By JUSTIN GIOVANNETTI
Saturday, April 13, 2019
CALGARY -- Albertans will be thinking about pipelines and the province's sputtering economy when they vote. Campaign promises and homophobic, racist and other intolerant remarks by candidates have done little to shake the narrative.
Frustration and anger over the failure to build a new outlet for oil and gas, as well as four years of economic hardship, have dominated a dark campaign. United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney has vowed to fight Alberta's "enemies" while NDP Leader Rachel Notley has called for diplomacy.
Within days, the heart of Canada's energy industry will be in the hands of one of the two leaders.
Both parties have laid out extensive fiscal plans that chart different paths for Alberta's future - neither calls for a dramatic break with the present, through a sales tax or a pivot away from oil and gas.
However, much is at stake, as both parties offer differing views on how to stoke economic growth and whether Canada's unity question should migrate from Quebec to Alberta.
PIPELINES UCP Mr. Kenney has vowed to see through the completion of the Trans Mountain and Keystone XL expansions. He's also said he wants to restart talks to build the Energy East and Northern Gateway pipelines. The UCP Leader has proposed an aggressive strategy to see that through. His government would file constitutional challenges against Ottawa and would enact legislation to stop oil flows to B.C. as a form of punishment if pipelines aren't built.
He's also said he would hold a referendum in 2021 to remove equalization from the constitution if "substantial progress" is not made on the construction of a coastal pipeline. The UCP would also create a war room with a $30million annual budget to run advertising and defend Alberta's oil and gas on social media. Mr. Kenney has also said he will sue groups that have fought the energy industry, including the David Suzuki Foundation.
NDP Ms. Notley said she expects Trans Mountain will get federal approval before the end of May. Construction on the first pipeline to the Pacific Ocean since the Korean War would start soon after.
Instead of cutting off oil to B.C., Ms. Notley has insisted a soft approach has swayed the majority of Canadians, saying seven out of 10 are now in support of Trans Mountain. To supplement overburdened pipelines, Ms. Notley brought in oil curtailment and signed a $3.7-billion contract to lease 4,400 cars to ship oil by rail.
Reality check The election is partly a referendum on Ms. Notley's approach to pipeline diplomacy, however, Alberta has little control over pipeline construction. Decisions on the Trans Mountain pipeline are made in Ottawa, in the courts and in consultations with First Nations. The federal government has until the end of May to respond to the latest regulatory approval of the pipeline by the National Energy Board.
Constitutional experts have warned Mr. Kenney's plan to cut off oil to B.C. and hold a referendum on equalization could fail in the courts.
ECONOMY AND JOBS UCP The centrepiece of Mr. Kenney's economic plan is a proposal to cut corporate taxes from 12 to 8 per cent. Mr. Kenney has said the cut will create tens of thousands of jobs and signal businesses to invest. The UCP had initially claimed the tax cut would pay for itself through increased economic activity, however, the party's platform says the cut will cost $2-billion over four years.
The party has said it will look to spark the economy by slashing regulations. The platform promises to reduce the youth minimum wage from $15 to $13 an hour, and will look at reducing the minimum wage for alcohol servers.
NDP The NDP's key economic strategy is to increase diversification in the oil patch by providing incentives to petrochemical and oil refining ventures. The party has set aside $7-billion in financing and hopes to create $75-billion in investment and tens of thousands of new jobs.
Over the past four years, the NDP government's $3-billion diversification fund has led to the opening of a number of new refineries and petrochemical facilities near Edmonton.
The party would create a fund to help first-time home buyers and link all Albertans to highspeed internet. It has also promised to streamline regulations for small business, as well as oil and gas wells.
Reality check Despite party promises, energy remains the main driver of the province's economy. The biggest challenge facing Alberta will continue to be a North American market awash in oil and gas that can be produced at prices Alberta producers generally can't match.
HEALTH UCP The UCP has promised to maintain health spending at current levels or increase budgets, but it has not budgeted additional funds in its platform. It wants to cut administrative costs and direct savings to front-line staff.
The money would also help fund an ambitious plan to reduce surgical wait times to no more than 16 weeks - hip-replacement wait times now top 37 weeks and knee replacements require 41 weeks.
Private clinics will be allowed to provide major surgeries.
Two of the UCP's largest spending promises are in health, with $40-million allocated over four years to an opioid strategy.
There's also a $100-million promise over four years to bulk up mental health and addictions services. The party would review existing supervised drug-use sites and only fund those that have gone through rigorous consultations with local groups and an impact study. The same rules would apply to new sites.
NDP The NDP said it would increase health budgets at the same rate as Alberta's population. It has also committed $90-million annually to emergency rooms and would target additional funds to reduce wait times for cataract, heart and cancer surgery.
