By Herald on January 11, 2021.
Lethbridge-West MLA and Official Opposition Finance Critic Shannon Phillips says it has been a rough year for the citizens of Lethbridge made worse by several “regrettable” decisions on the part of the Kenney UCP government.
“Here in Lethbridge we have seen a number of different instances of people really pulling together,” she says. “Whether it is the non-profit sector, responding to many of the mental health challenges, or other challenges COVID-19 has brought on, the folks who are precariously housed or difficult to house, people have responded to a number of the challenges locally in 2020. The Chamber of Commerce and the other business organizations have done what they can to mitigate some of the harm of some really difficult conditions. And I have seen businesses who don’t have a whole lot to give continue to give back to the community and support people, and support their own workers. And that despite not a whole lot of support from their provincial government.”
Phillips says throughout the most difficult year many local small business owners and residents have experienced in their lifetimes who did those in need look to for support? Certainly, not the province, she says.
“In March and April it became very clear to us that the provincial government, the UCP strategy, would be to hand over as much as the responsibility for keeping the economy moving to the federal government as possible, and to spend and do as little as possible,” Phillips states.
“That was regrettable, because we see in other provinces where direct support for businesses has been given by the provincial government. We see better support for workers, for things like insurance costs, rent costs, payroll costs, all of these adaptations that need to be made around personal protective equipment and investments in physical space and distancing in other provinces. We saw a very small, I would say almost negligible, amount of support coming from the government in this province.”
Phillips says she, like many Albertans, would always hope their province would have their backs when they are going through tough times, and the NDP would have made different choices if it was in power.
“We (as a province) can afford to make sure our small businesses remain viable, and we get through this crisis and on to a vaccine,” she explains. “We can afford it. We frankly cannot afford not to, because many of these businesses are holding down what we have of a diversified economy, and we need to keep them vibrant, growing, and attracting new investments. And they keep money in the community as well.”
“We see in a number of instances where the UCP, and Jason Kenney in particular, said that Albertans were going to gain by electing them,” Phillips adds.
“And what we have seen instead is Albertans lose. We have seen us lose investment, our economy has shrunk, and we have the worst performing economy and employment in Canada. … And there is no sense that the botched response to COVID, the runaway pandemic, the double digit unemployment is being seen by the Premier, his Ministers or his MLAs as anything they need to take responsibility for.”
With the province, in her mind, not carrying its load, Phillips is thankful residents of Lethbridge have understood what it means to pull together in a pandemic, and she applauds the local efforts in the non-profit sector, the frontline medical staff in the community, and those within local leadership who have met this pandemic head on to help mitigate some of the fallout in the community.
“First, we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel because we know that a vaccine is coming,” she states. “And second of all, December and January even in a normal year are very difficult on people.
“I think these few weeks in particular, if I had one thing to say to people, it is that there is help out there. I just got in my mailbox a huge card of all the various supports in town. It was put together by the Public Interest Research Group at the University of Lethbridge, with the Canadian Red Cross and the Government of Canada. I would urge everyone to put that up on their fridge, take a picture of it, If you know someone who is struggling right now message it over to that person, and keep it handy. Because we need to watch out for each other.”
As for the provincial government, Phillips says she hopes Premier Kenney and the UCP will try to make things right in 2021 for those ordinary Albertans having a real struggle just to pay their bills.
“Premier Kenney can say whatever he wants about what the future is,” Phillips states. “He can tell all kinds of stories. But that doesn’t pay the bills right now. His economic strategy has been a failure because he has said, ‘If we give these big gifts to international companies to take the money elsewhere, jobs are going to rain down.’ That it is wrong, and it is a strategy that looks far into the future rather than solving the problems ordinary people face right now.
“So if I were to give him one piece of advice, it is to get the head out of the clouds, put the feet on the ground, roll up the sleeves, and actually talk to some ordinary working class people and provide some connections to community that show me he has some understanding and empathy for what working people are going through, and actually following that up with some substantive action that puts money in people’s pockets, that puts people on the payroll– and not in some Shangri-la future time.
“He already tried that to get elected,” she adds, “but I don’t think people are buying it anymore. That is why he is the most unpopular premier in Canada, or close to it.”
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