NDP leadership hopefuls take aim at energy sector, public services at Red Deer forum

Ideas of rethinking energy royalties and eliminating the energy regulator and the flat tax dominated the Alberta NDP leaders forum in Red Deer, all with the goal of better providing public services for Albertans.

Ideas of rethinking energy royalties and eliminating the energy regulator and the flat tax dominated the Alberta NDP leaders forum in Red Deer, all with the goal of better providing public services for Albertans.

The party known for defending public services such as health care and education spent the two-hour forum advocating pushing back and expanding these services to better serve the energy and cash rich province.

All three candidates and about 40 Central Alberta residents packed into the Snell Auditorium at the Red Dee Public Library Monday evening. The field includes Rod Loyola, NDP candidate president of the non-academic staff association at the University of Alberta, MLAs Rachel Notley and David Eggen.

The vote is scheduled for Oct. 18 with a leadership convention as current leader Brian Mason is set to retire after 10 years at the helm.

“There is a myth that if you vote for anybody but the PCs you will lose your job,” said Loyola. “It’s nothing more than a big lie.”

Loyola said the energy regulator was designed to be as far from a crown corporation as possible and stacked with PC “cronies.”

“That needs to be turned upside down,” he said, advocating a move to renewable energy.

“We can’t turn our back on oil and no one is suggesting it. We need to diversify, need to start a transition.”

He talked about developing a 15-year plan to transition, not completely, to a renewable resource economy.

Notley, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA, talked about the need to better understand the impacts of fracking on public water supply before a proliferation of the controversial form of energy extraction. She pointed to the primrose site near Cold Lake that is leaking into a water supply last year. She also talked about phasing out coal, developing a climate change strategy and developing energy efficiency strategy.

“We’re the only province without an energy efficiency strategy.”

Eggen, Edmonton-Calder, talked about investing the current non-renewable energy wealth into developing a new renewable energy wealth, with the inclusion that the province raise energy royalties. He advocated upgrading bitumen in province, instead of relying on pipelines to ship raw bitumen to upgraders and refineries outside of Alberta. He said Alberta should not be extracting more bitumen than it can upgrade, and by building capacity to do so it could better regulate the extraction of the raw crude.

All three candidates focused on the importance of preparing the province for a transition to using renewable energy.

Alberta’s flat tax and corporate tax rate came under fire during the forum, with all three expressing frustration with the regime.

“We’ve been through the flat tax experiment for more than a decade and no other province seems to be trying this asinine idea. We need a reasonable tax structure that pays for the services people want to have,” said Eggen.

Loyola said a progressive tax regime would go a long way to mitigate the province’s boom-bust cycle it rides under the current royalty and flat tax system.

“Important we have a system where people who aren’t making as much don’t pay as much and people who make more and are benefiting from the system, pay a little more.”

Eggen said they are seeing a dynamic change in how the province is being run and a change in the character and beliefs of the people who live there.

“You get drawn into the salaries here, but when you need the child care, education or eventually seniors care you see how expensive things are in the province.”

Eggen talked about recent victories for the party, including the announcement about two weeks ago that the Michener Centre would stay open.

“It’s not like Jim Prentice made that decision out of the goodness of his heart, he made that decision because we forced him to.”

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com

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