By Jensen, Randy on August 29, 2020.
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips took direct aim at what she called the Kenney government’s “failure of economic leadership” during a “generation-defining crisis” after posting a deficit of $12 billion 2019 which has now ballooned to $24.2 billion post-COVID-19 and following early 2020 oil-price crash.
“That is the largest (deficit) in Alberta history,” said Phillips, speaking to reporters across the province in her capacity Opposition Finance Critic on Friday. “It shows the extent to which our economy and our province have been challenged by the coronavirus crisis, but it also shows the extent to which we have foregone billions in dollars in revenue from that massive ($4.7-billion) tax cut, and the extent to which we have been hurt hard by cancelling diversification programs, and new available jobs to Albertans. And when the price of oil chased that precipitous decline it did in the early part of the 2020 fiscal year -that has really hurt Alberta.”
Phillips said Finance Minister Travis Toews and the UCP government chose to release its 2019 fiscal update so late in 2020 to try to use the cover of COVID-19 and the oil price crash to “pull the wool over the eyes” of the public as to the source of their fiscal predicament.
“In the annual report for 2019, which was supposed to be out some time ago and the government withheld from us, which I can only assume they wanted it to be buried under the coronavirus and collapse in oil price narrative, but we saw in 2019, the first year of this government being in office, is they posted a $12-billion deficit,” she said.
“They tried to blame that on COVID-19, but that doesn’t add up. Before the pandemic, already 50,000 full-time jobs had been lost since the UCP introduced their massive $4.7-billion corporate tax handout. In 2019, what happened when they introduced that $4.7-billion tax handout, the economy contracted by 0.6 per cent, investment fell in our province by five per cent -all of this despite the bold claims to bring back jobs and investment.”
Phillips said the Kenney tax cut has failed to attract new investment and this government has no viable plans to diversify the economy or bring jobs back to Alberta. And has, so far, introduced no incentives for energizing small business in Alberta, she added.
“During my response to the finance minister (on Thursday), I talked about how we need to put that jobs program first, and we need to put people first. What that means broadly is making sure that we have Albertans’ backs in terms of keeping the economy moving.
“We have seen $21 billion flow from Ottawa directly into Albertans’ pockets through the CERB, and through the payroll replacement. That’s the extent to which Albertans needed someone to have their backs, and while I don’t think we need to write them any thank you notes for it because it was the right thing to do, but that void was filled by the federal government. We have seen small businesses, for example, across this province crying for support from this provincial government, and they got a tiny little grant program and a commercial rent relief program a full business quarter after the crisis began.”
Phillips stated it was well beyond the time when the Kenney government should have been talking about a concrete diversification and long-term job creation strategy which puts the good working people at its centre to benefit the entire province, including in her home region of southern Alberta.
“Then,” she explained, “you get a focus for people in Lethbridge on broader industries, on welcoming new investment, on making sure we are leveraging our strengths in innovation and post-secondary, and training in renewables and natural gas, and all those things in southern Alberta in that Lethbridge-Medicine Hat corridor where we have strengths. That is actually what I want to focus on, because that is what people in my constituency, and across southern Alberta, are talking to me about.”
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