The party's second-biggest promise is to fully cover drug prescriptions for seniors who earn less than $75,000. The program is expected to cost $110-million annually.
To combat opioids, the party has committed to opening two storefront mental-health clinics in Calgary and Edmonton. It will also sue opioid manufacturers to recoup costs of the health crisis.
Reality check Alberta has one of Canada's youngest populations and one of its most expensive health programs. The NDP reined in increasing health spending, allowing budgets to increase by only 3 per cent annually over the past four years. From 2000 to 2010, health budgets climbed by more than 9 per cent annually. Health experts have warned that the UCP's pledge to freeze budgets isn't realistic.
EDUCATION AND CHILD CARE UCP Mr. Kenney has promised to maintain education spending at current levels or increase it. He's said he will cancel "discovery learning" and pause the province's curriculum review. He's also said he will bring back a number of standardized and assessment tests for students in Grades 1 through 3, and would lift caps on charter schools. The UCP would rescind a law barring teachers from telling parents when students join gay-straight alliances.
NDP The NDP said it would increase education budgets at the same rate as the province's population.
Ms. Notley has said she would build or modernize 70 schools, with funding to build new playgrounds.
The NDP's biggest promise is to create a system of $25-a-day child care across the province over five years. With a $1.5-billion price tag, the program would expand to include 75,000 spaces and could include child care during evening and weekends to accommodate work schedules.
Reality check Calgary has Canada's third-most expensive child care, with a monthly space for a toddler topping $1,030. Albertans will need to decide whether or not the province can bear the additional expense. The UCP has said it won't allocate more cash for child care while the NDP says the system would help the economy.
A number of protests have been held during the campaign about the UCP's promise on the GSA issue.
CLIMATE CHANGE UCP The first bill from a UCP government would repeal the carbon tax, according to Mr. Kenney. He would then file a legal challenge against the federal government's climate plan.
The UCP's climate strategy would impose a tax on emissions from large industrial facilities, requiring them to meet increasingly stringent targets or pay a $20 a tonne tax. The UCP would allow coal-fired power plants to remain open past 2030 and would cancel supports for renewable energy projects.
NDP The NDP would keep the carbon tax, currently set at $30 a tonne.
Future increases in the tax have been ruled out until a new pipeline is built. A proposed cap on oil sands emissions is also pending.
Ms. Notley would keep the 2030 coal phase-out date and plans to have 30 per cent of Alberta's electricity sourced from renewables by 2030.
Reality check The NDP's climate plan, which includes the carbon tax and energy efficiency programs, is expected to cut 50 megatonnes of emissions by 2030. The UCP's plan would cut 43 MT. If the federal government's power to impose a carbon tax is upheld in court, it's unclear what would happen to Mr. Kenney's plan.
DEBT AND DEFICIT UCP Mr. Kenney has promised to balance the province's budget by 2022. He will do so by cutting taxes and freezing spending. By the end of a four-year mandate, government spending adjusted for inflation and population growth would be down 14 per cent for every Albertan.
With total debt approaching $100-billion, the UCP has said it would appoint an independent panel to look at Alberta's fiscal situation, recommend how to balance the books and pay down debt.
NDP The NDP plans for balance in 2023, with a boost in resource revenues paying for new social programs, including child care. A three per cent reduction in per capita spending would wipe out the deficit.
New capital projects, including a second road out of Fort McMurray, would be added to spending plans.
Reality check Economists have expressed worry with the NDP's projections for resource revenue growth. Both plans depend on spending restraint, which would require Alberta's government to make difficult choices, consistently, for years.
DEMOCRACY UCP Mr. Kenney has promised to allow constituents to recall their MLAs. The party would require floor crossers to resign and run in a by-election before they could join the UCP. A $30,000 limit on contributions to political action committees would be set.
NDP Ms. Notley has promised increased enforcement and stronger disclosure rules on cash funnelled to political action committees. The NDP would introduce spending limits on party leadership races.
Conflict of interest rules would be extended, barring cabinet ministers from lobbying for two years after leaving government.
Reality check Political action committees have proliferated in Alberta's politics prior to this election and both parties have confronted groups who can outspend them and not disclose all their funding - tough new rules should be expected.
Recall legislation in B.C. has not lead to a single politician being ousted. Alberta's recall rules were dumped after residents attempted to recall then-premier William Aberhart.
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney addresses a crowd at a rally in Calgary on March 30.
TODD KOROL/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Rachel Notley's NDP and Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party have laid out fiscal plans that chart different paths for Alberta's future. Below: Mr. Kenney votes at an advance polling station in Calgary on Tuesday.
ABOVE: JASON FRANSON AND JEFF MCINTOSH/THE CANADIAN PRESS; BELOW: TODD KOROL/THE GLOBE AND MAIL