Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Alberta Budget Means the Week Ahead is Going to be Interesting

Adding Elizabeth May to my links should help Progressives who read this Blog to stay current with May's campaign and encourage them to learn more about her and the Greens. I am still thinking there is no pending federal election. This gives Dion and May time to establish themselves and to become better known. They sure need the time.

My sense is the more we learn about Harper the less trusted he will become. The more we learn about Dion and May the more we will come to respect them and the more we will learn about the critical issues and needs to adapt to climate change.

We have done some initial reviews of the community workshop findings out of the first leg of the Grande Alberta Economic region road show. We are in these communities talking to the full range of local interests and gathering insight and input from the key Alberta communities who will be hit the hardest. We are on the road again tomorrow starting in Drayton Valley then Whitecourt and finally Grande Cache.

The economic and environmental concerns are being looked at and considered in many ways by the province and the feds. The social impacts on the communities and this region are also important and have to be integrated into any mitigation and adaptation strategy. That effort really has to come from the commuities on a bottom up approach along iwth the top down from the senior orders of government.

Prevention of the beetle is futile. Mitigation can only buy time but not stop it. Adaptation is the key and time is of the essence with some estimates of peak infestation in the province coming in as little as five years. One thing is for sure, our forests are going to change as a result of the Mountain Pine beetle The industies and commuities that rely on them are going to have to adapt significantly to the new reality.

The beetle is now in Banff and Jasper and the policy there is to use prescribed burning to combat the infestation. Our National Parks are sources of great pride for Canadians. The reality of the Mountain Pine Beetle and its consequences means the mountain parks in Alberta are going to change and potentially very radically and very soon.

The coalition of various groups and agencies are now well organized. They are focused on gting legislated smoking bans in work and public places and to support the Alberta Minister of Health and Wellness Dave Hancock in this part of his wellness agenda. This is not a new idea in Alberta but in the past four attempts to legislate these changes it was opposed the Alberta government under Ralph Klien who always killed it at the political level.

Premier Stelmach and Minister Hancock are keen to see it pass this time but the Premier has said the matter must still have Caucus support to proceed. Hancock is gearing up to initiate the internal political process to legislate the public and work places ban, remove tobacco sales from pharmacies and control the"powerwalls" displays in stores where tobacco products are sold.

One suggestion from a citizen was that tobacco should only be sold in liquor stores making it a destination purchase and not a convenience purchase. He also noted who would risk their liquor license by selling tobacco products to a minor? Polls show Albertans what this to happen. It's about health and it's about time.

There is lots of anticipation surrounding the Stelmach government's first Budget. The disability community throughtout Alberta for example is looking for significant new dollars to recruit and retain staff that are at dangerously low levels. They have been meeting with MLAs Ministers and officials and have been told that new money is coming in the Budget. They are in a wait and see mode right now and nervously "holding their breath" for Budget details.

The situation is quite dire in many cases due primarily to the lack of funding levels to enable this sector to provide competative pay levels. The recent group home fire in Edmonton that resulted in a fatality of a disabled person was fully staffed and well operated at th etime of this tragedy. There are staff level shortages in many service providers all over Alberta that would not be able to deal with such an emergency effectively. It is that critical in too many cases in service provider capacity to meet service needs of their clients.

The political culture in Alberta that resulted from ten years of budget cuts and five years of political lethargy has to be changed. We see that Premier Stelmach is intellectually and emotionally ready to make the changes and he has initiated a wave of consultations and initiatives since becoming Premier four short months ago.

This week we will see the Budget and that will tell us how ready he is to take the real action to assure Albertans we have a new and very different kind of progressive government. I am looking forward optimisticaly to the Budget Speech on April 19th as both a partisan and as a citizen.

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