Alberta's ruling New Democratic Party hoodwinked voters into believing it would lean only slightly left and is now implementing "hard-core ideological" policies, according to the province's Official Opposition.
Derek Fildebrandt, a Wildrose Party member of the legislature and finance critic, on Friday said he expected the NDP to be a "centre-left" government when it was elected, but that Premier Rachel Notley has turned away from embracing moderation. He cited the government's decision to increase the minimum wage as an example. The NDP campaigned on a pledge to raise minimum wage. The MLA, however, argued the NDP never planned to follow through on its promises.
"The NDP platform was never intended to ever be implemented. The NDP platform was a hard-core ideological document" that was meant to pull the then-ruling Progressive Conservative Party "in a particular direction," Mr. Fildebrandt told reporters after Ms. Notley delivered a speech to 1,600 members of Calgary's business community.
"It was never actually meant to be implemented as real policy."
Asked why he believed this was the NDP's strategy, Mr. Fildebrandt said: "I think Rachel Notley herself said that she did not fully expect – she was not confident or even really expecting – to win government when she became the Leader of the NDP."
Ms. Notley raised corporate taxes to 12 per cent from 10 per cent on July 1, again following through on a campaign promise. The Premier, who was elected in May, will table her first budget on Oct. 27. The Conservatives ruled Alberta for more than 40 years, and while voters punted them to third place in the legislature the business community was comfortable with the Tories at the helm.
The Premier has spent her first four months in office trying to reassure oil and gas executives that she understands how important the energy industry is to Alberta's economy and that she wants to work with them. Calgary's Chamber of Commerce played host to Friday's business luncheon, and the audience remained tepid. The government is reviewing its royalty payment structure for oil and gas, as well as considering new rules tied to greenhouse-gas emissions.
Her critics, whether in business or politics, focus on these two reviews and fear the NDP will pass royalty and carbon legislation that will inflict serious harm on energy companies and therefore the province. Executives have threatened to cut investment in the province and argue that they can't make financial decisions without knowing what the new rules will be.
Ms. Notley assured Friday's quiet audience the NDP will consider the "collective impact" of its policies before passing legislation tied to royalties and carbon emissions.
"We want to … grow business, we want to support those businesses that are struggling right now with the downturn in the economy, and we want to grow jobs and we want to protect jobs," she said. "Failing to move on climate change will actually generate more instability."
The NDP in August said the forthcoming budget could include a deficit of as much as $6.5-billion if the energy industry continues to struggle. This is roughly $1.1-billion higher than its previous forecast. Thousands of Albertans have been laid off as a result of the 15-month slump in oil markets. Wildrose, along with critics in the oil and gas sector, warn that businesses are nervous about spending money because the NDP has not fully rolled out its policies.
"[Businesses] are not investing right now because they are uncertain about the direction of this province," Wildrose's Mr. Fildebrandt said. Some companies, however, are using the downturn to their advantage. Suncor Energy Inc. on Monday made an all-paper $4.3-billion hostile bid for Canadian Oil Sands Ltd., which owns the largest slice of Syncrude Canada Ltd. Suncor in September picked up an additional 10 per cent of the undeveloped Fort Hills oil sands mine for $310-million. The seller, France's Total SA, remains a partner in the major project.
"This is not a business-friendly government," Mr. Fildebrandt said. "We've heard some business-friendly rhetoric, finally. But we've not seen business-friendly actions. It is a party that is instinctively anti-business and anti-capitalism."