By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Southeast Alberta’s newest MLA says jobs and getting the region at the forefront of economic development are his top priorities as he began his first legislative session on Oct. 30.
Justin Wright became the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat in last spring’s general election. The fall sitting of the legislature began Oct. 30, where Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Danielle Smith began her first full mandate as premier of the United Conservative government with a Speech from the Throne.
An outline presented Oct. 27 states the government plans to focus on tax measures promised in the campaign and laying out pieces in a strategy to challenge the federal government on several fronts.
Wright told Southern Alberta Newspapers that, nearly five months after winning the seat, he’s anxious to begin formal sittings.
“It’s been really good to connect with stakeholders over the summer,” said Wright. “I’m looking forward to bringing that message and voice to Edmonton and be able to make good on that.
“It’ll be a new experience, but it’s exciting.”
Wright, 38, the part-owner of a food truck, catering and concession operating company in Medicine Hat, won the UCP party nomination earlier this year, then the election, campaigning on infrastructure improvements and better business opportunity in the region.
He said that developing the “agri-food corridor” between Lethbridge-Taber-Medicine Hat is fully supported by the government and could be spurred east by phases of Highway 3 twinning.
“Top of mind and the agri-food corridor and I’m focused on getting Medicine Hat moved to the forefront of (phasing),” he said, adding that he’s confident Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, who is handling the project as parliamentary secretary, and Smith considers the work a priority.
“That leads in to jobs and economy … finding new emerging technologies and industry that we can push forward to benefit the local economy,” said Wright.
“Folks feel that we didn’t have new industry push in after we lost the vast majority of oil and gas activity in the southeast.”
A third priority is improving job skills training and trades education in the area.
UCP House Leader Joseph Schow (MLA for Cardston-Siksika) told reporters last month the government is returning “with a mandate from voters to grow our economy, protect law-abiding Albertans, improve health care and defend our province from federal interference.”
Smith has also said her government will introduce legislation to provide scope of the province’s exploration of creating an Alberta Pension plan.
She has said the bill would only outline the requirement of a referendum on the issue.
Another referendum issue could be the government’s first bill. The main 2023 election plank for the party was a tax reduction pledge and promise to time any future tax increase in the province to a popular vote on the specific issue.
The pension issue continues to be forefront with the public as well as a panel led by former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning is exploring the matter.
“The big thing is that if benefits are the same or better and the costs aren’t the same or less … we want to make sure we get a finalized number,” he said, echoing a stand Smith has taken and which was expressed at a town hall meeting in Medicine Hat on Oct. 18.
“We want to make sure we’re presenting the correct information to folks so they can make a decision. Ultimately it’s a decision for Albertans to make, not a handful of politicians.”