Alberta provincial leaders debate tackles pressing concerns facing Albertans
By Eula Mengullo, May 20 2023—
A provincial leaders debate was hosted on May 18 in anticipation of the provincial elections happening on May 29.
United Conservative Party (UCP) leader Danielle Smith and New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Rachel Notley took turns answering questions and engaging in an open debate on key topics involving affordability, health care, the economy and education.
In light of ongoing inflation, Smith highlighted that they plan on offering an eight per cent income tax rebate 15,000 dollars per family.
To tackle the cost of utility bills, Notley plans on re-introducing a cap on car insurance that had been removed by the UCP government to reduce the costs for households. Focusing on the cost of health care as it impacts affordability, Notley confronts Smith on her position regarding Albertans paying out of pocket.
“You have argued passionately, in multiple settings, for your belief in making people pay more for their health care,” said Notley. “Why are you not running on the thing that you believe? Why are you not being honest with Albertans?”
In discussing her plans for health care, Smith emphasized that she will ensure Albertans will not have to pay out of pocket and discussed her collaboration with front liners in addressing concerns surrounding the system.
“Hospital wait times are down, EMS response times are down, we have effectively ended red alerts for EMS,” said Smith. “Ambulances in rural are staying in rural areas and we’re reducing the surgical wait times.”
Smith outlined that during her term, she has worked with frontline workers to ensure that their voices are heard and their ideas are being implemented. She believes that by continuing this approach, the surgical backlog will be completed by the following year.
For Notley, an emphasis was placed on addressing the shortage of family physicians and ensuring that Albertans have access to family doctors.
“[Albertans] are particularly tired of having the UCP tell them that there is no problem. There is a problem and we’ve put forward a reasonable practical solution,” said Notley.
“The answer is to get more Albertans access to a family doctor. By doing that we can take the pressure off of our emergency rooms, our surgical wait times, our ambulances,” she continued.
Smith highlighted that they have signed an agreement with the Alberta Medical Association that would allow for team practice amongst healthcare practitioners to increase access to primary care. As Notley repeatedly pressed Smith to address her position on privatized health care, Smith continued to emphasize that the UCP has increased the number of health practitioners “more than the last three years.”
“The system is working, we got much more work to do but we gotta continue on the work that we have because I got the courage to talk to the frontlines and implement their decisions,” said Smith.
Notley addressed that Alberta — in comparison to other Western provinces — is lagging behind in filling up residency spots for family physicians due to Smith’s actions.
“We don’t have family doctors coming here to Alberta and the reason is because Smith is referring to them as ‘tyrants’ and suggesting that people who follow public health orders are Nazi sympathizers,” said Notley.“These things undermine the ability to attract frontline health care professionals.”
In response, Smith accused Notley of being in denial about the longevity of surgical wait times during her term as premier.
“Notley would have to admit that she didn’t actually have the courage to take on the challenge of reforming health care,” said Smith. “I do, and we’re already making progress. Of course, there’s much more to do but I am confident that with a new mandate, we will be able to continue making this progress.”
With regard to the economy, both candidates share the common element of reducing carbon emissions in their policies.
Smith believes that emissions can be reduced, but assured that it will not be at the expense of the oil and gas sector. She plans on strengthening the energy industry while attracting investments.
Similarly, Notley wants to take advantage of the economic opportunities by creating jobs while reducing emissions.
“The difference is the UCP caucus has spent years pitting emission reductions efforts against economic growth,” said Notley. “What we wanna do is understand the economic opportunities that come from investing in emission reduction, attracting investment from other parts of the world and growing jobs while ensuring greater markets for our oil and gas.”
Smith highlighted that decreasing taxes on businesses allows for the diversification of the economy and investments that consequently create more jobs.
“When you reduce taxes, you end up attracting jobs and investment and people,” said Smith. “When you increase taxes, you chase it away. [Notley] wants to increase taxes again, we can’t let her do that.”
On this note, Notley brought up Smith’s campaign on the Alberta Sovereignty Act which she had been warned about to potentially chase investments away. Additionally, Notley took the opportunity to underscore that Smith has been recently found guilty of interfering in the system of justice, which Notley deemed would only drive investments further as it “profoundly compromises the rule of law.”
Addressing the question of corporate taxes, Notley assured to make Alberta’s corporate taxes the lowest in the country. She noted encompassing goals to rebuild certain areas in society to attract investments.
“At the same time, we will have the income necessary to rebuild our education, rebuild our post-secondary and invest in an appropriate state of health care. And all of that attracts investment,” said Notley.
With regard to education, Smith outlined that her plan is to restore the stability of the educational system after it was disrupted by the pandemic. Smith talked about funding school trustees to allocate resources for mental health and transportation as she deemed it best for local school boards to decide how they would be spent. In addition, they will also invest in building more schools.
By contrast, Notley plans to address the overcrowding of classrooms due to the dismissal of teachers and educational assistants under the UCP government. She stressed the profound funding cuts made by the UCP government and highlighted her plans for recovery which include hiring more teachers and educational assistants.
The discussion became intense after a wildcard question was posed to both leaders over who Albertans should trust more.
After having been found guilty of breaching conflict of interest rules, Smith deems herself credible to lead Alberta as she had recovered jobs lost under Notley’s leadership. She remarked that Notley has not been completely transparent in increasing the carbon tax and corporate tax, on top of accruing debt. Smith also prides herself in attracting more people and investments in the province.
On the other hand, given Notley’s fiscal record as Alberta premier, Notley highlighted that her new fiscal plan guarantees a proposed surplus of 3.6 billion dollars. Further, she emphasized that she has not interfered in the system of justice, unlike her opponent.
“This is a fundamentally important issue,” said Notley. “That does not at all engender trust, more than that it engenders fear on the part of Albertans,” Notley continued.
This was denied by Smith, accusing Notley, the NDP and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) of lying, according to the findings of the ethics commissioner. She further pivoted to Notley’s fiscal record that brought down Alberta’s rank in the Global Petroleum Survey.
In their closing remarks, the candidates gave their final pitch to Albertans
“My commitment to each of you, if re-elected, is to serve you with everything I have and to the best of my ability, however imperfect that may be at times. I will continue to focus on growing and diversifying our amazing economy, making life more affordable and our communities safer and improving health care for all Albertans,” said Smith.
“My offer to you is stable, predictable, thoughtful leadership that you can count on. I will make life more affordable, capping car insurance and lowering your utilities. I will support our entrepreneurial spirit by cutting to zero small business taxes and creating more jobs. I have a balanced costed budget plan to make sure you get a family doctor. That’s a better future for Alberta,” said Notley.
To watch a recap of the debate, visit the CTV News Website.