By Lethbridge Herald Opinion on November 27, 2020.
Since I last had the opportunity to write this column, I’ve noticed so many of our neighbours setting up their Christmas lights and holiday displays a bit early this year. There can be no doubt that we are all exhausted by the challenges this year has brought, and many of us are doing our best to bring a bit of extra light to our community as things seem to be getting darker – both in terms of the number of hours of daylight, and in our renewed fight against the coronavirus and the economic challenges the pandemic has served to emphasize and lay bare.Â
Unlike the residents of Lethbridge who are going out of their way to make a bad situation a little bit better for our neighbours and families, the Kenney government seems to be taking the opposite approach: piling on to make a bad situation worse. Not only is his government’s inaction on the pandemic and its ill-advised war on health-care workers making our struggle with COVID more challenging, it’s harming job prospects and our economic recovery.Â
First, let’s make one thing clear: there is no economic recovery without winning the fight against COVID. This is not a one-or-the other situation. So many of our small businesses will not survive so long as their customers are perpetually concerned about the health impacts of going out to eat, to shop, or simply to have a coffee with a friend, or when these same small businesses are concerned about the implications of surging case counts and possible new restrictions. Small businesses rely on stability and customer confidence to do what they do, and Jason Kenney’s negligence to do much of anything on the file is inspiring neither.Â
Even if the Kenney government is not responsible for all of COVID’s impact on jobs and the economy (though it’s clear they bear a good deal of responsibility), we should look at how their actions outside the pandemic response portend for employment in our province generally, and our community and region in particular. Despite coming to power yelling loudly and beating their chests about jobs, economy and pipelines, they have done very little on any of these, and have in fact been disastrous for most of them. On jobs, we have seen Alberta’s unemployment rate above the national average, and the last labour force survey from Statistics Canada shows unemployment in our province almost two per cent higher than that national average. That same report shows that the few sectors that are producing post-pandemic increases in employment, such as health care and social assistance, are the exact same sectors which the government is looking to cut! Not only is this bad for workers in these sectors and those looking for work – it’s bad for our provincial economy, and our city’s economy in particular. And none of this even touches on the massive rollbacks for which many staff at our post-secondary institutions are bracing themselves, or the 20-per-cent cuts they’ve already survived.Â
There is also the matter of prudent management of the economy writ-large and the provincial treasury. This month, Alberta’s Auditor General had stern warnings for the government, determining that the Kenney government’s financial statements required $1.6 billion in adjustments after the government had failed to do its due diligence on the implications of various oil and gas deals. These half-thought-out schemes, seemingly designed to throw money around haphazardly, coupled with the UCP’s distaste for economic diversification projects, have left our province’s economy lagging behind other provinces, and losing ground to jurisdictions around the world that have prioritized innovation and diversification.
All of this is to say that the government of the day has made matters worse. They have dimmed our health prospects, and by doing so threw cold water on the few sparks of economic promise they didn’t smother when they came to office. Businesses and other employers in our community need support through this tough time, but unfortunately have seen nothing but bluster from our premier and his ministers.Â
Fortunately, the Alberta NDP caucus has been busy working with Albertans to find solutions to our pressing problems. We have a six-point plan to beat back COVID so that we can keep our schools open and provide stability and support to small businesses and workers impacted by the pandemic, and we are working hard on “Alberta’s Future,” an initiative we have launched to hear from Albertans about what they want to see our economy look like. These efforts and plans, combined with our willingness to present specific, concrete proposals and work with the government wherever possible, is what Alberta needs right now: a government that is in it for Albertans, not just ourselves, and that can change course when necessary.Â
As always, please reach out to our constituency office if you require assistance, or if you would like to share your input into the Alberta’s Future project. We can be reached at Lethbridge.West@assembly.ab.ca or at 403-329-4644.
Shannon Phillips is the NDP MLA for the Lethbridge West riding. Her column appears the fourth Friday of the month.