Hello Chestermere! Let me begin with condolences and my deepest sympathy to family and friends on the passing of long-time area residents Donna Timmermans and Robbie Ogston. They will be missed.
I wish I could offer you some wisdom on resolutions for 2018, but the only thing coming your way is a 50% increase in the carbon tax so perhaps you can resolve to spend less on travel, kid’s sports, food, etc. It is amazing to me to see economists speak out saying that the impact will be minimal on hard working Albertans. The carbon tax is a tax on everything, so I have a hard time putting any faith in these types of comments. Please let us know how you feel, and we will pass your sentiments on the government.
As we go into the New Year I thought I would fill you in on some of the legislation that passed. There were many complex Bills that should have been referred to a committee so Albertans could be consulted but instead were rammed through in the final days of the session. The end of the 29th session of the Legislature brought 30 bills with literally hundreds of pages before us to be debated between October 30th and December 13th. So here we go!
Bill 33, Electoral Divisions Act. This Bill kept us in the house for an extra week to carry on debate. The minority report put out by Commissioner Gwen Day was thoughtful, insightful, and the opposition was able to see that this document needed more work. Accordingly, we voted against the majority recommendation. Effective representation depends on more than just riding population. The size of some of our rural riding presently poses major challenges. Some of these ridings are now even larger, and will be very difficult for those of you seeking time with your local provicial representative. For example, Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills has 14 municipalities with over 100 municipal officials. This reduces the rural voice, and I am sad to say we did everything possible to shed some light on this issue but the Government voted in favour of the commission and Alberta will see their rural voice diminished due to this Government’s actions.
Bill 32 An Act to Strengthen and Protect Democracy in Alberta. This was an interesting bill. The most important thing to note is that the Chief Electoral Officer was not consulted on this bill in any real or meaningful way. This was another massive piece of legislation left to the dark hours of the legislative sitting. Interestingly Greg Clark, the former leader of the Alberta party, voted against referring this Bill to a committee. It is interesting because on one hand he felt consultation with the Chief Electoral officer was necessary, but went on to state that there was enough good in this bill to warrant pushing ahead. Why, you may ask? He felt that we in the UCP wanted to keep the bill in committee because we wanted to be able to bend the rules. This would be funny if it was not such a sad statement. If our referral motion had been accepted it would have allowed the Chief Electoral Officer to be consulted so the system could be improved. In the end the Alberta Party voting against the referral simply increased the odds that outside funding for parties will continue as opposed to fixing the problem in a committee where all scenarios can be hashed out. It is quite the double standard, and an interesting way to use our party as a scapegoat for behaviour that his own party is displaying. In the end we extended the sitting dates to accommodate this debate as well, and I can only tell you that this 200-page document eliminates the 6-month residency required to be a voter in Alberta, and if you can find someone to vouch for you they can vote. The government also called for an Independent Election Commissioner and an office to be created that will lack the oversight of the Chief Electoral Officer and duplicates his role. This is just gross overspending. We were unable to establish an independent office for Persons With Disabilities, or Seniors, yet this seems to be no problem for the Government. The lack of consultation left glaring holes in the legislation. Independent offices need to go through rigorous searches for the officer, and it takes up committee time, requires a tremendous amount of outreach, and then the posting for the job must be advertised. The recruitment process is huge! This Bill needed to be sent to committee.
Bill 30 An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans. This was truly an interesting exercise in smoke and mirrors. There was some very good legislation in this bill, necessary in fact. This was slapped on our desks on November 27, 2017 and passed by December 12, 2017. The government began work on “consultations” around OHS from August to October. The line of questioning was geared towards how the bill would look before the consultation even began. Farm and Ranch legislation is not included in this piece of legislation. Employers are given a great deal more responsibility for health and safety. Some of the important changes coming from this bill is the definition of harassment which includes conduct, comments or bullying due to race, religious beliefs, colour, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status, gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, sexual solicitation, or advance. This Bill makes sweeping changes at exorbitant costs to employers. The changes to the Workers Compensation Act alone make it unsustainable. How does the act actually enhance health and safety? The government rammed through the changes to the Labour Relations Code and the Employment Standard Code all at once. This is the same sort of nonsense with an organized and predetermined outcome just like Bill 17, the so-called “Fair And Family Friendly Workplaces Act”. All of our small and medium size businesses are at risk because of enormous administrative costs to support joint committees, added administrative training, alternative work placements, and reporting. The right to refuse dangerous work is not a new thing as the Government claimed. They have simply reworded the legislation. There are good parts to this legislation such as protections for injured workers, assistance during appeals and making the OHS Act more explicit. However excessive job site safety committees will actually take away dollars from actual safety training programs. This next bit is truly disturbing. The new Labour Relations Board will replace the Occupational Health and Safety Council which is bad because while the council is made up of knowledgeable industry people, the board is full of -you know it – bureaucrats. I will have more to say about this.
Finally, in other news, did you know that there are six trillion cubic feet of onshore natural gas resources in the Mackenzie Delta in the North West Territories that are now stranded? Did you also know that it took the NEB (National Energy Board) close to 5 years to approve the 1200 km pipeline to Alberta? Is this a reasonable amount of time to receive an approval? All the while natural gas prices have plummeted, the capital investment dried up, and some provincial politicians believe that the pipeline failing is a “godsend”. This is truly bizarre. This is a valuable resource, and the ability for that economy to grow would have been a complete blessing to the First Nations communities as well as prosperity to everyone in the region. Other businesses would have popped up as a result of jobs, but instead these areas face moratoriums on off shore drilling, and loss of investment. What is wrong with our governments? Do they just prefer to over tax us, refuse to work on trade barriers, destroy our natural resource development, break their own laws, and all the while blame everyone else for their own bad decisions? I am not sure I understand!
It is imperative that we use our voice to make sure that governments know what their responsibilities are to the people who represent them. I look forward to serving you in 2018, and I look forward to seeking the nomination for Chestermere-Strathmore as we move towards 2019 and the election. As always, we love to hear from you.