EDMONTON — In 2019, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made good on his promise to take a blowtorch to core policies enacted by the former NDP government.
In 2020, the goal of the United Conservative Party leader will be to get traction on his signature promises to bring in more jobs, boost the economy, get more pipelines going and balance the books in three years.
He’ll need to do it as Albertans grapple with higher costs for tuition, school and municipal fees flowing from Kenney’s first budget, while public sector workers promise push back on looming layoffs and job cuts.
Kenney says the goal is to communicate the message but not lose resolve.
“I didn’t go through all of this work in the past three years, working to unite (the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties), two warring factions — all of this work, to sit in this office and preside over a broken status quo,” Kenney said in a year-end interview.
“I priced in that there would be protest when we tried to bring fiscal balance back to Alberta or focus on private-sector economic growth.”
En route to winning the April election, Kenney promised rapid action to liberate an oil-and-gas-based economy he said was plodding in mud due to federal policies, foreign-funded activism and NDP tax and fee hikes.
Change was quick and acrimonious as Kenney, facing former premier Rachel Notley as Opposition leader, hurled insults and accusations across the aisle in two legislative sittings.
The UCP ended the NDP’s consumer carbon tax on gasoline and home heating, saying it didn’t help the environment but hurt the economy. That tax will be replaced in the new year with a federal one.
The NDP corporate income tax rise will be gone by the new year, reduced to 10 per cent from 12, and will eventually be cut to eight per cent.
NDP minimum wage hikes for youth were cut to help get more of them hired. The sweeping NDP education curriculum revamp was halted and is under review.
A publicly funded superlab for drug testing was tossed out. NDP workplace rules and injury insurance for farms were overhauled, exempting small operations.
The NDP’s long-term plan to move the electricity system to a capacity market was scrapped.
While the NDP focused on public delivery of health care, Kenney’s UCP is ratcheting up more private delivery of public care to reduce wait-lists.
The NDP froze public sector staffing but avoided deep cuts. This spring, though, nurses and health support workers have been warned that layoffs may be coming.
The NDP have accused the UCP of governing for its own benefit, rewarding boardroom buddies by reducing the corporate tax and firing the elections watchdog who had been investigating the party. They say voters have been suckered in a bait and switch, given Kenney promised to continue current funding of education and health care as before, then failing in the October budget to match money to inflation and population growth.
The UCP has seen recent popularity poll numbers sag.
But Kenney said he expects shipping more oil by rail, eventually getting more out via the Line 3 project to Wisconsin and the Trans Mountain expansion to the British Columbia coast. And a leaner, more effective public service and a balanced budget will be the rising economic tide to lift all boats.
The government needs to continue to communicate not the what, but the why, Kenney said.
“This is what conservatives often are not good at. Usually we kind of put on our green eye shade and sharpen our pencils to add up the sums and we don’t explain why are we doing that.
“If people see the benefits of reform, ultimately, they will support it. But if you get spooked by entrenched opposition, then why are you even bothering?”