With our first non-PC government in nearly half a century it is no surprise that this sitting of the legislature proved an eventful one.
The session began with its most important issue: the budget. Faced with trying economic times and an inherited infrastructure deficit from the failed policies of the past PC government the new government was faced with a dire challenge. They rightfully chose to move the province forward addressing our unemployment rate, shortfall of schools, and infrastructure maintenance needs with a deficit budget aimed at stimulating the economy.
However, for every NDP success this budget there was also a failure. The new debt we are taking on, while largely necessary, has not come with a debt repayment plan. Make no mistake, while harsh austerity measures would have been short sighted and harmful, a failure to implement a debt repayment plan is just as irresponsible. Furthermore, the NDP still refuse to look at all measures to ease the pressures on Alberta’s small businesses or to take a critical look at savings through the evaluation of outcomes for our public services, something that is particularly important in healthcare.
Bill 7, passed unanimously, was one of the few untarnished bright spots of the session. It served to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of transgender orientation. Transgender individuals are tragically faced with bullying and discrimination as well as higher mental illness and suicide rates. While this amendment far from solves all the difficult issues faced by this community it is nonetheless a promising start to ensuring they are granted the free and equal treatment that all citizens are entitled to.
In regards to mental illness, I have continued my work co-chairing The Mental Health and Addictions Review. We have received over 3000 written submissions and held scores of meetings with people in care, their families and professionals. It is my hope that upon review of our work this government will implement the necessary changes to improve access, quality and efficiency of care.
Lastly, I would like to address Bill 6 the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. I have long fought for such legislative changes and was happy to see that I, and those I have advocated for, were listened to by this government. It is about time Alberta lived up to the standards of the Western World when it comes to farm safety. However, this has not been an unblemished victory. Due to political opportunism on the part of the Wild Rose and poor public consultation and communications on the part of the NDP what should have been a simple legislative change has turned into a viciously divisive debate in our province. I hope both sides, particularly the Wild Rose, have learned their lesson because this is no way to conduct healthy and respectful debate in our province.
While this is far from a comprehensive summary of this session I hope it helps you understand the valuable work the Alberta Liberal Caucus does in our legislature. This session we have fought for the safety of our farmers, the betterment of our mental health system, the fair and equal treatment of transgendered citizens, economic recovery and fiscal responsibility. We have won some, but not all, of these battles and will continue to fight for these and other issues in order to make Alberta a more just and prosperous place for all.