Lethbridge Herald Columns

Budget is Making Life Better for Albertans

 

Published in Lethbridge Herald March 24, 2017

 

Last week, the Alberta government announced the 2017 budget.

It makes life better for Albertans in a tough economy. And it’s a good budget for Lethbridge.

A major focus of Budget 2017 is continued investment in health care and education. You may have already heard about reduced school fees, 24 new and modernized schools across Alberta, a new hospital in Edmonton and a long-term care home in Calgary.

In Lethbridge, there’s more than $5 Million for an Inpatient Unit Fit-Out at the Chinook Hospital. There’s continued funding for the University of Lethbridge Destination project. There’s over $10 Million for the Lethbridge College Trades and Technology Renewal and Innovation Program.

We’ve funded an affordable housing project in Lethbridge that has been waiting for nearly a decade. We will pave Highway 774 to the Castle Mountain Resort so families headed for a day of skiing can reach their destination safely, and we have funded a canal realignment that will allow the Sherring Industrial Park to welcome the new investments of Cavendish Farms and other businesses.

This budget is a good budget for Lethbridge, but it is a good budget for all Albertans.

There are many practical ways we’re making life better. We’re capping electricity prices, keeping taxes on families the lowest in Canada. We’re helping young people find opportunities by capping post-secondary tuition and funding more apprenticeships and training. We’re working with the federal government to bring clean, reliable drinking water to First Nations communities across the province.

And we’re putting money back into the pockets of Alberta families with carbon levy rebates and the Alberta Child Benefit and Employment Tax Credit.

There’s a lot of talk these days about economic challenges. This is a good budget, but not necessarily an easy budget. The economy is stabilizing and jobs are beginning to return. We’re seeing renewed investment in drilling and the oil sands, and we’re seeing new investment in value-added energy projects and in green energy projects. The Conference Board of Canada predicts Alberta will lead all provinces with growth of 2.8 per cent.

But there is still some way to go. Other parties would slash core services at this crucial time, but this government will bring the deficit down slowly and prudently over time.

We’ve cut the growth of government spending by targeting waste and excessive salaries and perks at government agencies and by freezing management and non-union salaries in the Alberta Public Services and agencies, boards and commissions. We’re focused on health care costs and have signed a new agreement with doctors that will save $500 million over two years.

We’re working on further diversifying the economy. We have lowered small business taxes, supported business innovation and opened new markets for our energy, agricultural, agri-food, forestry and other products. Investment in long-overdue repairs of schools, hospitals and roads will keep Albertans working.

Drastic cuts will destroy most of that work. They won’t build schools or provide dignity for our seniors and most vulnerable. These cuts will make life harder and will cost more in the long run, as our roads and hospitals age and fall into disrepair.

Previous governments were fine with high school fees, infrastructure deficits, cuts to front-line services, and taxpayer-funded golf-club memberships for their friends. We don’t think that was right.

Much of the work we have tackled in Budget 2017 was overdue. Nearly a million people have moved to Alberta in the last decade. Schools, hospitals, highways, and bridges need to be built, maintained, and supported whether oil prices are high or low.

Now is the time for a clear vision that puts everyday Albertans and families first. That’s why I believe in this budget. For the people of Lethbridge, it’s a good budget.

Alberta Jobs Plan is Working

By Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West

Alberta is open for business, and nowhere is this more evident than right here in Lethbridge! I was proud to be a part of the recent announcement that Cavendish Farms is investing $350 million into a new potato processing plant here in our city. This is the largest private investment ever made in Lethbridge history, and is going to mean new jobs and more demand for agricultural products. Everyone wins.

Our focus on diversifying the economy and encouraging private investment has led to the largest investment in Lethbridge’s history.

Cavendish Farms is one of the largest frozen potato processers in the country, and makes a number of products for food service and grocery markets. They are a Canadian, family-owned company, and they have been operating in Lethbridge since 2012. They were searching for a city to expand their company, and after months of hard work from Lethbridge city council and the Alberta government, they chose Lethbridge as the best place to do business.

Well, that and the fact that we grow the best potatoes here. Even Robert K. Irving, president of Cavendish Farms, said the same himself during the announcement.

