Now that the Legislature has recessed for the summer I would like to fill you in on some issues that will directly affect many if not most of us. You may recall early in the last session Informed Albertans had flagged the fact that sexually graphic and explicit materials had been offered to children from Kindergarten to Grade 12. This material was taken down from the website immediately, and I asked questions and gave a statement with respect to this situation. The government offered feeble excuses over their lack of oversight with regards to material being offered to children in schools. As you know (and you may be one of these parents) many parents petitioned the government and sent in letters to be tabled in the legislature. There were 700 letters that were given to me at the end of our session. I have tabled 5 so far, and will continue to table the letters as I read them in the next session. I want to thank you if you took the time to write to me. Creating safe and caring spaces for all our children is the responsibility of government, schools, school authorities, teachers, administrators, and parents.
Our job is to build communities, and create environments where all of our children are welcome and truly cherished. This government has created division, broken the bonds of community, and has tried to turn families and communities against each other due to a lack of clarity and common sense. This tactic will not work, and we must more than ever come together to make sure this kind of government only lasts one term.
On the Legislative front we saw initiatives from the Government that had unintended consequences, reflected a lack of thought, or were just plain bad legislation.
First, let’s look at Bill 1, “An Act To Reduce School Fees”. The Wildrose voted for this legislation as it is our policy to eliminate instructional fees related to the core curriculum. However, we pointed out some consequences to the legislation as written which the NDP Government ignored and have proven to be true. School fees cost Alberta families $200M, so the Government’s stated intention was to reduce these costs to public school families by $54 million. The school fees changes would account for $39 million and the transportation fee reductions would be $15 million. These funds are supposedly coming from “efficiencies.”
We raised many concerns after reaching out to school boards and we heard that they appreciated the school fee reduction but had real concerns about the transportation fees and the lack of clarity about what the regulations would mean. We are still waiting for clarity.
One example is East Lake School in Chestermere. This is the designated K-9 French Immersion school for the entire East side of my constituency. French Immersion is classed as an alternative program. The Government has eliminated bus fees for kids going to their “designated” school but not necessarily for students travelling to “alternative” schools. Will French Immersion students from Indus, Langdon, other rural areas, and Chestermere outside East Lake’s “catchment area” have to pay extra for bussing now that the “designated” students are bussed at no cost? We don’t know. There is no public transit alternative here. Where will all these “efficiencies” come from? Education Assistants will definitely be a casualty here.
Reflecting a lack of thought, there is Bill #3, the “Voluntary Blood Donations Act”. This bill bans payment for all blood donors, and in particular plasma donations. It continues to allow Alberta, through Canadian Blood Services, to import paid plasma from the US. Plasma is used widely in medical procedures and plasma extracts are in many pharmaceuticals.
We were amazed to see the government ban paying our own Canadians for plasma donations, as we know there is a problem with ensuring there is enough domestic supply of plasma here in Alberta and in Canada and the problem has to be fixed. Does it make sense to ban paying Albertans for plasma donations with safety standards and local oversight but allow US plasma from paid donors to be imported? Ideology trumps common sense again.
Finally, we have an especially egregious example of bad legislation, Bill 16: “An Act To Cap Regulated Electricity Rates”. This bill caps the regulated rate option (RRO) at 6.8 cents/kWh. Currently the RRO is 3.8 cents kWh. The Bill will cap the RRO for the next 4 years from June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2021. The RRO is offered to residential and small business customers who consume less than 250,000 kWh/year. Most of our larger job creating industries are not eligible for the RRO and will not be protected from the NDPs costly and misguided overhaul of our electricity system which will inevitably increase the cost of electricity. Costs above the cap will be covered by the Carbon Tax and hidden from Albertans, although there is nothing restricting the funds from coming out of general tax revenue.
As Wildrose MLA Don MacIntyre, a real expert on our electricity system, has pointed out, the bill provides the Minister with more power over the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) and the Market Surveillance Administrator (MSA, aka “the Energy Police”). This bill hamstrings the AUC and MSA by giving the Minister the power to limit or restrict any power or oversight by the AUC and MSA. We debated this bill at length and brought in many amendments including restricting the Minister’s ability to meddle with these arms length bodies that are mandated to protect the public interest, not the NDP’s ideological agenda. All these amendments were defeated. This Bill is a tacit admission that retail rates will more than double within the next four years due to reckless NDP policy on the electricity file, and our large industrial operators – our job creators – are not protected from the drastic increase in electricity rates. This government claims that it is solving issues with power price volatility. This is false. Fixed price contracts are already available to all Albertan consumers and are recommended to consumers on fixed incomes.
Did you know that for every one-cent increase in the true cost of power above the cap the cost is $10-million dollars. To you!! The NDP learned well from the disaster in Ontario. They learned how to hide the high cost of this irresponsible transition to renewables. The taxpayer and the ratepayer are the same person. Rapidly amassing unnecessary debt for the taxpayer does not protect Albertans.