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Evaluating the Alberta NDP's first 2023 election policy proposals
The NDP has spent lots of time responding to Danielle Smith's latest outrages, but it also has released a dozen policies well in advanced of May's scheduled election
Last week on Twitter, I expressed my exasperation at the NDP calling on Premier Danielle Smith to apologize for saying unvaccinated people are the most persecuted population in her lifetime. Smith’s lifetime, however, began in 1971, when residential schools were still operating, apartheid was the official policy in South Africa, and you could lose your job for being gay.
Of course, what the premier said was idiotic and became an international embarrassment. But my point was the NDP can’t just run against Smith — to succeed, they need to offer Albertans a positive alternative.
Two hours after my tweet, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci wrote a Twitter thread outlining some of the NDP’s concrete policy positions.
The policies Ceci posted were drawn from the NDP’s caucus website, which lists 28 topics but proposes policies only for 12 of them. The rest will, presumably, be rolled out as we approach election season in May.
If you’re looking for policies on affordable housing, renewable energy, Indigenous economic participation and the arts, you’ll have to wait. Many of these proposals are old, with some dating back as far as October 2020, when the webpage launched. If they’re from earlier than this year, I’ve noted the date they were released.
So how do they stack up? You decide.
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The NDP proposes to index income taxes and benefits to inflation. Finance critic Shannon Phillips approvingly quotes former premier Jason Kenney calling de-indexed income taxes a “pernicious and insidious tax grab” when he was in charge of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in the ‘90s.
But this policy conflates two very different things — vulnerable Albertans having their financial aid cut and higher-income earners needing to pay more in income taxes.
This proposal refers to the latter as a “tax on inflation” five times, reflecting the Third Way liberalism the NDP has come to embrace since winning power in 2019, a political position that deems taxation as something to be deeply ashamed of.
The product of consultations started in December 2020, the NDP’s anti-racism policy is divided into six categories: health care, education, public safety, community support, economic participation, and democratic participation. However, there’s no actual section in the website for community support.
If returned to power, the NDP says they’ll begin collecting race-based data and establish a provincial anti-racism strategy, in addition to implementing government-wide anti-racism training. It’s unclear if this training will be mandatory.
They will also ensure access to polling stations on First Nations reserves with information in Indigenous languages.
Most solutions offered in each section can essentially be summarized as “more diversity,” which is good but without any discussion of root causes is superficial.
An NDP government will match funding for the City of Calgary’s $100-million investment in converting vacant office space into residential buildings, emulating a similar initiative in Detroit, where downtown vacancy rates bottomed at 14%, compared to 32% in Calgary.
The NDP will also match the city’s $55-million investment in downtown vibrancy, which will go towards upgrading Olympic Plaza, improvements to Stephen Avenue and establishing a downtown public market.
They will also collaborate with Calgary’s post-secondary institutions to establish more downtown campuses to help create an “innovation district” downtown.
The NDP will also look into a cost-sharing agreement to build the Calgary-Banff rail line between the province, feds and Bow Valley Corridor. The UCP put this project on ice for its $30 million a year for 50 years price tag.
Advanced education critic David Eggen vows the NDP will “reverse course and fast” on the UCP’s cuts to post-secondary education.
The proposal calls for the cancellation of the UCP’s performance-based funding model, which ties post-secondary funding to vague post-graduation employment criteria, and a return to capping tuition at the rate of inflation.
The party proposes “stable and predictable” funding for post-secondaries, but doesn’t provide any specific numbers.
They also want to work with post-secondaries to establish programs for upgrading skills and credentials, and to publicly report and evaluate the success of these programs.
The party pledges to make internet access universal by 2027. Its proposal from Nov. 25, 2021, is dubbed “Bridging the Digital Divide” — a reference to the gap in broadband connectivity between urban and rural Alberta.
The NDP will create a new government agency, Digital Innovation Alberta, which will conduct regular speed and reliability assessments across Alberta, and publicly report those results.
Within the first year of government, the NDP will introduce a Building Broadband Faster in Alberta Act to streamline the process for installing, constructing and maintaining broadband infrastructure.
This policy was first unveiled at last year’s Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention. In the proposal, the NDP takes pains to point out their policy is modelled after the “innovative legislation” of Ontario’s conservative government.
