Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has promised a “summer of repeal” as his United Conservatives prepare to enter the legislature for the first time as government with an agenda to quickly cut taxes and spark economic growth.
After four years of New Democrat government in Alberta, Mr. Kenney’s UCP plans to take aim at former premier Rachel Notley’s legacy by swiftly tabling a dozen bills that will roll back the province’s climate plan, cut corporate taxes and repeal toughened labour rules. The legislative session, which comes after a Speech from the Throne on Wednesday, could stretch into the dog days of summer after the Calgary Stampede.
The week before Mr. Kenney takes his seat in the legislature as Premier has been marked by darkening economic fortunes for the province. Along with the announced sale of Alberta corporate champion WestJet Airlines Ltd. to a Toronto-based private equity firm, Alberta-based bank ATB Financial halved its provincial growth forecast for 2019 on Thursday to just 0.7 per cent and warned of a tough year ahead.
“When your growth rates get that low it’s time to talk about the R-word, quite frankly,” said John Rose, the chief economist for the City of Edmonton, warning that a recession could be looming. “I don’t anticipate any new oil and gas investment in the coming years.”
Mr. Kenney, who was elected on April 16 with nearly 55 per cent of the popular vote and 63 of the 87 seats in Alberta's legislature, has said jobs, the economy and pipelines will be his priorities.
“We will strive every day to live up to the trust conferred in us by the people of Alberta in the recent election. We will seek to do so by keeping our commitments to deliver change that gets our economy back to work after years of economic adversity,” Mr. Kenney said during his cabinet’s swearing-in on April 30. No member of Mr. Kenney’s government was available to speak to The Globe and Mail for this story, the Premier’s Office said when contacted.
The United Conservatives have said their first bill will end the collection of the province’s carbon tax on May 30 and will eventually repeal Alberta’s entire climate strategy, which includes energy-efficiency programs. Ottawa is expected to impose a federal carbon tax after Alberta’s tax disappears.
Along with a bill that will remove the NDP’s labour and workplace safety rules, Mr. Kenney’s government has said it will then cut the corporate tax rate to 11 per cent from 12 per cent on July 1, which will be further reduced to 8 per cent over the next four years.
“The legislative session will be primarily around platform promises and we’re not going to bend on that. Albertans have given us instructions and we’re going to get that done,” Government House Leader Jason Nixon told reporters on May 14.
“The one thing the opposition controls is when we go home. I can tell you this: We will pass all our legislation,” he added.
Mr. Kenney’s winning election campaign rode a wave of frustration and alienation in Alberta, where a large segment of the population is angry at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s perceived indifference to the province’s woes and the failure to build new pipelines. Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams warned that Mr. Kenney will need to balance his promise of economic growth with the possibility of recession.
“He’s counting on these measures to create investment and jobs in Alberta. If that doesn’t happen after he’s reduced taxes and cut the carbon tax, he could face anger. The demands and anger that brought him into the Premier’s Office could turn on him, that’s the danger of running on anger,” she said. “We already have the lowest taxes overall in the country and he’s lowering them more, I don’t know if that’s going to be enough for the economy.”
According to Prof. Williams, Mr. Kenney has already softened his tone after just a few weeks in the Premier’s Office. Despite his criticism of an emissions cap imposed on the oil sands by Ms. Notley, he’s now said he won’t touch the cap. He has also eased his comments on a $3.7-billion oil-by-rail contract inked by his predecessor, which will move an additional 120,000 barrels of crude oil daily until a new or expanded pipeline can be built.
NDP House Leader Deron Bilous said that the 24-member caucus, which is the only opposition in Alberta’s legislature, is prepared to mount a strong defence of the party’s legacy in government. Led by a former premier, half the caucus is made up of former cabinet ministers.
“The purpose of the opposition isn’t just to oppose what the government proposes, but we will engage with stakeholders and constituencies across the province and propose amendments to make sure that legislation is the best possible legislation,” he said.