This processing plant is going to mean hundreds of brand-new jobs in Lethbridge, first with the construction jobs, as the state-of-the-art facility is built over the next two years, and then additional permanent jobs created to staff the new plant. Finally, this service expansion will create demand for an additional nine thousand acres of potatoes, creating opportunity for our local farmers.

This is one of many stories showing the Alberta Jobs Plan at work. Our infrastructure investments make our province appealing to large companies. Our focus on diversifying the economy and encouraging private investment has led to the largest investment in Lethbridge’s history. Our business tax rates are very competitive compared to other jurisdictions. As well, good jobs begin with a good education, and companies all over the world know that well-trained workers are available in Alberta.

Congratulations to Mayor Spearman and the Lethbridge city council for making this happen.

Another note in the "good news" file is that many of our residents will be getting their first Carbon Rebate in January. Six in 10 Alberta households will be getting a rebate that covers the average cost of the levy, and many more households will receive a partial rebate. Depending on your family status you may receive up to $420 total per year. For more information on the carbon levy and rebates, go to www.alberta.ca/climate-carbon-pricing.aspx.

You do not need to apply for your rebate. You will be qualified based on your 2015 tax return, and the money will be automatically deposited in your account or mailed to you based on your preferences on file. Just one more reason to file your 2015 taxes if you haven’t done so already.

Finally, I want to wish you all the very happiest of holidays, whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, or just the end of 2016. As I reflect on the past year, I think of all the community events I had the honour of attending, all the constituents I spoke to and heard from, all my colleagues in the Legislature who I worked with and debated against, all the beautiful and important outdoor places in Alberta I have spent time in, and of course my amazing family who support me in this work and who are in my mind as I work to build a stronger Alberta for the future.

I hope that your 2016 has had many moments of happiness and hard work as well. My constituency office will be closed for the holidays from Dec. 26-Jan. 2. We will reopen with regular hours on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Please call us at 403-329-4644 or email us at Lethbridge.west@assembly.ab.ca, if we can be of any help.

First published in the Lethbridge Herald, Dec. 23, 2016 

Vital role of Small Business

First published by  Lethbridge Herald on October 28, 2016.

Last week, Oct. 16-22, was Small Business Week – an opportunity to celebrate entrepreneurship in our province and recognize the important role small businesses play. I have been pleased to meet with many local entrepreneurs, small business owners and others to learn about the terrific work they are doing in our community.

In the face of global economic uncertainty, Alberta small businesses continue to demonstrate innovation and resiliency. In fact, more than 95 per cent of all businesses in the province are small businesses, and they employ over 500,000 people. That is more than a third of the entire private sector. Small businesses are the foundation of our towns and neighbourhoods, and provide good jobs for Albertans to earn a solid living for themselves and their families.

Our government wants to make sure that small businesses have the support they need to thrive. Business Link is a partnership between the Government of Alberta and the federal government to provide information, support and advisers to small businesses around the province. Find it at businesslink.ca. You can find information on other programs and resources at http://www.smallbusiness.alberta.ca.

The Alberta Jobs Plan includes a number of initiatives to help small businesses, which will diversify our economy and create long-term growth. We are reducing the small business corporate income tax by a third. This tax relief will be worth approximately $185 million to small business owners in 2017-2018. This makes us tied for second-lowest provincial small business tax across the country. We are also offering an Alberta Investor Tax Credit and a Capital Investment Tax Credit, which will encourage investors to come to, and stay in our province.

Celebrating Small Business Week in our community, the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Business of the Year Awards on Oct 20. All of the nominees and winners (and sponsors!) are phenomenal businesses and contribute so much to our community, but I am going to take a moment to highlight just a couple.

The Environmental Stewardship Award went to Synergy Permaculture Inc., an urban farming operation that turned lawns and empty lots around the city into local food. Walking around Lethbridge this summer, I saw Synergy vegetable plots at homes, schools, daycares and in neighbourhood spaces. They brought food production right into our backyards and sold their products through other local businesses.

The Business Leadership Award, which recognizes a business with an outstanding impact on the community, went to Teamwork Training Ltd. In their 25 years of operation, Teamwork training has helped 25,000 southern Albertans find jobs, with more than 80 per cent of those people still employed after six months. They provide targeted training and coaching to get job seekers into career opportunities, and they work closely with employers to ensure a right fit.

