Thursday, October 3, 2013

An Alternative History of Alberta, 2004-2013

During Alberta's 2012 Provincial election, I became interested in the Alberta Party. I wrote about them herehere, here and here. Even though the Alberta Party won exactly zero seats, what interested me then still interests me now. 

I'm not naive enough to think that the Alberta Party will be governing this province anytime soon, but I am optimistic enough to believe that the Alberta Party can have some influence on those who do govern. I believe this because I think there are enough Albertans who are tired of plugging their nose and voting for the PCs or the Wildrose. 

While The Alberta Party understands that oil and gas are one of Alberta's greatest economic natural resources, they also understand the need to broaden our economic base by investing in Alberta's other most important natural resource --our people. I think there are enough Albertans who are tired of our volatile budgets that stakes our health and education on the price of a barrel of oil.

I think there are enough Albertans who are tired of politicians being the voice of government to the people when they should be the voice of the people to government. 

This was written by the Alberta Party's new leader, Greg Clark who tweets here. This post was originally found here.

by Greg Clark

It's October 2nd, 2013. Our strong energy sector has been the envy of the world ever since Greenpeace used our province as an example of responsible resource development because we've reduced our net carbon emissions every year since 2010, in spite of increased production from our oilsands. The Keystone XL pipeline is nearing completion and the Enbridge / First Nations Pipeline Corp. joint venture to build a bitumen pipeline that terminates at an upgrader on the BC coast is expected to start construction next summer.

There's a hard cap of 30 kids per class in high school, 25 in junior high and 20 in elementary school, although most schools are well under those numbers. Our healthcare system is the envy of the rest of Canada and is widely regarded as one of the best in the world. Social indicators like child poverty and suicide rates are dropping. Our universities and colleges turn out graduates ready to participate in the workforce and make a difference in a changing world.

Things aren't perfect of course. Prices for natural gas are lower than we'd like as a result of the rapid rise of shale gas, but they're higher than they would have been had we not started our transition from coal-fired power to natural gas and renewables 10 years ago. And there's reason for even more optimism; we're only a year away from the completion of a 2 BCF (billion cubic feet) pipeline to BC's new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, with plans to twin the pipe in the next five years. The pipelines are being built by private industry but they are economic at this scale because of royalty incentives provided by the Alberta Government to create new markets and increase demand for Alberta's most abundant hydrocarbon, which happens to be the transition fuel to a low carbon future. Our government worked hard to make this happen. Everyone agrees that starting with the goal of creating a "win-win-win" for first nations, BC and Alberta was the key to our success.

Oh, and Albertans pay half the income tax we did a decade ago and we're on our way to zero. That's because we've been able to fund a significant portion of government operations from the interest generated by investments in the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, something we started taking seriously right after we paid off the debt in 2004. In addition to having more money in our pockets, Alberta's business community is more diversified than it's been in recent memory due to the attractive investment climate and prudent investments in clean energy technologies and energy services innovation, which are funded by Alberta's carbon tax. Alberta's success led the Economist magazine to call our province the "Silicon Valley of Energy".

The path to get here wasn't easy; it took a lot of political will, a long-term view, a lot of listening and some brave moves by the government of the day. First, it was decided that we would keep our progressive income tax rather than moving to a flat tax, but the government heeded Albertans' calls to stay away from a sales tax. We also kept the healthcare premium, although it was indexed to income to make it more fair. Alberta kept a lid on expenses by building a relationship of trust and respect between the government and public servants of all kinds; teachers, nurses and doctors included. Although it cost some support at the ballot box, the government resisted the temptation to ramp up spending in an election year just to win votes, but benefitted our key systems and the people who work in them by not cutting spending immediately after the election. Stable funding has led to much better services and outcomes across the board, which means the people working in those systems are proud of their work and feel their pay is fair.

Of course most of this is fantasy, but it's the kind of Alberta we could be living in if successive PC governments had the vision and guts to make it happen. It's not too late, but we need to start making these changes today. We need politicians who are willing to lay out a bold agenda and replace short term vote-seeking with a long term plan.

And that's why I joined the Alberta Party. We're a party with a vision for long term prosperity in our province. We're willing to invest today to build for tomorrow. We're willing to take a stand even when it's not politically expedient. It's what everyone who has come to our province for over 100 years has done. It's in our DNA and it's the right thing to do.

Now, we just need a government willing to do it.

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