Member of Legislative Assembly Report
By BRIAN JEAN, MLA of Fort McMurray-Conklin
Our province is facing one of the toughest challenges in decades. In January alone, 26,000 Albertans lost work in the private sector. Today, Alberta’s unemployment rate is higher than Quebec’s for the first time in three decades.
The impact is being felt not just in our energy sector. Manufacturing, agriculture, forestry — families right across Alberta are feeling the impact of an economy set to contract for a second year in a row.
During difficult times, the number one rule any government must follow is to do no further harm. The NDP government has rejected that rule in favour of a cocktail of new tax increases, further red tape and regulatory uncertainty.
A coalition of business advocates were forced to plead with Premier Rachel Notley to hit the stop button on this government’s agenda.
Albertans are worried and are looking for hope. That’s why Wildrose released our Jobs Action Plan, featuring twelve recommendations to get Alberta working again.
These twelve recommendations are based on sound economics and three pillars that will make our province the best place to live, build a business or start a family.
It starts with restoring the Alberta Advantage. During the 90s, this commitment to competitiveness led to one of the most prosperous decades in Alberta’s history. Our report lays out easy and affordable recommendations during a time of record deficits that will instill this type of confidence back in our economy.
Alberta now has the highest business taxes in Western Canada. For the almost 150,000 small businesses in Alberta, confidence is at an all-time low.
One idea that won’t cost taxpayers a penny and will help create jobs is to bring in a WCB premium holiday. WCB reserves have grown to $2.6 billion more than its liabilities, but only one-fifth of that is given back in rebates.
By drawing down half of the remaining surplus, we can put $1 billion back in the pockets of employers and encourage new hires over the next three to four years, while still keeping a healthy cushion beyond WCB’s liabilities.
Another Wildrose proposal is an immediate one-point tax cut for small businesses, from 3 per cent to 2 per cent, to make us even with Saskatchewan.
To free up our job creators, we would also reduce red tape by 20 per cent by 2019 and, as B.C. has done, pass a law ensuring any new regulation must be offset by eliminating a regulation elsewhere.
Finally, we know the NDP’s $3-billion carbon tax and changes to the electricity grid are causing uncertainty. There’s no doubt these changes could have a real, negative effect on people’s pocketbooks. We are suggesting we delay these initiatives until a proper economic analysis is completed, estimating the impact of these changes.
Our second pillar is to put together strategies to get Albertans back to work. There are federal programs the province has ignored that will help stimulate skills training for those out of work. And we would enhance new training opportunities for apprentices across the province.
Of course, it’s impossible to bring forward any economic plan that does not address the challenges facing our energy sector. Right now, Ottawa has blocked the Northern Gateway pipeline by implementing a tanker moratorium on B.C.’s west coast – a move that will not only hurt Alberta’s industry, but block any efforts to move liquefied natural gas. This proposed ban is bad for all of Canada, and it’s time for leaders to speak against it.
Albertans have a proud history of self-reliance and fierce independence. Wildrose knows that they aren’t looking for a handout. Instead, our Jobs Action Plan would give them the hand up they need and restore the confidence Albertans have lost. These policies will be a simple first step to move our province back in the right direction.
Brian Jean is the Leader of the Wildrose Official Opposition.