Thank you to all of the small and medium-sized businesses in our community, and thank you to the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce for recognizing the good work that is happening right here.

Of course, we all need to stay healthy if we are going to get to work. With winter on the way, flu season is almost upon us. Influenza is serious, and a flu vaccine is the best prevention. All Albertans six months and older can get a vaccine for free, and the earlier in the season you are immunized the more protection it will give you.

Every flu season is different, and to combat each year’s predominant strain, you need a new vaccine every year. When more people in a community are vaccinated, the infection has less chance of spreading to those who are especially vulnerable. The flu vaccine saves lives.

Attend one of the many clinics being offered, or contact your doctor or pharmacist to see if they are providing vaccines in their locations.

If you have any questions or feedback, my staff and I are here to listen and to help. Call us at 403-329-4644, email us at Lethbridge.west@assembly.ab.ca, or stop by at 402 8 St. S. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

February 2016

On March 8th we will return to another Legislative Session at the Alberta Legislature. The Speech from the Throne that day will outline our government’s plans for the upcoming session and the priorities we have identified in the province. As many of you know, the emphasis in the next year will be on jobs. It is not telling tales out of school to let you in on that fact. Our Premier has already made it clear that getting unemployed Albertans back to work is a key priority for our province.

As part of our commitment to getting Albertans working we announced in January that the Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) was reinstated after it had been cut by previous governments. The program helps 3000 students with summer employment so that they can gain valuable experience and skills. For businesses and non-profits the program helps defer some of the costs of hiring with a $7/hr wage subsidy. Jobs must last a minimum of 4 weeks and a maximum of 16 weeks to qualify. We know two things about this kind of program: it helps employers with the costs of hiring staff so that they can focus on being job creators and it helps students to gain skills and experience so that they have a head-start on their long-term employment goals.

Employers can still apply for STEP funding until Feb 29, 2016 at albertacanada.com/STEP. Students can be linked to employers with open positions through the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at alis.alberta.ca

 An important role for our government is to review legislation and regulations, especially those that affect vulnerable Albertans. With that in mind we have begun a consultation process on the safety standards for residences in which people with disabilities live.

If you receive funding from the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) program, or are a family member, guardian, service provider or landlord, you are invited to share proposed solutions about safety that respect the personal choices, privacy, priorities and needs of the disability community.

I encourage you to participate online by going to humanservices.alberta.ca/pddconsultation where you can fill out a survey. You may also be interested in attending one of the community forums where the consultation team of representatives from the disability community will listen to ideas about safety of people with developmental disabilities.  The forum in Lethbridge will be held on March 7 from 2-7pm. As of this printing the location has not been determined so please let my office know if you are interested and we will be sure to keep you informed.

The consultation period will end on March 13, 2016, so please get your ideas in soon. We appreciate all the responses and letter we have received on this already.

 Finally, I want to thank the Blackfoot Canadian Cultural Society and the Elders of the Sacred Horn Society for honouring me and two of my fellow Ministers, Joe Ceci and Richard Feehan, with Blackfoot names and Headdresses at last weekend’s International Peace Pow-Wow and Festival. We were incredibly moved by the experience. The Blackfoot Nation’s culture is a central part of our Albertan history and I am always aware of being a Treaty person and living on Aboriginal territory. I thank the people of the Blackfoot Nation for including me, Minister Ceci and Minister Feehan in the weekend’s events. The annual Pow-Wow is one of my favourite festivities in Lethbridge and I hope that, if by some chance you missed it this year, you will plan to attend next year. Congratulations to all the organizers of the event and especially to the winning performers who delighted the crowds with their beautiful music, dance, and artistry.

 Please remember to contact my office if there is any way that my staff or I can assist you. We are at 402 8th St S or call 403-329-4644.

January 2016

Happy January,

Now that the hubbub of the holidays are over, Albertans are getting back to normal and for most of us that means getting back to work. We aren’t afraid of a little hard work, and many of us were more than happy to get back to the day-to-day business of our jobs.

