So far you know not to vote PC, and we have covered the furthest right of the spectrum with the Wildrose Party. Wildrose is one of the parties picked to upset the PC dynasty. Today we will focus on the New Democratic Party (NDP) who is the furthest left of the spectrum and is making a very surprising surge in the early polls. Alberta is not a traditionally left leaning province but it seems Notley and her group of 87 candidates is making some noise to push for opposition status. The NDP is the furthest left of the parties. I don’t think they are to be confused with the federal NDPs that just wouldn’t fly here. As of right now everyone has conceded the entirety of Edmonton to the NDP basically. The question for them is can they make head way in the PC strong hold of Calgary and even dig some seats out of the traditionally conservative rural ridings.
The NDP is not a young party in Alberta at all. The roots of the party can be traced back to the 1930s when an upstart group out of Calgary, known as the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) started out. The ruling party at the time was the United Farm Association (UFA) and the CCF was even able to convince some UFA members to move into running for the CCF in 1935 (all were unsuccessful in retaining their seats). At the same time they merged with the Alberta Labour Party who still ran candidates under their own banner. They peaked in 1944 with 24% of the popular vote (but only 2 seats) but then declined from there.
In the early 60s the CCF merged with another party (Canadian Labour Congress) and became the New Democratic Party in 1962. Over the bunch of years they would start to work towards some positive momentum. In the 70s the ruling Social Credit party collapsed to the birth of what is now the PC dynasty. Pierre Trudeau screwed the Alberta Liberals by pissing off Albertans with things like the NEP and making everyone Liberal the devil. There was room for the NDP to make headway at this point. Under Rachel Notley’s dear Pa, Grant, the NDPs got themselves towards 20% in popular vote. A lot of people thought Grant was making some good headway in the early 80s but he unfortunately passed in a plane crash, leaving Ray Martin to head up the party and lead them to their best results in 1986. In this election they would capture near 30% of the popular vote and 16 seats. However it was a short lived victory and by 1993 they had zero sitting members in the legislature.
Most recently in the 2008 election, under Brian Mason’s leadership, the party captured 2 seats and less than 10% of the popular vote, finishing 3rd in the running, ahead up the new Wildrose Party. Brian Mason was able to recover to 4 seats in 2012 but moved down the chart to the 4th place party behind the 3rd place Liberals and 2nd place WRP. Their share of the popular vote climbed in 2012 but was still below 10%.
That brings us to today, in 2014 Rachel Notley took over as the party’s leader and has been able to garner a surge of support throughout the province. They enter this election being the only Party to field a full slate of candidate (all 87 ridings) the WRP at 86 is the next closest. Albeit a number of their candidates are NOBs and might be a little more for show of strength than having a realistic run at each riding. However with the current climate the NDP may be able to parlay their strength in Edmonton and a few other spots (Lethbridge West) into an official opposition party or maybe the lynchpin in a minority coalition. They are certainly looking to put their strongest run into the legislature together in 2015. So a little bit of platform info. As a caveat, I don’t see myself as an NDP voter (I have placed an X beside NDP candidates in the past), for me their is a lot of money spent here. I will try not to be too hard on them but I certainly have some questions about things they have campaigned on.
1) EDUCATION – Notley’s plan focuses on repairing the budgets of school boards that have been cut by the PC government, to the tune of about $104 million. She wants to focus on providing a better education experience for students. She has a couple of big hits to do this. First she wants to have class sizes reduce, this is a big issue in Alberta. Over my entire life class size has been growing, offering less direct instruction to students and allowing more students to slip between the cracks. For a student like me I never minded the large classes, I did well and could hide in the fact that teachers had bigger issues and wouldn’t waste too much time on me. Made my lack of commitment easy. For a lot of students smaller class sizes will lead to better grades because of improved access to classroom help. I tend to agree this is a good area to attack. I realize that smaller classrooms will mean hiring more teachers and there is a cost associated with this but I would be interested in seeing some of the plans from their initiatives.
Her next spot to hit the education experience is to offer better access to education via reduced school fees. She is not offering to eliminate entirely but is looking for a way to substantially reduce the fees to parents. One of the areas she would like to focus on fee reduction is in mandatory lunch supervision costs. By funding this program via the public it will mean that fewer parents will have to decide between their kids eating away from the school and instead allowing their children a safe environment to eat lunch at the school. This goes hand-in-hand with Notley’s initiative to fund lunches for children, with a focus on those most in need. In the first year she would have 22,000 children fed by public funded lunches each day. A student with a full stomach can better achieve in school. While I am certainly not pleased to see poverty and hunger an issue for our young people I am not sure I am prepared to fund this for people either. For me I think you should be taking responsibility for feeding your family and if you can’t feed your own children maybe those kids aren’t in a safe home in the first place.
