Shannon Phillips looking to the future
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.
Shannon Phillips spoke at an event at the University of Lethbridge.