Let’s be frank, though: these are very challenging economic times. The global drop in the price of oil is causing major effects in the province and around the world. It’s easy to talk about the economy in abstract and distant terms, but we need to remember that we are talking about the livelihoods of people and families, and the survival of the businesses that make up our communities.

We have ridden the wave of high prices and low prices before – that is the nature of an energy-based economy like ours. We can’t control the price of oil, much as we might like to, but we can control how we respond to it. We are responding with immediate actions to create and support jobs. We will ride out this wave and be stronger for it.

We have a number of strategies to create new jobs, and plans will be released in the coming weeks. Private sector employers want to create more jobs and the government is partnering with them to make that possible. We will be increasing the access to capital for business, so they can grow even in these challenging times. Do you have a great idea for a business? We are increasing capital for new startups to enter the marketplace. We are investing in infrastructure, which will create jobs, yes, but also improve the quality of life for all of us.

I am particularly excited about the Summer Temporary Employment Program (S.T.E.P.) which was cancelled by the previous government but is finding new life. This program subsidizes wages paid by small businesses, not-for-profits, and municipalities to student employees during the summer months. Employers win because they get to create jobs that they might not otherwise be able to afford, and they get enthusiastic new staff with fresh ideas and energy. Students win because they get job experience, skills, and an income to help them with their studies and career goals.

I often hear people who are new to the labour force say “Employers want to hire people with experience, but how can I get experience if no one will hire me?” S.T.E.P. gives many people their first on-the-job learning opportunity, where they get that all-important experience that they can leverage into a career. It can be life-changing for students, and I am thrilled that we have reintroduced it.

Applications for the S.T.E.P. program are now open until Feb 29th. I encourage businesses, non profits, and other qualified employers to submit applications as soon as possible. You can find all the relevant information on the website. http://work.alberta.ca/labour/summer-temporary-employment-program.html  

Finally, we are diversifying the economy so that our history of boom-and-bust, up-and-down, doesn’t have to be our future as well. While we can’t control the global price of oil, there are a lot of things we can control, and our economic diversity and sustainability is among them. Albertan families want stability, and the government wants that too.

So, let’s get to work. There’s a lot to do, but we are ready for it.

December 2015

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

This time of year, with the holidays upon us and a new year around the corner, is always a good time for reflection and giving thanks. As I look forward to 2016, I am reminded of all the great things 2015 brought.

Family is central to the Albertan way of life, and is on many of our minds at the holidays as we get together with loved ones and celebrate the season. I am glad to have been a part of a number of government initiatives to support families, like restored education funding, stability to heath care funding, a tuition freeze for post-secondary students, an increase to midwifery services, and support of women’s shelters. With stable, consistent services, we can feel confident that our families will be educated and cared for throughout their lifespans.

Of course, we need jobs to be able to provide for our families, and the government has prioritized that too. With a new Ministry dedicated to economic development, and funding support for job creation and infrastructure, we want to ensure that Alberta remains a vibrant and growing place to start and run a business.

I am particularly proud of the work we have done to extend human rights: gender identity and expression are now protected by law. We are one step closer to ensuring that all Albertans are treated equally and share the same opportunities that our province is known for.

Through all of this, I have been fortunate to live and represent a city as fantastic as Lethbridge, and I want to call attention to some of the amazing things happening right here. The Council of Lethbridge Neighbourhoods (Beyond Your Front Door) has been exceptionally busy this year, organizing new neighbourhood associations, planning block parties and special events, opening Little Lethbridge Libraries, and supporting community gardens. Our neighbourhoods and communities can be such resources for us if we take the time to nurture them.

Wherever I went during the election campaign and since my election I have met the fantastic volunteers that make Lethbridge a lovely place to live. A special thanks to Volunteer Lethbridge who encourages volunteering. If you have any time to spare I urge you to contact Volunteer Lethbridge and find a wonderful opportunity to give back to our community. Whether you volunteer at your place of faith, your local school, one of the seniors centres, in a sports association or through any of the social service agencies in town I thank you for contributing to our sense of community. We all are made better by your gifts.