2) HEALTH CARE – I know this is a big plank for the NDP but I will be honest, while reading there platform on this I don’t really see a lot of concrete information. The bulk of the message comes in the statement that there is 600,000 sq ft of hospital shell sitting unused in Calgary, Edmonton in Red Deer. The equivalent of 34 NHL hockey rinks is exactly their comparison. This is a good thing to point out because there is a huge shortage of available beds for patients in this province, especially long term beds. And I agree 100% if we have the infrastructure to use this space then it is certainly something we should look at. The problem with Notley’s plan is the missing info. I could absorb the cost of a health care levy to see this space used, but I don’t think cost is the true issue here. The true issue is the most important resource and that is staff. Alberta is perilously short on the qualified health staff to service these beds as is. A good way to understand the Alberta shortage is to go find a family doc, good luck with that. So we have tapped this resource for all it is worth and we need a solution to stock the professional ranks as well. I am sure Notley could present some solutions, mostly very costly ones, but it isn’t my job to consider programs that the WRP is already presenting as solutions to doctor retention. Notley’s group will end any health care privatization, which is a little bit unfortunate because it could really aid her in finding a way to reduce wait times and hospital congestion. She promises to do those things but from what I have seen so far lacks a concrete plan for offering better access.
Notley is promising to stop cuts to the Health Care system and put a stop to the reorganization of AHS. Both sound pretty could but the truth is that AHS is currently a bureaucratic mess and there are probably some cuts that need to be looked to save some money. But I will take her word for it and she can stop the cuts in order to expand hospitals and offer better service, this is a positive step. As for the reorganization of AHS, the problem here is that system is broken and it actually needs to be looked at. The super board program has distanced administration from the patient and it has led for regional problems to crop up. I agree that the PCs probably haven’t put enough effort into figuring out a better solution for the restructuring but I would love to hear Notley expand on this and explain how she will make AHS a better service without a restructuring. I am sure this is an issue she will get into further as we close on the election day.
3) ETHICAL GOVERNMENT – Again this is the low hanging fruit and everyone gets to kick the PCs here but it is a plank everyone has around. The NDP plan starts by attacking the political donation aspect. They would like to ban all corporate and union donations from the political donation process. The NDP party took a measly 8% of their donations over $250 from corporations in the past years fundraising. They are very close to practicing this policy now. It would take a huge bite out of the PC party’s campaign sponsorship and would damage all others to a varying degree. I can’t say I particularly disagree with this because it eliminates some really bad optics. I do however wonder where the none will come from for some of these party’s. Tightening donation caps might be a more realistic endeavour but I think this little platform policy is fairly admirable.
The other part of this section that catches my eye is creating a so called “sunshine list” for infrastructure projects, and extending that list in provincial boards, commissions and agencies. I don’t envy the job of selecting who gets what infrastructure first but this is a positive idea. There is a need for prioritization that benefits the citizens of the province. Capital projects like $9.3 million to a golf course would certainly fall way down this list. To me there is a need for that. By promising to allow the Auditor General the powers to look into these things as well, the NDP are creating a potential for a good check and balance.
All in all the whole government ethics is a good plank but really it is a pretty easy one. If someone presents a crappy ethics in government plank I don’t think they should be running.
4) FAMILY, COMMUNITY AND ENVIRONMENT – My wife said to me it is easy to perceive the NDP as a family first party. But the truth is they aren’t, the party is all about the village helping raise the children. A family first party would work hard to put more money in Albertans dreams and allow them to spend it on their family. That isn’t where the NDP goes. I have a personal beef with most family initiatives because people determine family under a political banner that doesn’t fit all families. I know many people who are a lovely family of 2 beautiful committed adults with a dog or two. They are not going to have children, and by making this choice the government will determine they are not family. All governments are guilty of this and it is truly a sack of shit.
The NDP has a lengthy plank here and I will try and group the points together so it seems a bit cohesive. Starting with children. The NDP would work towards lower child care costs to $25 a day in quality child care centres. Seems reasonable as a goal to me but I know little about running a child care operation and wonder what the hard numbers on this will be. Notley’s plan does allow for a caveat here with the statement “As Alberta’s Finances Permit.” I would like to see her expand on that and I hope it gets a look in the upcoming debate. The NDP are looking to reverse cuts to services to children in care in order to better protect this children. The NDP also wants to reform the system so that incidents within this system are reviewed quickly in order to find resolutions and avoid continued flaws. Hard to argue with protecting kids in these categories, so thumbs up to the NDP here.
