Shan­non Phillips look­ing to the fu­ture

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Environment - BY DAVE MABELL

As one of Al­berta’s high­est-pro­file cabi­net min­is­ters, Shan­non Phillips could list many ini­tia­tives, many an­nounce­ments.

But days af­ter an­nounc­ing $1.2 bil­lion worth of pri­vately funded en­ergy projects for south­ern Al­berta, she’s spend­ing more time look­ing ahead. She’s ready to fight a new elec­tion cam­paign, de­ter­mined to emerge suc­cess­ful once again.

“We know that Leth­bridge has a very low un­em­ploy­ment rate, we know that there are very strong fun­da­men­tals in terms of di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of the econ­omy, and we just need to con­tinue to work on that to make sure that the eco­nomic re­cov­ery reaches ev­ery kitchen ta­ble in this province,” she said, dur­ing a yearend in­ter­view.

Build­ing – schools, health care fa­cil­i­ties, se­niors’ care cen­tres – has been a pri­mary fo­cus of Al­berta’s first New Demo­crat gov­ern­ment, she points out.

“We are a gov­ern­ment that wants to con­tinue to build this city and this re­gion, to lev­er­age our strengths in agri­cul­ture, value-added, and a num­ber of dif­fer­ent types of in­vest­ment so that we can keep hav­ing the low­est un­em­ploy­ment rate in the province, so that we can keep grow­ing the econ­omy in a sus­tain­able way, and so that we can keep mak­ing sure that our kids have good schools, that our el­derly are well taken care of, and that when we need the health care sys­tem it is there with the right care at the right time and the right place.”

Al­berta had been, un­til 2015, the only province west of Que­bec which had never elected an NDP gov­ern­ment af­ter a pe­riod of right-of-cen­tre rule. But its turn came just as the price of Al­berta’s oil was tak­ing a dive.

“Then it con­tin­ued to slide in the six to eight months — es­sen­tially our first year in of­fice – be­fore it be­gan to re­cover. . .

“The gov­ern­ment had a choice to make: We could cut and fire and make a bad sit­u­a­tion worse, or we could build and hire and put this province on a re­cov­ery that is de­signed to last.”

That proved the wise choice, Phillips said.

“Three years on, we had the fastest grow­ing econ­omy in Canada, we had that last year, we had 100,000 new jobs cre­ated, we are be­gin­ning to see many of the pos­i­tive signs of re­cov­ery.”

Nowhere is that more true, she said, than in Leth­bridge.

“We have now seen hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars of in­vest­ment, in new projects such as the Cavendish fa­cil­ity, Richard­son oilseeds ex­pan­sion, other cannabis-re­lated ex­pan­sion and now re­new­able en­ergy of var­i­ous kinds.”

And that’s kept south­ern Al­berta grow­ing, with new fam­i­lies mov­ing to Leth­bridge de­spite well-known chal­lenges in the en­ergy in­dus­try.

Phillips says she sees that of­ten when she goes door-knock­ing across her Leth­bridge West con­stituency. They tell her they aren’t on the vot­ers’ list yet.

“They say, ‘Be­cause I only moved here a year ago for work’.”

Not only would that work dry up, Phillips pre­dicts, but thou­sands of Leth­bridge peo­ple could lose their jobs if a Ja­son Ken­ney gov­ern­ment took power – and be­gan ma­jor bud­get cuts as promised.

“Peo­ple in Leth­bridge are mid­dle in­come folks, who work in ed­u­ca­tion, in post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, in health care and in other ser­vices,” she said.

“What they don’t need is to lose their jobs be­cause Ja­son Ken­ney is bring­ing in deep, ide­o­log­i­cal cuts in or­der to fi­nance a $700 mil­lion tax break for mil­lion­aires.”

Ken­ney re­mains vague about how he’d cut the bud­get without hurt­ing Al­ber­tans, she said. But he’s given some hints, with both health care and ed­u­ca­tion on his hit list.

“He said, for ex­am­ple he would like to re­turn our ed­u­ca­tion tar­get to 2015 level. That means fir­ing 4,000 teach­ers.

“When he said he would like to re­turn our health care bud­get to that same level, that’s 4,000 nurses.”

Al­ber­tans can take a look at On­tario, she sug­gested, to see how Cana­di­ans re­spond when a right-wing gov­ern­ment puts pub­lic ser­vices on the chop­ping block.

“Doug Ford hs brought the axe to health care, to ed­u­ca­tion, to men­tal health, to post-sec­ondary, to women’s is­sues, to ser­vices to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties – you name it!

“And that’s what Al­ber­tans can ex­pect,” Phillips said.

“I’m quite cer­tain that the ma­jor­ity of Al­ber­tans, hard work­ing peo­ple need, is to have a school with a teacher in it, to have ac­cess to $25 a day child care, to have ac­cess to ap­pren­tice­ships, rea­son­able cost uni­ver­sity or col­lege – those are the kinds of things that Al­berta fam­i­lies need.”

That’s what Premier Not­ley is fight­ing for, Phillips said.

“We know where she stands.”

But Al­ber­tans have more to be con­cerned about than slashed bud­gets, she warned.

“Ja­son Ken­ney’s conservatives bring to­gether the worst as­pects of the PCs and the Wild Rose, and that is the of­fer they are mak­ing to the peo­ple of Leth­bridge.”

On key is­sues like immigration, for ex­am­ple, Phillips said some Ken­ney sup­port­ers con­tinue to pro­mote far­right poli­cies.

“We see this with Ja­son Ken­ney’s can­di­dates, there has been a stream of them that have ex­pressed ho­mo­pho­bic, Is­lam­o­pho­bic, or other dis­taste­ful views. And they have been al­lowed to run.

“On top of that they have cli­mate de­niers, they have folks who have op­posed GSAs and other pro­tec­tions to pro­tect LGBT.

“And even within their own party, Ja­son Ken­ney has re­fused to throw out some­one who dared to com­pare a Pride flag to a swastika.

“That is in­sult­ing to the LGBT com­mu­nity and to the Jewish com­mu­nity and oth­ers.

“This is the level of peo­ple that Ja­son Ken­ney has brought to­gether as a po­lit­i­cal team and I don’t think that it re­flects Al­ber­tans’ val­ues at all.”

At the end of the day, Phillips said, the ques­tion for the peo­ple of Leth­bridge is “Who do you want to be premier? And what vi­sion do you want for this city?”

Ken­ney will not be clear on the fu­ture of in­fra­struc­ture projects in our re­gion, she said.

“He wants to pull the pin out from un­der $2.2 bil­lion worth of new re­new­able in­vest­ments in south­ern Al­berta, and he won’t be clear how many peo­ple he wants to fire out of our school sys­tem, our post-sec­ondary sys­tem, our hospi­tal. There’s a lot of ques­tions there, ques­tions that Rachel Not­ley has al­ready an­swered.

“He won’t!”

File photo

Shan­non Phillips spoke at an event at the Uni­ver­sity of Leth­bridge.

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