Just last month I was able to welcome Team Lethbridge to the Legislature when they visited there to spread the good news of Lethbridge businesses and organizations. The leadership that Team Lethbridge has provided will continue to contribute to the economic diversification of our economy and the strength of our institutions.   I thank each of the members of Team Lethbridge and especially appreciate the role that the City Council and Mayor have played in advocating for the City.

Finally, I want to bring special thanks for the many people who have joined together to prepare for refugees from Syria. Your dedication to welcoming our new neighbours presents us a living depiction of the Christmas message and I am buoyed by your efforts.

 

Sadly, the holidays are not a happy time for everyone. While many supports close over the holidays, government services to ensure the health, safety, and security of Albertans will be available 24 hours a day. If you or someone you know requires assistance please use one of the following services to reach out.

Basic daily needs: 1-866-644-5135

Child and Family Services Crisis Unit: 1-800-638-0715

Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-387-KIDS

Mental Health Support Line: 1-877-302-2642

My office will be closed for the holidays from Dec 24 to Jan 4. I look forward to 2016 and thank you for your support throughout this past year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

November 2015

Budget 2015

As I prepare to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, I find myself thinking about international action and the old adage to “think globally, act locally.” Albertans in all fields, from energy producers to family farms, work hard every day to ensure we build a sustainable province we can leave to our children and grandchildren. Alberta’s NDP government has reflected these priorities in Budget 2015: a plan that will support energy, innovation, and the social services that we all rely on.

I am excited to describe for you some of the highlights of the budget. With extensive consultation, research, and Albertan values, the government has created a plan based on three key pillars: stability, balance, and growth. Budget 2015 stabilizes frontline public services, sets out a path to return to a balanced budget, and stimulates job creation, growth, and diversification. Let me tell you how.

In my six months in office, constituents have told me over and over that what they need is stability. Parents need to know that their children will be well educated, youth need to know they can pursue their dreams of post-secondary education, and everyone needs to know that their healthcare system will be accessible. That’s why the budget focuses on maintaining core funding and reversing previous cuts to these services. We are investing in social service organizations who have their finger on the pulse in local communities throughout the province. We are increasing support to women’s shelters as part of a strategy to make it easier for survivors of violence to leave their abusers.

At the same time, we realize that prudent financial management is something that all Albertans are concerned with, and the government is as well. With the exception of Health, Human Services, and Advanced Education, overall spending across all other ministries is $360 million lower than last year. We are controlling our costs, limiting government borrowing, and we are committed to returning to a balanced budget as the economy recovers. We are firm but compassionate, as our constituents have directed us to be.

The third pillar of our budget, growth and diversification, will truly allow the strengths of Albertans to shine through. Jobs in Alberta have been dependent on our energy industry, which means that we must ensure Alberta remains a good place for people to invest in energy, explore new opportunities and develop resources. I believe we can do even more than that. Budget 2015 includes a significant new commitment to support job creation, with more than $2 billion in new capital and loans to support job creators, a $4.4 billion increase to infrastructure, and the creation of a new ministry dedicated to trade development, innovation, and diversification. We have also restored and expanded the Summer Temporary Employment Program, which lets students and employers both get what they need to thrive.

Lethbridge is home to much of what makes Alberta great. We have the outstanding University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College, we have a strong agricultural and manufacturing base, and we have an intelligent and diverse population. We can use these advantages to build a more resilient economy, including within the energy sector. The old days of boom and bust created havoc in our lives and our government, we can move past that and create a province where people can make plans for the future knowing that their province is stable and strong.

Which brings me back to climate change. When we were elected by the people of Alberta we made a commitment to take leadership on climate change. This has always been an important issue to me, and I am proud to be the minister of Environment and Parks where I have the opportunity to represent all the good things we are already doing. Albertans know that taking action on climate change is the right thing to do. We have challenges ahead but when times are tough, Albertans help those in need. That means internationally, but it also means here at home. In upcoming columns I will discuss the climate change plan that I have been working on. I thank everyone who has contributed to that plan. Together, we will act globally and locally.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. Please email, stop by, or call my office at 403-329-4644.

October 2015

On the eve of the Budget

 On the eve of the Fall session of the Alberta Legislature I am excited about the work of our government. In a few days, the Minister of Finance and Treasurer, the Honourable Joe Ceci, will stand in the Legislature and present our government’s budget. Before a budget is presented the details are not released but I can give you one hint: you can anticipate that this budget will present stability for Albertans.

