NDP Leader Rachel Notley is in campaign mode.
Despite the final bill passed in the busy fall sitting, the Election Statutes Amendment Act, containing a fixed election date that would set the next provincial election for May 29, 2023, Notley said she doesn’t trust Premier Jason Kenney to keep his word on that.
“When I was a premier, I thought that that was a thing everyone should just do,” Notley said. “I don’t believe that Jason Kenney feels the same way. We are doing everything we can to be ready should we have to go early.”
On the heels of a trip north in support of Fort McMurray—Lac La Biche byelection candidate Ariana Mancini, Notley spoke to AB Today for a year-end interview.
She spent 2021 continuing to make pre-election campaign commitments and calling for input on the NDP’s Alberta’s Future plan, which will shape its election platform.
But Notley also reflected on challenges the pandemic has posed to her plans leading up to the next vote. In 2019, when voters ousted the NDP from government, she vowed to step up the face-to-face meetings with Albertans that she previously had less time for as premier.
That’s been a commitment she’s tried to maintain at times when restrictions were loosened over the past couple years, but, she said the party has also adapted to the realities of virtual meetings, which she said offers a different kind of connection.
“The upside is — in a sort of weirdly dissatisfied way — we all started using Zoom,” she said.
Kenney highlights recovery, but Notley urges diversification
Kenney, who is meeting virtually with Bay Street investors this week, has been optimistic about the economic recovery in 2022.
While he has said there are big announcements coming down the pipe about deals not yet made public, he has repeatedly pointed to multinational companies setting up shop in the province and a record $480 million in venture capital investments.
India-headquartered tech company InfoSys and Amazon, whose web services branch announced a cloud computing server hub, each netted 68 mentions in Hansard (to say nothing of mentions in news conferences).
For a party that ran on jobs, economy and pipelines, checking off all three priorities is good news. But Notley said GDP recovery doesn’t necessarily translate to the stable, secure jobs that help pay mortgages.
“What we need to be doing is talking about how are we going to meaningfully diversify our economy, diversifying within the energy sector as well as diversifying in other sectors,” Notley said.
“And that is going to be important, along with, of course, focusing on affordability. Because we know more and more Albertans are finding less and less money in their pockets at the end of each month. And not all those things are within the control of this provincial government, but many of them are.”
Brian Jean back in the picture
When asked whether former Wildrose leader and UCP cofounder Brian Jean’s nomination win as the UCP’s candidate in Fort McMurray—Lac La Biche shook up the province’s political landscape, Notley said it will be “interesting” for politics, but “frustrating” for governance.
Jean ran for the party’s nomination on an open campaign to oust the premier.
“We will have a government that’s completely obsessed with its own business,” Notley said.
She said Mancini’s first act after securing the NDP nomination was to call for improvements to the disaster recovery program. Notley said that stood in contrast to what Jean did.
“He left the riding to start campaigning across the province, talking to other UCP members,” Notley said.
The problem with the UCP goes beyond its leader, she added.
“The UCP is built for politics; it is not built for governance,” she told AB Today.
“They are chronically divided, they will always be chronically divided. And it is that chronic division that underlies many of the worst, poorly thought out, hurtful decisions which Albertans have been confronted with and forced to tolerate in the last two and a half years.”
Notley wishes she would have called for actions sooner
The official Opposition spent much of its time in 2021 hammering the government on its response to Covid. Kenney has admitted fault on some self-described errors, like declaring Alberta “open for good” as it dropped nearly all public health restrictions July 1.
When asked whether she made any mistakes of her own, Notley said she would have acted sooner to call for an independent science advisory table, permanent paid sick leave, and a range of benefits to help businesses and people weather the economic fallout of restrictions.
With her eyes on 2022, Notley believes the UCP government has plans to increase privatization of the overwhelmed health-care system. She pointed to surgical postponements and threats of another surge in Covid as things Albertans are fearful of.
“We need to be looking at ways to fix that, and ensuring that this government does not use the crisis that they have created as an opportunity to move towards more Americanization of our healthcare system,” Notley said.
“We’ve certainly heard the premier waxing poetic about the U.S. and their health-care in recent debates in the house this fall. And I think that would be the exact wrong direction to take.”