The two front-runners in Alberta’s provincial election have yet to come forward with bold proposals that will either boost the province’s economic recovery or invest in future growth, according to the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton.
Alberta’s municipal leaders say they are elevating public policy issues, including health-care investments and new housing, in an election campaign defined so far by the exchange of personal attacks between New Democrat Rachel Notley and the United Conservative’s Jason Kenney.
In Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he’s facing one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and a downtown where nearly a quarter of office buildings are empty. In recent weeks, Calgary’s city council has been debating how to balance the books without hiking property taxes on an ailing downtown core.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said he would continue to press whichever party wins to invest more in health-care innovation and new housing. “We would have liked to see bolder positions on those,” he told The Globe and Mail in an interview. “We’re going to continue to press that point for whoever forms government.”
Due to fears that Alberta could face years of austerity-like budgets, with Mr. Kenney promising to freeze government spending for the next four years, Mr. Iveson said it was important to get commitments from both front-runners for large infrastructure projects. Both Mr. Kenney and Ms. Notley have promised to fund large expansions of Calgary and Edmonton’s transit systems.
According to Mr. Nenshi, who released a document Friday detailing answers from each of the province’s main political parties to questions from the city, no party has a good enough plan to help Calgary.
“I was really, really disappointed to see that none of the parties, none of them, has a real plan for economic growth in Calgary. Lowering the corporate tax rate doesn’t fill the downtown office buildings and figuring out better ways to invest the carbon tax doesn’t fill those downtown office buildings,” Mr. Nenshi told reporters.
The United Conservative Party’s main economic promise has been a plan to cut corporate taxes by one-third, from 12 to 8 per cent. Mr. Kenney has promised tens of thousands of jobs would be created as a result. Ms. Notley and her New Democrats have promised to invest in new oil refining and infrastructure projects, funded in part by the province’s carbon tax. Mr. Kenney has pledged to nix the carbon tax.
Speaking with reporters on Friday afternoon, Mr. Kenney disagreed with the mayor’s notion that corporate tax cuts won’t fill empty towers, adding that a UCP government would focus on creating jobs. “I think those jobs would be disproportionately the kind of business jobs we’ve lost in downtown Calgary,” he said.
New jobs numbers from Statistics Canada on Friday show Alberta’s unemployment rate fell to 6.9 per cent in March, compared to 7.3 per cent a month earlier. However, the province actually lost 1,800 jobs as 18,100 new full-time jobs were created while 19,900 part-time positions were lost.
“We know people are worried about the economy, we know we need to focus on creating jobs,” Ms. Notley said outside Edmonton. She said money put toward new oil refining and upgrading outside of Alberta’s capital city has attracted $13-billion in new investment and is expected to create 10,000 jobs.
"That's why we're so focused on diversifying and getting more value from our resources,” she said.
Both mayors said they disagreed with Mr. Kenney’s proposal to conduct a socio-economic analysis of the province’s existing cluster of supervised drug-use sites. Alberta’s opioid deaths soared to a record high in 2018, with nearly two Albertans dying daily from accidental fentanyl overdoses according to provincial data.
Mr. Nenshi said he was satisfied with most of the UCP’s approach to addictions and mental health, but expressed disappointment that the party would like to review existing sites and has said the facilities could be moved if local neighbours express dissatisfaction with them.
Edmonton’s research and consultations has already shown that the sites help with needle debris and saving lives, according to Mr. Iveson.
“The evidence in the time the sites have been running supports all that we were expecting that sites to do. We believe the evidence is that harm-reduction works and have not seen evidence to the contrary,” he said. “We’re going to continue to go back to evidence on all these tough decisions. Science and evidence will continue to be our guideposts.”