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Happy New Year! In 2016, let’s improve workplace safety, forgive student loans and pull the plug on daylight savings

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Tommy Douglas

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Happy New Year!

It's 2016, so let's get right to down to business. Here are a dozen laws Alberta's New Democratic Party Government would do well to pass this year.

Last year had its highs and lows for Alberta's NDP Government. On the evening of May 5, the New Democrats came out of the general election with a significant majority that, it's fair to say, no one had quite expected, some late public opinion polls notwithstanding.

Ever since, the government of Premier Rachel Notley has been subjected to a barrage of hysterical threats, angry criticism and insistent demands by all of the Usual Suspects on the right.

Politicians from both the Team Angry Opposition and the battered Progressive Conservatives, federal politicians who (correctly) read similar handwriting on their own electoral wall, grumpy neoliberal premiers in provinces next door, corporate-supported think tankers, their media echo chamber and enough ginned up Astro-Turf groups to carpet a couple of football fields all had their two bits worth to put in.

They all sing from the same hymn sheet, hoping, naturally, to turn voters against the NDP and the policies it promised -- that, after all, is the way the democratic game is played. But they also tried, with some success, to rattle the government, set it on its back foot and encourage excessive caution in implementing the program Albertans undeniably gave the NDP a mandate to enact.

Success with that agenda would achieve two important things from the perspective of the political right. If the Notley Government can be frightened into abandoning its program, principles and supporters, it would alienate the NDP’s base and nip in the bud potentially popular programs a future right wing government would have trouble reversing.

This is precisely what happened when CCF Premier Tommy Douglas introduced public health care in Saskatchewan in 1962, and Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson took the program national in 1966. Market fundamentalists have been struggling ever since to find a way to wreck medicare without infuriating voters, which for all their think tanks and corporate subsidies they have never been able to do.

Such sound, popular, progressive legislation is precisely the "nightmare" the full-blown anti-NDP campaign now under way in Alberta is designed to forestall.

Well, nuts to that, I say. The best defence is a good offence. It is true, as the Romans said, that fortune favours the bold. So here are 12 of my thoughts, some bolder than others, on what our Alberta government could legislate in 2016.

  1. Drop all support for carbon capture and sequestration. It's a boondoggle, and an expensive one.
  2. Revise building standards to the R2000 energy performance level for all new structures.
  3. Return routine eye care to medicare, and add dental care and pharmacare.
  4. Include sensible reporting rules for "Super PACs” in Alberta's election-finance laws, including a requirement for all donors to be identified.
  5. Ban corporate and union donations to candidates in Alberta municipal elections.
  6. Introduce fair, honestly priced, no-fault government automobile insurance.
  7. Add first-contract compulsory arbitration to labour law, as in most other provinces, to provide a way to deal with employers who refuse to bargain in good faith.
  8. Enact B.C.-style working-alone laws requiring multiple employees on late night shifts, a secure area when only one employee must work alone, and training that makes it clear money lost in robberies and gas-and-dash thefts cannot be deducted from worker paycheques.
  9. End expensive "cowboy welfare" to holders of grazing leases on provincial land so surface-disturbance payments from energy companies go to the land’s owners -- us.
  10. Forgive the provincial portion of all student loans -- helping students and society by ending mandatory subsidies to banks by young people.
  11. Legislate an end to Daylight Savings Time -- it doesn't save energy, is hazardous to health, reduces workplace productivity and, if you happen to be a farmer, upsets the cows. …
  12. Revise liquor laws to allow beer, wine and liquor sales in grocery stores. After all, if the free market is so great, what's wrong with the free market? Let me buy my beer where I want to, in a clean, safe, well run, unionized grocery store. If you want to make a different choice, well, feel free.

And if it turns out the NDP government has time on its hands and this isn't enough, well, there are plenty more things they could do. For example, if they hanker after a mega-project that would actually do some good, they could build an LRT rail link -- not an impossibly expensive and disruptive high-speed rail line -- between Edmonton and Calgary, with a stop in Red Deer. And they shouldn't use an expensive P3 to build it!

It's 2016. Let's get crackin’!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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