Leader Rachel Notley says she wants to provide “consistency and certainty” for funding Alberta’s tech and AI sectors in the proposal from Feb. 22, 2021.
The party will establish an arms-length Alberta Venture Fund, which will allow wealthy Albertans to invest in tech and AI, with a $200-million investment from the government to kick start the fund.
The NDP will also introduce a Research and Development Fund, modelled after Israel’s, which will subsidize R&D projects through a loan of 20% to 50%.
The NDP vows to use more than $100 million in child care funds that were unspent in 2021-21 due to the pandemic.
They also want to create an online mapping portal to connect parents with child care providers in their neighbourhoods, and to determine where in Alberta child care needs aren’t being met.
In the initial proposal, from Oct. 3, 2020, the party says it will fully implement the $25-a-day child care program it piloted while in government and expand it to all licensed non-profit and private day cares.
But after the feds announced they’d reached a child care agreement with UCP in November 2021, the party added an addendum to their proposal. The NDP would take $3.8 billion in federal funds to reduce the cost to $10-a-day by 2025-26 and invest in more licensed spaces in the meantime.
The NDP policy proposal, which is dated Nov. 19, 2021, wants the criteria for evaluating infrastructure projects to be aligned with those of municipalities.
They also want infrastructure projects to be built with reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in mind, akin to a $100-million investment to upgrade water infrastructure in First Nations communities they made when in power.
The NDP would also make greenhouse gas reductions a priority for new infrastructure, but their platform provides scant details on how they will do that.
Hydrogen has potential as an efficient energy source due to its high energy density, but the challenge is how to store it, as it requires turning it into a liquid or compressing it. It’s also highly flammable.
The NDP criticizes the UCP for focusing exclusively on blue hydrogen, which is produced from natural gas, to the detriment of renewable green hydrogen. Unsurprisingly, the NDP says it wants to support both.
In its proposal, dated Oct. 16, 2020, the party says it will examine the feasibility of a hydrogen export pipeline while considering a loan guarantee program to support hydrogen projects provided they meet “strict criteria.” The details of these criteria aren’t noted.
They also want to establish local ”made-in-Alberta hydrogen hubs,” which are partnerships between the government, industry and community partners to focus on production, storage, transportation and application.
The NDP agriculture policy zeroes in on the need to increase “value-added” production, such as turning potatoes into chips or packing meat, and expand the value of the original project by having that work done in Alberta.
To that effect, the NDP wants to provide an incentive for Alberta producers to engage in value-added production, but is non-commital as to whether that would take the form of loan guarantees, tax breaks or grants.
They say they would create a six-month task force to determine what industry is interested in and make recommendations for big agribusiness and small local producers.
The party also proposes hiring more staff at Agriculture, Forestry, and Rural Economic Development; Environment and Parks; Transportation; and the Alberta Energy Regulator to navigate agricultural regulatory considerations quicker.
The NDP policy from June 10, 2021, focuses on asphaltenes, which occur at the bottom of a barrel of crude and constitute 10% to 15% of its capacity. This policy paper says the “opportunity is energy transformation, rather than transition.”
By extracting asphaltenes the NDP says pipeline capacity will be freed up by 40% and allow part of a barrel of oil to go towards non-combustion purposes, such as petrochemicals or asphalt.
The NDP also wants to incorporate asphaltenes into the Alberta Petrochemical Incentive Program, promote products made from asphaltenes to become part of federal manufacturing strategies and increase funding for Alberta Innovates so it can conduct more research into non-combustion uses for oil.
Geothermal energy is a form of renewable energy generated by the Earth’s core and produced by pumping hot steam or water from the Earth’s subsurface
The NDP proposal from Nov. 6, 2020, includes establishing a royalty regime for geothermal energy.
Additionally, the NDP wants to create an online portal to provide private companies with resources and information on purchasing geothermal energy and create a fund to assist companies in doing so.
They also promise to establish a program to help provide resources to municipalities who want to establish community geothermal generation projects, similar to a previous program that assisted municipalities with moving forward with solar energy projects.
The NDP wants to establish partnerships between the geothermal and oil and gas industries to share data, which could be useful for finding local geothermal resources.
They also propose using federal funds to subsidize orphan well cleanup for companies looking to invest in potential geothermal sites.
Edited by Ximena González