By Kalinowski, Tim on March 21, 2019.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney made a stop in Lethbridge, one day after the provincial election was called, to talk about the economy and the NDP carbon tax.
An animated Kenney appeared without tie, his shirtsleeves rolled up against a backdrop of goggled and helmeted steel workers at the Lethbridge Iron Works to announce the first bill of his government, if elected, would be the “Carbon Tax Repeal Act.”
“The NDP tries to disguise this huge tax grab as some kind of ‘green tax,'” said Kenney. “The truth is the NDP cash grab has had zero measurable effect on carbon emissions. Why? Albertans can’t stop heating their homes in a cold winter. They can’t stop buying groceries that are made more expensive because of the higher shipping costs due to the carbon tax. What the NDP has done is to punish people for living normal lives in this big, cold, northern, energy-intensive economy.”
“And here is the biggest whopper of all,” he continued. “The NDP told us the carbon tax would get Alberta social licence for pipelines. Not a single environmental group went from anti-pipeline to pro-pipeline as result of the NDP government. Not one government went from No to Yes. Not one First Nation. Not one municipality in British Columbia. All of those who are trying to block our energy today were trying to block our energy before the carbon tax.”
While the carbon tax was firmly in Kenney’s crosshairs Wednesday, he was also asked by local reporters about his commitment to following through on the NDP’s recent announcement about building a new $100-million bridge to replace the current Highway 3 one by 2022.
“We will continue with the current government infrastructure and capital plan,” confirmed Kenney, referring to the new bridge. “That, and other projects, that have been identified as infrastructure priorities will go ahead.”
Kenney also showed a softened tone on the Supervised Consumption Site when asked if his government would continue to fund operations for it if elected.
“We would consult with people in Lethbridge and region on that site to get their input,” he said, “and I will be saying more about our plan to tackle the crisis in opioid addiction, and the danger of drugs in our society. Our main focus, though, is on offering better detox and treatment to help people get out of the destructive, downward cycle of opioid addictions.”
Last March Kenney told The Herald he was absolutely opposed to the SCS, stating: “Helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a solution to the problem of addiction.” He had called for greater resources for law enforcement to instead crack down harder on opioids.
Kenney was also asked about his plans to create a double standard on the minimum wage, with young workers paid at a lower $13 standard than older workers who would continue to make $15 per hour.
“We are going to maintain the general minimum wage at $15 per hour,” he stated. “However, we are going to address the youth unemployment crisis in Alberta by encouraging employers to hire (more) teenagers that are dependent, we are talking typically about first-time hires at the age of 17 an under. Young, first-time employees generally need more training and supervision than more experienced older workers. So putting them at the same level of minimum wage as more experienced, older workers prices them out of the labour market.
“We are proposing a starter wage of $13 per hour for dependent teenagers that need that work experience,” he added. “This is our youth job creation strategy. For many of these unemployed young people the choice is not between a $15 minimum wage and a $13 minimum wage, but it is between a $13 minimum wage and a zero wage.”
Stepping away slightly from the politics of the moment, Kenney’s most passionate comments came when he spoke about the recent fall of Alberta’s once skyrocketing energy sector.
“We need to be competitive with Texas, North Dakota and Colorado which are in an energy boom right now,” said Kenney, when asked what his government would do help strengthen the industry. “Not because of a few hundred million dollars in grants. Governments aren’t picking winners and losers down there. They are booming because the fundamentals are right. In Texas, you can get a well approved in a couple of weeks, but it can take up to 18 months in Alberta. We are not against some of these (NDP) royalty tax credits. We are going to take a look at all of them. But the best way to support (a company like) Lethbridge Iron Works, the best way to support small businesses around here, is to get the economic fundamentals right, cut the red tape, and get investment confidence back in Alberta.”
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