Rachel Notley had only proposed a solution hours before she arrived in Red Deer.
The Alberta NDP leader had suggested again in the provincial legislature Wednesday that the UCP should consider offering paid sick leave to workers who need to take time off in order to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s an opportunity to move quickly. This is something we actually called for a month ago and we didn’t get any pickup,” Notley said in an interview with the Advocate Wednesday.
“When I presented it to the premier in question period, his answer was to go ahead with it. In part, obviously, because we committed we would move it very quickly.”
The Alberta government announced Wednesday it would introduce legislation that will make amendments to the Employment Standards Code to ensure workers can access up to three hours of paid, job-protected leave to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The bill passed on Thursday.
“I think it’s an important thing for hundreds of thousands of Albertans. It’s an important tool to encourage people to get their vaccination and in so doing, move us more quickly towards recovery both economically and in terms of our health,” Notley said.
The leader of the official opposition also addressed a number of important topics for central Alberta, including the impact of post-secondary school tuition increase, RDC’s status as a university and the new K-6 Alberta Education draft curriculum.
Earlier this week, Red Deer College announced tuition and other fee hikes for the 2021-22 school year. The more than $1,300 increase comes on the heels of a provincial budget that provided 5.4 per cent less funding for post-secondary institutions in Alberta.
Notley said that could lead to students turning to other provinces for their education, which would have an impact on Alberta’s workforce and economy down the line.
“It is so short-sighted of this government. When we were in government, we worked very hard to freeze tuition. When we got elected, between tuition and additional fees, Alberta was the most expensive on average in the country to go to university,” she said.
“You need to make post-secondary education as accessible as possible. Alberta’s economy is going through a transition. We need to diversify and our young people need to get all the skills possible to equip themselves for the jobs of the future.”
Notley also weighed in on the college’s university status which is up in the air. RDC is waiting for the results of the province’s system review of post-secondary institutions to find out whether the college can be called Red Deer University.
The review is to assess how the post-secondary system was meeting current and future needs, review the governance structure, provide comparisons to other post-secondary systems and develop a vision for the future.
In 2018, the NDP approved RDC’s application to become a university.
“That’s critically important. Post-secondary is a foundational building block in our efforts to regrow the economy and to diversify the economy,” she said.
“Access to post-secondary education is also critical. If kids have to leave communities… in order to get their degrees finished… they are less likely to come back… It is ridiculous in a province as wealthy as we are that we do not have a university (in Red Deer). It’s very short-sighted.”
There is another battle brewing for the UCP in the education sector, only at the elementary school level. The province’s K-6 draft curriculum has drawn criticism from the Alberta Teachers’ Association, parents and other educators.
Notley said she has heard those voices loud and clear and believes the government needs to scrap the draft altogether and start over.
“A really well functioning, robust, thoughtful, K-12 education system is absolutely critically important for economic growth,” she said.
“It’s important for our kids to get the skills they need to participate in the jobs of the future. It’s also important to attracting investment to Alberta and attracting new people to Alberta… people are not going to come here if they have to worry about their kids going to public school and getting a backwards-looking, plagiarized, disconnected, inaccurate curriculum that excludes many.”
Notley will be speaking at a Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce virtual event on May 7.