By Lethbridge Herald on September 23, 2020.
Opposition leader Rachel Notley arrived in Lethbridge on Wednesday for a two-day visit to the city to bring a message of change which works for Albertans and gets Albertans back to work.
“I think clearly Alberta is going through some generational and historic challenges right now, and there needs to be a very strong vision for how we go forward that focuses on job creation and ensures all Albertans are part of the recovery,” Notley told The Herald in an exclusive interview.
“What we have seen over the last 18 months is a failure to provide that kind of leadership by the UCP. I think now more than ever there needs to be a really robust and meaningful conversation going forward what the implications are for the majority of Albertans.
“This is not a caretaker kind of time,” she added. “This is an historic time. And I think that people who are truly engaged in the future of their province need to be part of that conversation.”
Notley acknowledged the vast financial challenges facing the province right now, but she also stressed, in her opinion, the Kenney government had not risen to the challenge of facing them in a way which will make Alberta stronger and better coming out of the worst financial downturn the province has seen in several generations. She noted that despite a generous corporate tax cut last year 50,000 jobs were lost in Alberta in 2019, and the economy had begun shrinking long before the onset of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I were then faced with these kinds of pressures like every jurisdiction across the country and across the world was facing, would I double down on a (tax-cut) strategy that was clearly failing?” she asked. “Unfortunately what Jason Kenney has done is exactly that, and then he is turning around threatening Albertans with this so-called reckoning in the midst of this.”
If faced with the same difficult circumstances, Notley said an NDP government would have done things differently.
“In my view, a job is a job,” she said. “And you don’t build the economy by firing more people. You cannot cut your way to prosperity. Alberta has, even now despite the mismanagement of the Kenney government, good fiscal bones. We have the ability now to help each other, support each other, invest in economic stimulus, invest in job creation, and ensure the economic recovery that will come is experienced by all Albertans on an equitable basis.”
“As I talk about investing in each other,” Notley added, “I also mean we would go back to the strategic investments we had in place before that were focused on diversifying the economy and were getting results.”
Notley also criticized the Kenney government’s handling of the ongoing dispute with the Alberta Medical Association, and its handling of the re-opening strategy for schools across the province in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s absolutely a self-inflicted wound,” she said in reference to the ongoing doctors’ dispute. “It’s very ideological in nature. It flows from a general lack of concern for maintaining a high-functioning system of public health care. It flows from a general lack of concern of effective access to health care no matter where you live or how much you earn. If you think health care is something you should get if you can afford to pay for it then you are going to be less concerned about the consequences of making really aggressive moves within the public healthcare system. That’s what we see (from the UCP).
“It’s very arrogant,” she stated. “It’s very top down. And it demonstrates an ambivalence with respect to the outcomes particularly with respect to the rural communities.”
Again, Notley said, the NDP would have done things differently.
“It’s pretty simple,” she stated. “Let’s get back to the table and negotiate in good faith. And if it doesn’t work, fine. Send it to arbitration with fair arbitration rules, and go from there. Common sense, and the vast majority of doctors, I think would understand there are places where there need to be some changes, and a bending of the cost curve with respect to the rate at which doctors’ compensation is increasing. I think an arbitrator would find that, too, but I think it would be done in a balanced, respectful, and negotiated way. I think there is room for that.”
On schools re-opening, and the rising numbers of reported COVID cases in schools across the province, Notley said again, in her opinion, the UCP didn’t do what it needed with respect to class sizes and proper funding to limit the risks for teachers and students as it should have done.
“It is absolutely true that nobody has a strategy for a zero-case return; that doesn’t exist,” Notley acknowledged.
“But the question is do we put ourselves into a situation where we are blithely walking around pretending because kids are under 18 the very rules we are asking each and every citizen of this province to follow, don’t apply to kids and teachers? That makes no sense.
“The other key piece here is they (the UCP) haven’t funded a safe return,” she added. “And not only have they not funded it, they have continued with their previously laid out plans to cut education funding. They claimed in the election they would not cut education funding, and they still claim that, but it is a lie.
“Jason Kenney lies every single time he says he has not cut education funding,” she emphasized. “The per student allotment has gone down by just under $500 per student since the election.”
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