An establishment 42 years in the making has come crashing down, as on May 5 the NDP won a majority in Alberta, pushing the long-standing Progressive Conservatives (PCs) out of office. The NDP, led by Rachel Notley, captured 53 seats in the legislature, dwarfing the official opposition, the Wildrose Party, by more than two fold.
Albertans have resolved that regressive economic and environmental policy are not what they wish for their future. Instead, they have elected a bright-eyed new caucus, with only three MLAs having held office before.
But Notley is the anchor Alberta needs to weather tumultuous economic hardships that lie ahead. Her pragmatic and progressive tax policies will compensate for the PCs lack of fiscal stewardship. Moreover, her moderate approach to the oil sector will enforce stronger environmental standards without compromising the integrity of Alberta’s economy.
This wave of discontentment with the PCs should not shock anyone. Their budget projects a $5 billion deficit next year due to the collapse in oil prices. The party’s dangerous legacy of over-reliance on oil has caught up to them.
Their anemic solution of marginal tax increases will do nothing to fill the void of once gushing oil revenues. Moreover, the cost to most Albertans is too high. The PC’s have cut $159 million from the health budget and have raised taxes for families, while refusing to touch a startlingly low 10 per cent corporate tax until the end of their leadership.
Notley has proven that she is committed to the welfare of the working class.
Notley has promised to use her mandate to raise corporate taxes by two per cent, and end a tax system which has no income brackets. High-income earners will now face a progressive tax system which redistributes wealth to ideally offset losses in royalties from oil.
Not only is this a fairer solution to closing the deficit but it also is politically advantageous in the most populist manner. Those who got rich off the oil boom will now have to pay for the consequences of that industry’s volatility and unsustainability, while average Albertans will be spared the economic slaughterhouse.
Moreover, Notley has proven that she is committed to the welfare of the working class. One of her key campaign promises was to raise the dismal provincial minimum wage from $10.20 (among the lowest nationwide) to $15 by 2018. A living wage is essential for families to remain above the poverty line, as well as for economies to avoid stagnation; it will also increase disposable income for families and spur personal spending, stimulating the economy.
It would be, however, a mistake to characterize Notley as ‘anti-oil.’ In fact, while she is in favour of more stringent environmental regulations and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, she is behind multiple pipeline projects and is willing to work together with oil companies.
Notley has also advocated that Alberta’s oil producers need to “upgrade” their oil by adding value to their product, rather than simply shipping out unrefined oil to Asia via tankers. She makes a compelling argument: intensifying economic activity which adds value to oil resources will not only create more jobs in Canada, but also help shelter Canada from oil price drops worldwide.
Notley has found herself between a rock and a hard place. Alberta’s veins run thick with black gold and the premier designate will have to walk the line between appeasing the left majority who gave her the mandate to govern, and ensuring that oil producers are kept afloat lest they continue to struggle.
The new premier must use her mandate to reduce the deficit whilst pushing on with a slate of social and environmental legislation that ought to compensate for a laissez-faire PC attitude humoured in Alberta for far too long.