By Justin Seward
Alberta’s official opposition leader Rachel Notley spoke about the importance of the rural areas to the province during a virtual call in during the RMA (Rural Municipalities of Alberta) Fall Convention on Nov. 3.
“We are seeing now more than ever the consequence for the lack of vision for rural Alberta,” said Notley.
“While we are actively working on all these proposals. We want to make them better by working with you. This is a key thing; we must involve other people in these conversations. You have the expertise, you know where the opportunities are and you all have economic plans. I know we definitely don’t have all the answers.”
The proposals include blue and green hydrogen spurring job creation and prosperity for Alberta going forward and affordable childcare where there is a foundational infrastructure put in place for women to go back to work.
Also the goal is to have Alberta a leader in technology, geothermal, bitumen beyond combustion, affordable housing, manufacturing, transportation, lithium and batteries and energy storage, tourism promotion, green tech, creative industries, small business success and expansion, indigenous economic participation, agriculture innovation, internet and future connectivity and post-secondary development.
Notley says some of the proposals will need some work and some improvement.
“But that’s the point of an open consultation,” she said.
“We’ll only get the best ideas on the record by inviting all Albertans to the table-regardless of political strength.”
Notley assured that an economic vision is not possible without rural inclusion.
The NDP-lead Albertasfuture.ca is about opening up discussions on the province’s economy. All the ideas will be surrounded by the five principles including job security for Albertans, equity and inclusion, diversification as a priority, the role of public service in growing the economy and the rejection of a race to the bottom.
“Rural communities are the backbone of Alberta and RMA has made sure rural communities have strong, effective, local government for more than 100 years,” said Notley.
“You drive economic development, put people to work and build and protect the rural way of life that we celebrate in Alberta. There’s no doubt the challenges ahead of our province are bigger than ever before. The pandemic has only deepened the economic pain caused by world collapse in the price of oil.”
She expressed her frustration at the provincial government on the treatment of health care.
“I’m deeply concerned about the UCP’s rapid and repeated disruption to public health care in the middle of a pandemic,” said Notley.
“Health care is the back bone of any community. We cannot afford to weaken it. The UCP is chasing doctors out of the province, forcing massive change in rural emergency rooms and maternity services and firing thousands of front line workers- many of whom work primarily in rural communities. The UCP doesn’t seem to understand that the damage they’re causing to rural health services right now is going to last a generation.”
Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes response to Notley’s accusations of the UCP’s ‘rapid and repeated disruption to public health care’ was, “ the rapid and repeated disruption I’ve seen have been from the unions of health care and when they had their wild cat strike and withdrew services.
“I would say everybody work together to protect the health care that we have (and) protect the financial sustainability.”
Barnes says health care at $25 billion a year is unsustainable.
“We’re blessed with one of the best health care systems in the world,” said Barnes.
“But it’s incumbent on the government to make sure front line workers are protected and paid well, and what I’d say at this point is it’s been especially hard for rural Alberta with the centralization to Edmonton and then in our Medicine Hat case, now to Lethbridge. I would say going forward, it’s incumbent on Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the UCP to make sure that rural Alberta is not unfairly affected.”
Notley is convinced that the current government is finding ways to end low costs on communities.
“Take the police funding for example. There’s absolutely a conversation to be had about how to better protect Albertans in rural communities,” she said.
“But instead of engaging all of you in a collaborative way to build solutions, the UCP forced hundreds of thousands of dollars of new costs on to you overnight. Their new police costing formula will require you all to pay more with no promise that there will be a single extra cruiser on the highway, not a new detachment.”
Barnes thinks the opposite of Notley’s claim of the UCP’s hundreds of thousands of dollars of new costs being put on Albertans during the pandemic.
“I’ve seen the UCP throw hundreds of millions of dollars at all kinds of transportation and infrastructure jobs,” said Barnes.
“Going forward, there is only one tax payer. And between the federal government,provincial government and the municipalities, it’s time they figured out a way to leave hard-working families enough money to have options and have choice and have a good quality of life.”
Notley hears from rural leaders that they “Are being kept in the dark, your MLAs are out of the loop and the cards being stacked against you and some feel intimidated to speak up.”