 Over and over, during the election and since, I have met with groups and individuals and businesses who told me that they wanted to see stability from Alberta’s budgets. We agree. You will find that this upcoming budget, and in fact the upcoming year, will represent steady hands on the steering wheel of government. I invite you to watch the budget speech on Tuesday, October 27th during the afternoon sitting. In my next column I will address many of the main points in the budget.

 Last month I had the great pleasure of meeting with many mayors, councilors, reeves, and municipal staff from around southern Alberta during the AUMA conference. This annual event brings municipal leaders together to learn from one another’s best practices and they invite participation from MLAs and Ministers. I was particularly happy to be able to follow up on those meetings with additional opportunities to meet with local councils and mayors as they tackle the important work of municipalities including improving public transportation, strengthening municipal infrastructure, and greening our environment through all kinds of recycling programs, reducing our environmental impact, and encouraging renewable energy resource production.

 Early in October I was thrilled to join my caucus colleague Maria Fitzpatrick, MLA Lethbridge East, and Mayor Chris Spearman to unveil the new City of Lethbridge transit busses that will be purchased with the use of provincial Green Trip funding. Public transport is not only a great way to get to school or work everyday but now it is also better for the environment. The low-emission diesel-powered transit buses are both quieter and produce fewer emissions than the current fleet of busses.   I hope to see you on the bus very soon. 

 In mid-October, I was able to attend the signing of the agreement for the Malloy Drain, which will help the Coaldale area to reduce the risk of flooding in the Malloy area. The event, held at the fantastic Birds of Prey Centre, was the result of the hard work of many area councilors as well as irrigation districts so I thank you for your efforts.

My visit to the Birds of Prey, and earlier this month to Fort Whoop Up, reminded me of the hard work of volunteers in our community. Both these sites owe a debt of gratitude to the vision of a team of volunteers who have stewarded these special places for many years so that we may continue to enjoy them and learn from them.

 As always, I welcome your phone calls, letters, and emails. If you have any opportunity to attend the Legislature during our Fall sitting (expected to run form October 26 to early December) I encourage you to contact my office before your trip to that we can arrange tickets in the gallery during the House sitting. I still find the Speaker’s procession every afternoon at 1:30pm to be exciting as it reminds me of the hard-fought rights we have to participate in a parliamentary democracy. I am humbled when I stand in the House because I stand there as your representative. If my office can assist you in any way to watch a session of the House this Fall please give us a call.

 On the topic of democracy I want to congratulate the newly elected Members of Parliament, especially Rachael Harder of Lethbridge. I look forward to working for Alberta’s continued prosperity with the new federal government.

 A special thank you to all the party volunteers and election staff who ensured that the remarkable process of a Canadian election took place. And I was pleased to see that the people of Lethbridge took their duty to vote seriously and turned out to exercise their right. Our democratic system depends upon you

September 2015

The month of September is a favorite of mine: the excitement of back-to-school, the changing of the leaves and the cooler evenings remind us to prepare for the impending winter and enjoy the last of the warmth.

I was able to enjoy my son’s excitement as he entered school for the first time the same week that I celebrated a milestone birthday of my own. But the happiest day that week was the day I was privileged to announce that the government would protect the Castle region with two new parks! For many people in this region the protection of the Castle is the fruit of decades of their labour. The day I announced the parks I spoke with biologists, land owners, business owners, environmentalists, fishers, and all sorts of people who love that region. I was touched by the number who were overcome with emotion because they had worked so long and so hard to communicate the vulnerability of the Castle region to previous governments. The NDP listened long before we became the government. Part of our platform included protecting the Castle and the headwaters there so I was very pleased to be able to announce the fulfillment of that promise. I want to thank all the Environment and Parks staff and all the private citizens who worked tirelessly to protect this gem of biodiversity. Protecting the Castle is our legacy to future generations.