Next is a bit of how it will get to those outside of the children. The NDP is looking to enhance the tax credits for working families to make them more accessible to the low income families in need of support. Again my only issue here is how we are defining families, I am wondering why my wife and I qualify for a credit if we are low income or if we have to procreate first. We are no less a working family but all previous governments have refused family like ours these credits. These credits to working families without children would allow them to invest in a better life and prepare to have children when they were in a better financial position to do so. This is definitely lacking the detail to approve or not. A look at employment standards is in there to better allow for compassionate care leaves and “time off for other family responsibilities.” Tough one to comment on because we all agree compassionate care needs some protection but what the hell else is “other family responsibilities” My wife and I moved into a new house this past October, we had a few trade days, those were a family responsibility, will these be included in new legislation? I hope not but I would like to see these defined a little better. My guess is there would be some protection for dealing with children and doctors and other more serious family items. In which case a little employment protection certainly could be helpful. The final one I see worth mentioning to families is a look at regulating energy prices so families have the ability to better project the costs associated with energy. Seems good but the truth is life hasn’t been so bad with energy deregulated. I have some family in Ontario, and recently on their Facebook they had been discussing the Ontario Hydro bills. I have to say if that is where government regulation goes to, I want no part of it. The truth is, most regulated government programs are filled with bureaucratic costs that I don’t want to deal with. As it is now there is some unpredictability within the market. Sometimes we see some high energy prices but at the other end, if we regulate out those highs, we will have to regulate out the lows to protect the energy companies from going bankrupt. Double edged sword for sure and this is an absolute issue I can not back.
Next target here is women. The first one is gender equality. I have to be honest, this issue needs some further research and it is a pop culture issue. If you look closely at things like wage disparity you will see a lot of contributing factors to what happens. Women leave the work place more often then men to raise children for a period of time, so that speaks to less experience. While the gender gap of the past was an issue (just watch Mad Men), I think one thing we are forgetting is the transition doesn’t happen over night. Women have become a huge part of the executive level of business but still drag behind men, these levels of business take a long time to achieve, we can’t affirmative action our way to a solution. A good example here is my wife. She is very successful at work, she manages a major department in her company and is a huge contributor to conferences and professional associations. Her name is recognizable and she is at the top of her industry right now. She is also paid just as much as her male counterparts, in situations where she is not factors like work experience and work location factor in. I would like to see a truly comprehensive study of all the factors that contribute to this issue before we march to the polls to tell men they have it so easy. Gender equality is here and has been for a long time, this is a moot issue. The other focus of the NDP on women is providing more women’s shelters to help end family violence. I feel like this point runs slightly counter to the gender equality one. Hear me out now. I am all for more shelters to protect people from abusive and destructive homes. Family violence is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed. I am glad Notley feels it is a campaign issue. Intervening in these families and helping people out of situations, along with their children is how we break the cycle of family violence. But lets invest in all shelters aimed at ending family violence. Certainly here is an area that men faced with family violence are underserved. Lets commit more money to all forms of shelters and family violence intervention. Maybe not so selective to just women. Seems a little buzz wordy the way it is now.
The environment section surrounds becoming a cleaner province. I am certainly ok with hearing some the ideas here. The NDP is looking to get out of coal power generation and move towards solar and wind power to help clean up our energy production. Good ideas, I think we will have to open our minds to nuclear as well to fill the demands of the province but I am ok with looking into alternative energy sources. I live in a major city and I can see the smog, I am not against cleaning that up a bit. There is also a loan program to help retrofit inside of business and farms to move towards cleaner business solutions. If it is executed correctly also something worth seeing done. For the most part I can get on side here. I would be worried about a cap and trade system like we see in Ontario and Quebec. The NDP doesn’t come out and say the would be into so hopefully they will stay away from that wealth redistribution program and look for real answers. For the most part I can get on side with their environment initiatives.
Outside of that I would say go hit this section of the NDP plan in their platform document. It is extensive and I could write a blog just on it. Some of it is good and some if it doesn’t sit so well with me. There are some promises to municipalities and cities, a look into Alberta’s agricultural future and renewed deal with indigenous people. The cities is mostly just babble promises, I don’t really know anything about agriculture and the truth is I am not a member of the first nations so really don’t have much knowledge or interest in that portion of the policy. I don’t really understand the needs of government in regards to First Nations and it would be unfair to comment. I read it but it sways me neither way.
5) ECONOMY DIVERSIFICATION AND FISCAL PLAN – At the risk of over simplifying, I am combining these two planks because I think there is at least some marriage between how we diversify the economy and how we make plans to balance our budget.
