Ot­tawa turns a blind eye to oil price cri­sis in Al­berta

Calgary Herald - - NEWS - DON BRAID

The NDP gov­ern­ment had a bucket list of things Ot­tawa could do to quickly ease the mas­sive oil price dif­fer­en­tial.

It got a drop in the bucket. Fed­eral Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau de­creed cap­i­tal cost write­downs of 100 per cent for Cana­dian man­u­fac­tur­ing, in­clud­ing oil and gas.

That will be very help­ful, over time.

But there was noth­ing else in Wed­nes­day’s fed­eral fis­cal up­date.

No rail cars, no lo­co­mo­tives, noth­ing to speed up pipe­line con­struc­tion, no spe­cific in­dus­try­tar­geted mea­sures for a busi­ness and prov­ince in deep trou­ble.

ED­MON­TON A United Con­ser­va­tive Party tran­si­tion team is be­hind the scenes prepar­ing for vic­tory in next year’s elec­tion, look­ing at who to ap­point to se­nior po­lit­i­cal staffer roles and agen­cies, boards and com­mis­sions.

Once the party’s elec­tion plat­form is fi­nal­ized this win­ter, UCP Leader Ja­son Ken­ney will ask chief of staff Jamie Huck­abay and his team to de­velop a plan ready to im­ple­ment “100 Days of Change” should his party win.

One pol­icy Ken­ney is con­sid­er­ing is sell­ing off a swath of Crown land in Peace River Coun­try, about 488 kilo­me­tres north­west of Ed­mon­ton, to help plug Al­berta’s eco­nomic hole.

Ken­ney out­lined his plan dur­ing an op­po­si­tion panel at the Ru­ral Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Al­berta (RMA) fall con­ven­tion in Ed­mon­ton Wed­nes­day.

It would hear­ken back to a sim­i­lar pro­gram un­der for­mer premier Ed Stel­mach, Ken­ney told me­dia af­ter­wards, when around 100,000 acres of Crown for­est were auc­tioned off, cleared, and turned into farm land.

“It’s some­thing I’m se­ri­ously look­ing at ... to gen­er­ate some Crown as­set sales to help deal with our deficit, but also as a way to grow the econ­omy by turn­ing what is cur­rently un­pro­duc­tive land into pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural land,” Ken­ney said.

Ken­ney has long talked about pri­vate health care op­tions and dou­bled down on that mes­sage Wed­nes­day, say­ing Al­berta should fol­low the lead of other prov­inces.

“My view is that Al­ber­tans de­serve at least as many choices as Bri­tish Columbians or Que­be­cers have,” he said.

“I do not think we should be rigid and ide­o­log­i­cal.”

Ken­ney said Al­berta needs to take a step back and ask why it’s pay­ing more for less.

“Why do Bri­tish Columbia and Que­bec — with older pop­u­la­tions — man­age to get ... shorter wait times in many ar­eas for less money? I think one of the rea­sons may be the pos­i­tive ef­fects of greater com­pe­ti­tion within those sys­tems,” he said.

Cut­ting health-care costs — and pub­lic sec­tor spend­ing over­all — also means greater dis­ci­pline in ne­go­ti­at­ing fu­ture col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments, Ken­ney said.

He ac­knowl­edged the NDP has made gains in that area, but said in­creases go­ing back to the mid2000s saw pay in­creases well above the rate of in­fla­tion or eco­nomic growth.

Through­out Wed­nes­day ’s panel and to me­dia, Ken­ney re­peated his mes­sage about the need for fis­cal belt-tight­en­ing.

Point­ing to a re­port this week by Cal­gary econ­o­mist Trevor Tombe, Ken­ney said if GDP growth can be in­creased to three per cent a year, “all you need to do is hold spend­ing at zero, with zero ab­so­lute cuts, and you get to a bal­anced bud­get by 2021.”

But he ad­mit­ted that won’t be the UCP’s plan.

“There’s go­ing to be some other pol­icy choices we make like elim­i­nat­ing the car­bon tax, and there may be some pri­or­i­ties where we de­cide to in­vest more,” he said.

LARRY WONG

UCP Leader Ja­son Ken­ney says a po­ten­tial sale of Crown land in Peace River Coun­try “is some­thing I’m se­ri­ously look­ing at” should his party win in next year’s elec­tion.

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