In my many opportunities this summer to catch up with constituents I was impressed with the voluntarism of Lethbridge residents. Whether it was the excellent music festivals, Whoop Up days, the Word on the Street festival, the many charity runs (including the 35th Anniversary of the Terry Fox run that I was thrilled to participate in), the Pride festival, or any of the other special events that make Lethbridge so fun to live in, I was struck by the teams of volunteers making it all happen. Sometimes I would see a volunteer at the Jazz Festival one month and at Love and Records the next. It was clear to me that Lethbridge’s residents love our community. To each of you who made the season of festivals and fun runs so successful: thank you for demonstrating your community spirit!

In the next month my colleagues and I will continue to work on the priorities you told us about when you elected us in May. You told us that you wanted children to be educated in smaller classrooms and we announced the re-investment of $100 million to Education funding before the students returned in September. You told us that you wanted the ill to be treated in a timely fashion and we reinvested in health care funding. You told us you wanted to bring fairness back to the tax system and we brought back a progressive tax system. You asked for better access to midwifery services and we delivered. You told us that better transportation and infrastructure was important and we invested in improvements to both.  

When the Legislature sits again in October we will present the budget. As well, we will hear from the Climate Change panel, chaired by Dr. Andrew Leach. Both these documents have involved extensive public consultations in person and online so they will reflect the views of Albertans and your new government. They will take the province into the future with clear, open eyes as we face some of the most important issues of our time. As a member of Treasury Board and as Minister of Environment and Parks I have been intimately involved in both of these important processes. I look forward to sharing the results with you.

This weekend I invite you to participate in Alberta Culture Days! To celebrate our province’s art and heritage, the Alberta government will be offering free admission to many of Alberta’s historic sites and museums. In our area, Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump and Frank Slide Interpretive Centre will host special events and the Allied Arts Council are hosting Lethbridge Arts Days for the whole week with something for everyone. I sincerely hope you take part in celebrating Alberta Culture Days in some way.

As always, my office is open to constituents and we can now offer Commissioner of Oaths services, if you require a document to be commissioned. Please drop in or call us at 403-329-4644.

August 2015

Summer is an important time for consultations

 

The creation of a provincial budget has been a large part of my work this month. We have been soliciting public input into that document all summer and will present the completed document in the Fall sitting of the Legislature. Alberta faces many financial pressures and we must not underestimate the challenges left to us. But as your representative on Treasury Board I can assure you that the budget document that will emerge from this process will balance those financial pressures with the very real needs in this province. You still have time to provide input to the budget until September 14, 2015. Please go to www.budget.alberta.ca for more information.

 

As you know this summer has been very warm and dry. Many southern Alberta rivers were under so much pressure from low water and high temperatures that we had to place a temporary ban on angling in those rivers. This was an unprecedented move but one we had to do to protect the fish from further stress. As of August 21 we were able to remove the fishing ban on all but the St. Mary river downstream of the reservoir.   I want to thank all the anglers who helped spread the word about the temporary bans and helped protect recreational fishing in our area.

 

Another pressure on our waterways is the threat of quagga or zebra mussels. Alberta remains free of these aquatic invasive species but we must remain vigilant to the threat. The movement of watercraft into Alberta poses the highest risk of infecting our waters so you must Clean, Drain and Dry all equipment before departure. Alberta Environment and Parks has teams of inspectors, including a team of invasive sniffing dogs, that work to ensure that Alberta’s waters do not fall prey to these invasive species. In August I got to learn more about Aquatic Invasive Species when I met the sniffer dogs and saw them at work. The three dogs are able to sniff out microscopic quantities of the mussels and work with a dedicated team of humans. We thank everyone for their contribution to protecting the ecological health of Alberta’s waterways.

 

On August 14 I was pleased to initiate a Climate Change Advisory Panel and appoint the members to that panel as well as unveil the climate change leadership discussions we are having with Albertans. The panel will meet with many groups and individuals and a public, online survey is available at www.alberta.ca. I hope that you will take the time to review the discussion document and participate in the survey. Alberta has great challenges we must face as a result of many years of inaction. We can no longer wait and we want to have a broad discussion on which actions need to come first as we tackle climate change, one of the greatest challenges facing our planet.

