By Greg Price
With the NDP government’s speech from the throne on Monday, politics have been heating up in the province, where an election was called the following day. Grant Hunter, MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner, made a pitch for the United Conservative Party at Barnwell council’s last meeting.
The provincial ruling party has the option to call an election during the election year between Feb. 1 to May 3. A 28-day campaign means provincial Election Day this year will be April 16.
“I call this the silly season. The season gets to be where a lot of things are being said and also a lot of promises being made,” said Hunter, adding he wanted to get feedback on what concerns councillors have heard from the residents of Barnwell in what they view should be important to the next government.
Grant gave his own State of the Union address in what he perceived was happening in his own riding and in the province.
“One of the things I’ve heard is in many parts of Alberta, unemployment rates are pretty high, especially amongst the oil and gas workers,” said Hunter. “Calgary has one of the highest unemployment rates outside of eastern Canada. Alberta has seen six out of the last eight months with unemployment going up. We haven’t seen the end of these economic bad times. A lot of that has to do with the uncertainty of getting our oil to tidewater. That’s an on-going issue and obviously that’s not just a provincial issue — it’s a federal issue as well.”
Debts, deficits and regulatory burdens are concerns Hunter noted he has heard among constituents. Hunter currently has Bill 207, the Regulatory Burden Reduction Act before the Legislature. If adopted, Bill 207 would force the government to eliminate one or more regulations for every new regulation being proposed. Hunter added an extra 100 pages were added to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
“For the last three-and-half years I’ve studied different models throughout the world and have tried to attack that regulatory burden. Municipalities, often smaller communities, are sometimes buried with the enormity of what the MGA (Municipal Government Act) requires,” said Hunter. “What I’d like to find out is there a way that we can do it better. Is there a way we can fix that regulatory burden/red tape we have on smaller communities. How to fix this problem, not just in the private sector, but the public sector with municipalities that are being buried under this as well. What is good for Calgary and Edmonton in terms of the MGA, may not be good for Barnwell.”
Hunter added any funding announcement made from Feb. 1 up until the provincial election date, will be scrutinized by UCP leader Jason Kenney if he is elected Premier.
“We will find out if those are just promises made to swing votes or whether or not these are actually something of value to Albertans,” said Hunter. “We will be looking at all these contracts that are being signed during this time.”
Barnwell councillor Robin Hansen inquired to Hunter how Alberta got to this point in what he viewed as poor NDP leadership, after 44 years of Progressive Conservative rule.
Hunter hypothesized that the decision by numerous Wildrose Party MLAs, including party Danielle Smith’s and at the time Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman, to cross the floor to the Tories was severely damaging to the Conservative movement back in December 2014. Premier Jim Prentice called an early election at the time, a miscalculation of the political terrain at the time.
“Albertans didn’t like that, feeling like the PCs had been in there too long and they couldn’t trust Wildrose because of what they did,” said Hunter. “Rachel Notley got into a debate, and I think the majority of Albertans made an electoral decision on a 45-minute debate. You take a look at the polls, everyone was neck and neck — Wildrose, PCs, NDP and all the sudden she (Notley) threw a Hail Mary Pass and Albertans bought it hook, line and sinker.”
Had the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties remained as separate entities, splitting the Conservative vote, Hunter added the chances of defeating NDP in the upcoming election would have been hindered. The two parties merged to become the United Conservative Party back in July 2017, where Jason Kenney defeated Brian Jean for leadership.
“There are some splinter groups that are trying to start up. I’m not hearing a lot of buzz on them at the doors. Most of the people I talk to say we are not splitting the vote again,” said Hunter.
The Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA repeated the UCP’s pledge to repeal the carbon tax if they are elected.
“Germany, France, a couple of countries who made the move away are coming back to coal. Japan is moving back to coal. I’m not a believer in moving away from coal. I’m a believer that if we innovate our way versus legislate our way out of this global warming or climate change issue, we are further ahead than if we legislate our way out,” said Hunter.
While Alberta has a marginal tax advantage over other jurisdictions in Canada, Hunter noted the same cannot be said about the marginal tax advantage in comparison to North America.
“We are trying to get investment to come in. We are only 4.6 million people in Alberta and so we don’t have enough investment globally to keep our economy hopping. The only way we can keep this going is to have foreign investment come in. We used to have that in Alberta, we called it the Alberta Advantage, but we’ve moved away from that model.”
Hunter highlighted three planks to get back the Alberta Advantage, in lowering the marginal tax rate, sustainable government and lower regulatory burden.
“We are going to use a model that is similar to the one being used in B.C. that is being implemented. B.C. reduced regulatory burden by 49 per cent in 10 years,” said Hunter. “We are going to reduce regulatory burden by a third in four years. We are going to get very aggressive on that. For government sustainability, if you ran the Village of Barnwell the way the province is going, you’d go bankrupt. With an eight to $14 billion dollar deficit, it’s unsustainable, we have to get back to balance.”