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Rachel's problem

Photo: Rachel Notley/Facebook

As Thursday night's provincial party leaders' debate demonstrated, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley doesn't back down from a fight. Which is admirable. At the same time, fighting with Jason Kenney helps keep him in the spotlight, which is unfortunate and redundant, since the media are already dogging him diligently.

Perhaps the premier could gain more votes by highlighting what her NDP government has achieved in four short years in office, after 44 years of Conservative rule. From raising the minimum wage to $15, to including farm workers in workers' compensation, to affirming LGBTQ+ rights, Rachel Notley's government has moved the province of Alberta a long way towards living in the 21st century.

Decades of Conservative and Social Credit governments have left Alberta with a right-wing reputation. As premier, Rachel Notley comes in a direct line from the lesser-known Prairie co-operative tradition, e.g., the Calgary Co-op is the largest retail co-operative in North America. And of course, Calgary is the birthplace of the CCF, precursor to the NDP.

Rachel Notley's father was NDP leader (1968-84) Grant Notley, highly esteemed by all parties during his career and mourned since his early death in an airplane crash. Her childhood included hearing dinner table talk about the Lubicon First Nation's efforts to be included in Treaty 8 (signed in 1899), a goal that was only finally achieved in 2018, on her watch.

Rachel Notley apparently always talked back, as a young person, at the table and in public. Says Notley's official bio: "When Rachel was a student at Grande Prairie Regional College, she stood up at a public forum and asked her father how a student could get by with such frugal parents. Her father was furious, but gave her $20 afterwards."

That sort of gumption helps with tasks like trying to sell heavy bitumen in President Obama's Washington, suddenly aflood with light oil from fracking (whatever the hazards of fracking might be.) Or persuading the federal government to buy the TransMountain pipeline for $4.5 billion.  

Alberta faces more challenges than most places in making the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Andrew Nikiforuk has called Alberta a "petro-state," beholden to its largest revenue source: the oil patch. And the oil patch has retained that political hold, even though oil sands oil fetches a much lower price on the world market.  

Back in 1979, says earth scientist David Hughes, oil revenue made up 80 per cent of Alberta government revenue. By 2016, even though oil and gas production had doubled, that fossil fuel revenue plummeted to an estimated 3.3 per cent. Job levels slumped or remained static.  

To ease the transition from fossils to renewables and to increase employment, the NDP government implemented a renewable electricity program which, through nine project grants awarded after three rounds of calls for proposals, will bring an estimated 7,000 jobs building windfarms. The program will also lower the consumer price of power, and increase the proportion of renewable energy powering the provincial grid from 13 per cent to 30 per cent by 2030.

Then there's the Interactive Digital Media Initiative, funding 3,000 post-secondary faculty and students in gaming, robots, and other technological developments -- with a five per cent tax break for institutions that hire persons from an Indigenous background.

The NDP government also invested $10 million in additional funding to combat rural crime by hiring 39 more police officers, 40 more civilian staff, and 10 additional Crown prosecutors. 

Some quick hits show how the NDP shifted the government's focus from tax cuts to helping everyday families. Thanks to blogger Louis Arthur, who collected more than 250 examples, from which I've chosen a few.

Under Premier Rachel Notley, the NDP government:
– Doubled existing support for new upgrading and refining programs in place for Alberta's energy resources. The new supports will create 15,500 jobs during construction and 1,000 jobs once operational.
– Opened new opioid dependency clinics in Bonnyville, Fort McMurray and High Prairie to treat up to 600 new patients annually.
– Sent letters to employers who owe workers unpaid wages demanding settlement and outlining their options to do so.       
– Simplified the forms and process to apply for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), to make it easier for Albertans to receive benefits. (2018)
– Increased funding to assist people with disabilities to complete post-secondary degrees. (2018)
– Joined other provinces in recognizing military drivers' credentials so members of the forces don't have to be re-tested for a commercial licence. (2015)
– Created a pilot project for rural bus service in southern Alberta, filling routes left when Greyhound cancelled service.
– Introduced truth in advertising rules for the auto industry, mandating that consumers must be told the full history of the vehicle they are purchasing.
– Raised the minimum wage by $2 ($2.50 for liquor servers), in 2015, and raised it annually since, up to $15 per hour in the fall of 2018. (2015).
– Funded health care to prevent the layoff of thousands of health-care workers as planned by the Prentice Conservative government. (2015)
– Created 122 early learning and childcare centres across the province, charging a maximum of $25 a day to care for children 0 to kindgarten. With federal government funding, ELCs emphasize providing care for children with diverse needs and parents who work diverse hours. The last 100 centres, announced May 2018, will deliver five times the number of affordable care spaces previously available.
– Alberta also supports parents with the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit of about $4000 a year for a family with four children, calculated automatically at income tax time; and the new Alberta Child Benefit, available to most families with incomes less than $42,000, which will disperse more than $5000 for that same four-child family.  
– Provided civil servants and social workers with intense courses about how Indigenous people relate to others, in line with the TRC's Calls to Action.

Turning the economy around 180 degrees, from relying on oil and gas production to running a zero-emissions economy, is apt to involve some contortions, such as offering a climate action plan at the same time as lobbying for a $4.5-billion oil pipeline. People in Alberta want jobs, well-paid jobs, regardless of longterm effects. In fact, the NDP has been creating jobs, jobs, jobs, both in the oil and gas industry and in diversifying the economy, as Alberta must do, to thrive.

So Notley really has two problems: she needs at least one more term as premier to continue the changes the NDP has started. And her innate feistiness, her urge to stand up to bullies, leads her to battle with Jason Kenney, rather than promote all her own achievements.

After all, her analysis seems correct, as quoted by rabble's David Climenhaga. Premier Notley said during the debate, "Here is Jason Kenney's argument in a nutshell: His team made a terrible mess. We didn't clean it up fast enough. So fire us and put the old boys back in! That's his case."

Kenney is on the attack because toxic male rage is his style and because he really doesn't have any new policies to offer, or perhaps he doesn't want to show them. Notley has plenty of new policies and achievements to brag about, if only she would.

Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column for four years. She was editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004 - 2013.

Photo: Rachel Notley/Facebook

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