 

I know that the drought this year is affecting many farmers in our area. The Minister of Agriculture and Forestry has announced some targeted measures to assist affected farmers and ranchers: first, we have cut fees to use Agriculture and Forestry’s emergency water pumping program in half. This program helps farmers pump water from lakes, rivers, and other water sources to provide water for their livestock and for other uses. Information about the water pumping program is available on the Agriculture and Forestry website (www.agric.gov.ab.ca). Second, we have identified hay and grazing opportunities on vacant and underutilized crown lands. This will help producers who are struggling with inadequate pasture and high hay prices. Interested producers can contact the local Alberta Environment and Parks office to discuss options with the Regional Rangeland Agrologist. We will continue to monitor the conditions and work with our federal counterparts to offer assistance.

 

Locally, I was thrilled to see that the Helen Schuler Nature Centre achieved LEED-Gold Certification for their new building. As the first City of Lethbridge owned facility to achieve this rank for innovation in design, sustainability, and overall efficiency the Helen Schuler Centre is leading the way for a new generation of buildings in our city. Please take the time to visit the new Helen Schuler Centre and congratulate them on the forward thinking design and construction.

 

This summer has allowed me to meet with many of you and hear from you about what is most important to you. I encourage you to call my constituency office and I look forward to seeing more of you in the future.

July 2015 column

As you know, Alberta’s NDP government has taken steps to implement our promise of good government that cares about Albertans. We have frozen post-secondary tuition rates, funded health care to ensure quality services and prevent the layoff of thousand of healthcare workers, launched a comprehensive mental health care review, established an all-party committee on democratic reform, and announced a new cancer centre at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

Your new Alberta government hired economist and former governor of the Bank of Canada David Dodge to develop a plan to catch up on infrastructure needs. As Minister of Environment and Parks I also appointed Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist from the University of Alberta, to lead a panel on Alberta’s climate change strategy.

 Our NDP government has also taken steps to improve relationships with First Nations people in Alberta through a number of important actions in the last month. We apologized for the Government of Alberta’s role in the residential schools policy, we called on the federal government to hold a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the Premier has asked every Minister to identify ways to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

 In mid-July, Premier Notley helped build unanimity among all Canada’s provincial and territorial governments for a Canadian Energy Strategy. Our strategy recognizes the importance of the energy industry to the Canadian economy, and underlines the need for Canada to effectively and comprehensively address climate change.

 Your new government is working hard to bring stability, accountability, and sustainability to the province. We believe in the ingenuity of hardworking Albertans who have entrusted us to lead this province and we intend to continue to earn the trust provided to us in the May 2015 election.

 Over the past month I have been honoured to attend a number of local events organized by groups and individuals who work hard to ensure that Alberta is a province for all people. I want to especially thank the Lethbridge Pride Festival for the fantastic week of events they organized. I was proud to rollerskate in the parade as the first Government Minister to attend the Lethbridge Pride parade (I assume I was also the first MLA to rollerskate in the parade).

 I was thrilled to spend the morning of July 18th at Park Lake to celebrate Parks Day with the Junior Forest Rangers, Helen Schuler Nature Centre, High Level Canoes and Kayaks, and many members of Alberta Environment, including some of the team working to keep zebra mussels, an invasive aquatic species, out of Alberta’s waters. The many, many people who work to keep Alberta’s parks accessible, educational, and sustainable are to be thanked. Our beautiful province is better because of your work; we love our Alberta Parks!

 Later on July 18th , I was deeply honoured to bring greetings on behalf of the government of Alberta to the powwow on the Kainai reserve. Nitsiniiyi'taki to everyone involved. The attendance this year was tremendous so I hope that many of you were able to participate.

 Lethbridge will continue to deliver fun events in the next weeks as we host the Air Show, Whoop Up Days, and many more. I hope to see you at some of the upcoming events.

  Stars of Alberta Volunteer Award

Nominations are open until September 15th for the Stars of Alberta Volunteer Awards program, which recognizes outstanding Alberta volunteers whose contributions have made a lasting impact and helped improve the lives of community members.

 In local news, I hope that you have noticed my office is open at 402-8th St S and is staffed by my two constituent assistants Lisa Lambert and Natasha Fairweather, who are both available to provide assistance to Lethbridge West constituents. The office is generally open 8am to 4pm but feel free to call before you stop in to be sure: 403-329-4644.