in 2017, Hunter pointed out the ultimate question is likely to be what values, policies and platform are adopted by any new conservative political entity.
“I think that’s probably the quintessential question. I think the question, ‘Are we going to unite?’ is a moot subject. I think we’re really going to see a real groundswell — we’re already seeing the groundswell where both Progressive Conservatives and Wildrosers are saying we need to get this together so we don’t split the right. But what will that new derivative look like? What is it going to be, and what are the policies going to look like? How are we going to take a look at fiscal responsibility? Are we going to balance the budget?”
“When are we going to balance the budget? All these things are extremely important to be able to balance, and I hope that as a fiscal conservative, that new derivative takes all of that into consideration.”
Government interference in the market system should be limited to providing the right conditions to properly encourage investment, according to Hunter.
“We need to focus on making sure that people can get back to work. How do you do that? The NDP would probably see it as stimulus from the government, whereas someone that’s a conservative like me would say is what you do is make sure the environment’s good enough so that people will want to invest. There’s not enough money in the public coffers to get people back to work in any sustainable way. The only way historically that we’ve seen it work is where we actually have the right environment, so that people want to invest. They need to make money, and they need to be able to make a profit. Government’s role is to make sure they have the environment to be able to do that.”
Supportive of the NDP’s attempts to narrow the infrastructure deficit in the province, Hunter encouraged the government to try to create more sustainable jobs
“With the carbon tax, all it does is shackle our ability to compete with people to the south that aren’t going to put a carbon tax in. This is the sort of thing that we need to get at. Jobs are important — the NDP say it all the time — but what are the policies that are actually going to create the environment in which jobs can start to move forward? I don’t see this. I see them doing infrastructure, and I applaud them for doing that. Our roads, our hospitals, and our schools are very important to us, and they need to be maintained, and they need to be built. But those aren’t sustainable jobs, and we need to actually have an organic development of businesses by free enterprise individuals.”