The NDP starts with their diversification of our economy policy. I think this is the response to Jim Prentice’s annoying ” Get off the Resource Rollercoaser” bullshit. Alberta is definitely a one trick pony. As the oil goes so do we. But lets be honest all of Canada is on that one oil thing right now and all of Canada benefitted from the Oil surge. The problem is, of course, when you wager on something that is boom bust you have to ride out both ends. Alberta’s new buzz is to get less tied to Oil profits. It won’t be easy but if we can invest in diversification that would sure help stabilize the lows a little bit. The NDP has some good and bad here. The bad is the job creation tax credit for corporations who create jobs. As it stands those who will most benefit will be oil companies, because when the best ends the boom will create a lot of jobs, I think this plan is a vote grab with little actual thought put into it. The double edged section is the review of royalties. I think its a good time to do this with the oil companies hurting. They can’t function on their standard threats of leaving because the oil isn’t better elsewhere. The oil belongs to Alberta and it wouldn’t hurt for us to start discussing a new plan with these corporations. I will be honest, I know a really nice guy, one of the best dudes I ever met. He is the CEO of a very successful energy company. I re-iterate I really like the guy, down to earth and easy to get along with. Can’t think of a lot of guys I would rather see succeed. But he makes a shit ton of money in the energy industry and his company makes a shit ton of revenue, I think there is room for negotiation here. A little more bad is the push of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Let’s be honest there aren’t a ton of minimum wage jobs in a prosperous Alberta for a reason. But by artificially forcing wages up we also force the costs of all those services up, so this really becomes an unofficial bullshit tax. The good, a focus on moving more resources to support other sectors like high tech and knowledge industries. Alberta has a thriving film industry that we can continue to embrace and of course Notley hits the home run when she talks about small breweries (Old Ralphy would be so proud). I am all for supporting other industries to grow the diversification of our economy. This means more jobs and more industry to support Alberta. Win-win from where I stand.
Alright on to the greasy stuff the Fiscal end. First off lets see where these taxes lead. We know with NDP they always want more of your money and here is where they separate themselves as a non-viable option for government. So the corporate tax goes up to 12% (from 10), I can sort of get on side here I think there is room to look at corporate tax, although I would like to see it on a progressive scale according to revenues or profits, since it seems ok to go progressive on incomes of individuals. As for individuals we got a pretty ugly sliding tax here. As it says they will be asking “10% of filers” to carry the tax burden in Alberta. The scale is this 12% for those earning $125,00-$150,00 13% $150,00-$200,000, 14% $200,00-$300,00 and 15% to those over $300,000. There needs to be a better way. You are now going to be asking families to contribute as much as 45% of their income (federal and provincial) to taxes. Those dollars can no longer be spent on their families, charities or put back into the economy by purchases. This tax regime is restrictive but it is an easy sale because it is easy to prey on the envy of those not in those tax brackets. You are asking for a lot of money from a lot of hard working Albertans. I don’t think this is a prudent plan. My guess is this coupled with corporate taxes will force a lot of businesses to consider relocation when possible. That is not the Alberta advantage. For once I would like to see a government come up with a solution that wasn’t their hands in the taxpayers pocket. Donating near half of your salary to taxes is incredibly punitive. Lets remember that those tax payers were already paying more. If you made $50,000 a year and paid 10% provincial tax you sent in $5,000, very reasonable considering your salary. If you made $500,000 a year you paid $50,000 you are already shouldering the bulk of the tax burden. Progressive taxes are stupid. If you wanted to make a tax that would generate a lot of revenue you would go to a sales tax. A PST would generate revenue because no one considers the tax they pay when they pick up groceries. You stimulate the economy by encouraging spending and you collect taxes while doing it. Some places have found that eliminating income tax in favour of a Sales Tax actually generates more revenue then their income tax did. Politicians are too simple and voters are too. A sales tax isn’t a bad thing. The people who make more would still shoulder the bulk of the tax burden because they would be more sales tax because they also spend more. In the same sentence the NDP is promising progressive tax they bitch about how the tax levy can save working families $1000 dollars. The people who pay $1000 are the same ones they want to hammer with the progressive tax, that seems like a trick play on their part but a bit what are these people, the ones worth bilking or hard working Albertans, come on Rachel we all want to know what you think? Where her fiscal plan does get it right is reversing the damage the PCs are doing by cutting charitable tax credits. This was a ridiculous move by the PCs and the NDP are right on to reverse this one right away.
At the end of the day, Rachel Notley has done a great job as the NDP leader. This is a tough blog to write because really the NDP is not a good way to go. In other provinces the NDP has decimated the economy and Alberta would see similar results. The other provinces leaned on Alberta in Federal transfer payments, but who will Alberta lean on. A lot of the social initiatives that the NDP brings to the front are valuable and I think they would be the best official opposition. I think they would hold the government accountable to Albertans in ways we haven’t seen done before. I think an NDP opposition would be better than a WRP opposition if Albertans are dumb enough to give the PC party another mandate. I think the work Rachel Notley would do as leader of the opposition would be very valuable, but I think the NDP as a leading party could be incredibly detrimental to this province. The costs of business from an NDP led government is just too high, and we need to start taking it out of the hard working Albertans in all classes and salary ranges. The NDP is focused on tax funded revenue, this province needs more creative ideas than that to be prosperous.
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