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Monday, February 04, 2008

Damn Good Throne Speech Ed Stelmach!

As an Albertan Progressive Conservative, I have to say, I am very pleased with the Throne Speech. I have some disappointments and will note them later in this post but by and large it is a very progressive agenda and vision. Congratulations Premier Stelmach.

Premier Stelmach has accomplished more in the past year than was accomplished in the past 7 years put together. Big ticket items like the open process that engaged Albertans as owners in the Royalty Review decision, and kick starting 11,000 affordable housing units, address municipal infrastructure needs with a long view that provides certainty and sustainability communities to planning and deliver. The Premier’s personal efforts to finally resolve the unfunded pension liability for our teachers is commendable. Then he moved to finally provide safer and healthier work and public places with the tobacco control legislation. These are all substantive and an impressive list of Stelmach accomplishments but it is not an exhaustive list by any stretch.

The progressive, integrated and long view nature of the Throne Speech is reassuring that the Stelmach government will be a significant change from the single minded debt and deficit days of yore. There is an expressed recognition that the prosperity from our phenomenal growth has not trickled down to benefit all Albertans. Despite low unemployment and high wages generally, many Albertans are under serious pressures. They need lots of help from child care and out-of-school, to better health care access and education to housing and work – life balance challenges due to demands caused by labour shortages.

There are systemic challenges that are being addressed from aboriginal economic development and employment opportunities so they can “take their rightful place in our society.” The severe shortages of skilled workers in the disability sector who care for our most vulnerable citizens has reached crisis levels. There is a promise of further investments for these contracted agencies that perform these duties on behalf of our government. What is needed is money directed specifically at providing competitive wages and new programs that enable contracted agencies to attract and retain qualifier workers is going to be addressed. I am working with the sector to these ends and am pleased to see this pledge in the Throne Speech.

Long range planning commitments in capital infrastructure, health, education,
housing, and transportation, skills shortages and even demographic planning for an aging population are high on the Stelmach change agenda. Nowhere is this new attitude and perspective more obvious than the commitment to the elimination of health care premiums. These moves are all welcome and needed.

The environment is also being addressed. The speech notes “We place a high value on…pristine open spaces” but there is no parks, conservation or wildlife habitat protection policy commitment in the Throne Speech. There needs to be more attention paid to this vulnerable aspect of life and living things in Alberta. As we anticipate accelerated growth economic activity increases oil and gas, mining, agriculture, forestry and tourism activity. We already have a crisis of fragmentation of our wilderness landscape and there are serious pressures on water sheds that also puts a strain on our wild life. This is especially difficult for migrating animals like grizzly bears and caribou.

Granted there is attention being directed at cumulative effects of development but I would have hoped for a more specific set of directions and destinations focused on conservation, a new and comprehensive parks policy and habitat protection. PersonallyI think it is time to put Conservation back into the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party consciousness.

We know from our Oil Sands Study, which you can read on Policy Channel (www.policychannel.com), that Albertans want their oil sands developed in ways that protects habitat, captures CO2, deals with water usage and focuses on reclamation. This change in focus is not away from royalties, technology, and pace of growth concerns but in addition to those previous focal points. The specific reference for government and industry to work together to capture and store CO2 is a positive move. It will be expensive but for Alberta, a place of 3.4 million souls who benefit the most from the oil sands, this idea should be embraced as our specific ecological challenge as a province.

Another huge change under Stelmach from the Klein regime is around concern and action dealing with surface and groundwater, climate change and greenhouse gases. There was an attitude under Klein, that at one time, even denied the science around climate change. The attitude presumed that economic growth at any pace and any cost, was acceptable, even if it resulted in land, air and water degradation. Not any more. While Stelmach is more incremental than some of us would like on his “Greening our Growth,” at least these big ecological issues and concerns are front and centre on his political agenda.

Much of the past year has seen Stelmach playing catch up to ensure Alberta keeps up to the physical infrastructure pressures caused by our growth. This Throne Speech marks a change in focus where Ed Stelmach can finally get on to his own vision and hos own policy agenda for Alberta. Ed Stelmach can now be Ed Stelmach. With this Throne Speech we get to see the real Ed Stelmach and learn to appreciate what he is all about.

So get ready Alberta. There is an election on. We all have some serious listening to do and some serious questions to ask of all the candidates and all the party leaders. Then we have a decision to make about what kind of Alberta we want and who we think will be best to help us get there. Alberta is relatively assured of our progress with all the blessings we enjoy. What we Albertans need to do now is to elect some socially progressive and fiscally conservative politician like Ed Stelmach to help get us to our preferred future.

Sorry for the long post but it was a damned impressive Throne Speech with lots to talk about. As a citizen, you might be well advised to read the news release, backgrounder and the entire speech yourself, so here is the link.