In a manner befitting the serious business of governing, the Alberta UCP caucus celebrated the end of the spring session by jumping into the reflecting pool in front of the Legislature.
Perhaps it was the strain of being held to account by the NDP Opposition for seven whole weeks or maybe it was the joy of enacting legislation that makes outing gay kids in schools optional, in any event it was an unseemly start to the summer recess.
The laundry list
For a party that was quick to denounce the NDP government for moving too fast, Mr Kenney made a big deal about passing 13 bills and fully or partially implementing 55 platform commitments.
He described this effort in Trumpian terms. By repealing the carbon tax and cutting corporate taxes he’d set the record for the most tax relief provided to Albertans and businesses in a single legislative session. Another perspective would be he traded the Alberta carbon tax for the federal carbon tax and blew the biggest hole in Alberta’s budget ($4.5 billion) in a single legislative session.
But hey, let’s not quibble, more jobs and investment dollars are just around the corner, right?
Of the 55 commitments 24% are real (repealing the carbon tax, cutting corporate taxes, ending subsidies for renewables projects) and 11% damage the government’s relationship with business and/or Albertans by rolling back protections for LGBTQ students, unions and workers under 18, killing jobs by cancelling infrastructure projects, or revisiting settled issues like farm safety, the structure of electricity markets, supervised consumption sites and crude by rail leasing agreements.
The remaining 65% are a mishmash of:
- public relations stunts—the public inquiry into foreign funding for “anti-Alberta energy campaigns”, legislation to restrict exports to BC and elect senatorial nominees and a referendum on equalization,
- pre-emptive moves—the Blue Ribbon panel to review Alberta’s fiscal framework will provide air cover when Mr Kenney cuts public services in the fall,
- organizational moves—appointing three new associate ministers and one new minister and creating a new ministry to reduce red tape
- self-congratulatory pats on the back for retaining NDP legislation relating to essential services, charitable tax credits, the 2% small business tax and the $15/hr minimum wage,
- brownie points for complying with the laws, specifically the constitutional right to separate schools and compliance with environmental impact assessments,
- litigation—challenging the fed’s carbon tax after the courts upheld it twice, and
- doing what premiers and governments are supposed to do like sitting in the Legislature (commitment #2), talking about the energy industry (commitment #44), talking to the energy industry (commitment #24) and talking to the other provinces (commitments #25 and #54).
Mr Kenney also introduced some small changes which are legitimate but raise questions about why they were top priority and had to be addressed in the first session (who knew the reclassification of service rigs as off road vehicles was a burning issue for Albertans).
Is it enough?
Mr Kenney presented the laundry list as evidence Alberta was “on track to become the most tax competitive jurisdiction for businesses and among the most attractive investment destinations in North America.”
The business sector supports Mr Kenney’s laundry list, well at least the tax reduction part, but thinks the premier could use more help.
Last week a new non-profit, non-partisan industry association, the Business Council of Alberta, was founded to “create the right conditions where Albertans, the economy and the environment can thrive without leaving anyone behind.”
Hal Kvisle, the chair of BCA said its objective was “to improve prosperity for all Albertans … not just economic prosperity, not just companies getting richer, but employees doing better, improvements on the social side of things and, of course, very careful attention to the environment.”
The BCA is a group of more than 40 CEOs and senior executives representing top Alberta companies in every sector of the economy. It employs over 200,000 Albertans and invests tens of billions annually in the economy.
It wholeheartedly endorsed Mr Kenney’s corporate tax cut which “in combination with the predictable reductions coming over the next 3 years, has a high potential to result in new projects and investments, and more Albertans working”.
Sadly it failed to mention whether its member companies would embark on a hiring spree or invest more capital in the economy any time soon.
Between Mr Kenney’s 55 commitments and the BCA’s desire to improve prosperity for all Albertans not just companies, we’ve got nothing to worry about.
Excuse me while I take a celebratory dip in the goldfish pond.