By Trevor Busch
Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter headed an introductory delegation to town council last week in which he addressed key issues being faced by the province in 2015.
“I’m a businessman by trade. I’ve been in residential/commercial construction most of my life,” said Hunter, speaking at council’s Aug. 17 meeting. “Most of my work has been in Fort McMurray. I understand the business of construction — I don’t understand the business of farming quite as much, but I do look forward to learning more about it.”
Hunter was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner in the May 5, 2015 election, and currently serves as a member of the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
“I’ve been in Cardston for eight years, I grew up in High River, so just south of Calgary is where my roots are from. I have a family of five children, and have been married for 25 years. I have a Masters in Business Administration, and my first degree was in economics and political science,” said Hunter.
Taber’s new MLA has been working to make his introductions to various representative bodies throughout the riding area.
“I’m very interested in the workings of politics, and how they actually affect each of our lives. But the learning curve can be straight up sometimes, especially at the beginning. So I still feel like I’m there in that learning curve, but I look forward to learning about the needs of our riding. I’ve met with about 90 per cent of the municipalities and towns, and the irrigation districts. The first 90 days, I was told it was the most important, and so for the first 90 days I’ve made it a priority to meet with as many boards and councils as I can.”
A one week spring sitting of the legislature following the provincial election did not leave much time for purposeful legislation to be passed.
“It was a very short sitting, only one week, and in that time we passed three bills,” said Hunter. “The three bills were basically about accountability. We were in favour of this bill because it stopped union and corporate donations from basically buying votes, and so we were very much in favour of that. We tried to make some amendments to that, to make it a little more robust. We’ll keep working on that — we think that it’s important to have the grass roots decide how a province should be, and the stronger you strengthen the grass roots, the better your province will be.”
Hunter complained that an interim supply bill passed to fund government expenses, largely necessitated by the spring election campaign, amounts to a large pool of ready cash that has no strictures placed on its allocation.
“The other two bills allow government to continue to fund operations, an interim supply bill. The first bill was $18 billion, which was unprecedented — never before had there been an interim supply bill of this magnitude. We need to keep government going, but the problem with that is that with an interim supply bill, you do not have to give line items. You don’t have to tell us anything about where you’re spending the money, or where it’s being allocated. So there’s no checks and balances on the system. And we’ve had nothing, absolutely no information about that. We will not receive a budget until some time after Oct. 26, which is the next time we sit. Conveniently that’s after the federal election, and we thought that’s using federal politics in the provincial realm. We didn’t like that.”
In what he characterized as a “win” for the Wildrose opposition, Hunter noted his party has been working hard to reach clarity on MSI funding allocations for municipalities.
“The government is made up of 12 ministers. They have not been contacting us back — they haven’t been contacting anyone really — so it’s been very difficult for the towns and municipalities, as I’ve talked to them, to be able to get information about who to contact.”
The first-term MLA pledged to work with the Notley NDP government in a collaborationist role rather than taking an adversarial approach.
“All of this information we’re trying to work out right now, and as you know, we haven’t had to deal with this for 44 years,” said Hunter.
“The change has happened, it’s past, it’s finished, it’s over — now we have to deal with the bigger pieces and try to find a way to make things work. This is what I’ve been saying about going forward: I do believe that sugar goes down better than salt. So I’ll be the sugar guy, I’ll be the guy that actually goes in and tries to work with the NDP government. We are ideologically on opposite ends of the spectrum, there’s no doubt about that. However, we do have a province to run, we have infrastructure needs, we have social programs that need to be funded, and they need to be funded properly.”
Hunter outlined the Notley government has already promised to work closely with the opposition rather than adopt an exclusionary attitude based on ideological differences — a situation alleged to have been a major failing of the previous PC dynasty.
“Whatever happens in the legislature, whether we’re going back and forth at each other, what’s amazing about it is at the end of the day we’ll cross and kind of shake hands — the animosity isn’t there. It’s a process of being able to try to work together to get things done. The NDP government has already said they’re not going to treat us the way they felt they were treated by the previous government. They’d been in that opposition realm for a long time, and they said they didn’t like how they were treated, and they weren’t going to treat us that way. We’ll have to see how that works. If they don’t treat us that way, that’s great, because it will work well if we work together.”
Hunter is “adamantly opposed” to the NDP’s plan to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage within three years, predicting job losses and other negative economic impacts.
“There’s a couple of things that are going to come down, and have already started. Number one that will affect you obviously is a $15 (per hour) minimum wage. I don’t know how your summer employment works, but in other communities I’ve talked to they usually pay on a minimum wage, so that would affect your bottom line. That will be implemented over a three year period — at least they say it will. They are going to increase minimum wage by $1 (per hour) in October. I’m adamantly opposed against it — I’m on record saying that. I believe it will actually create more unemployment than help, especially non-profit organizations, will really suffer.”
Following Hunter’s opening remarks, Coun. Randy Sparks questioned if government could not do more to stabilize gas prices, or account for the huge differential between the current price of a barrel of oil and a litre of gasoline.
“We’re paying almost the same as what we paid when oil was $100,” said Hunter. “They’re arguing that when their processing plant went down, in Illinois I believe, it affected us up here. If that was truly the case, then it would affect it across the board in the United States. What we’re seeing is the price of oil going down in the United States. I can promise you I will look into it, and do the best I can.”
Council voted unanimously to accept the presentation by Hunter as information.