Alberta goes to the polls for the provincial election on Tuesday, April 16, after a 28-day political campaign. The election call was expected given that fixed-election date laws require an election to be called before May 1. Ahead of election day, The Central Peace Signal reached out to the MLA candidates for a question-and-answer that hopefully will help residents to form an informed decision. Alberta Party candidate Travis McKim has not responded to our Q&A request.
Please discuss how you plan to create jobs, attract fresh investments, and spur economic growth in Central Peace and area.
McCuaig-Boyd: Rachel Notley has gone from coast to coast to coast, standing up for our energy sector. She moved the dial from four-in-ten Canadians supporting the Trans Mountain expansion to seven-in-ten. We know the project will get built because of her hard work. While Jason Kenney’s only plan for our energy sector is phoney publicity stunts, we have a Made in Alberta plan to get more value for oil. We’re encouraging more petrochemical diversification, partial upgrading and refining. That plan has already unlocked new private sector investment such as the Nauticol project to build a methanol plant near Grande Prairie. In our next term, we will continue this work.
I will also work with local communities like Falher, MD of Spirit River and Saddle Hills County on next steps for new value-added agricultural opportunities like hemp decortication, pulse processing and nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing.
Loewen: The United Conservatives have laid out a comprehensive and ambitious plan to create jobs across the province with a pro-growth, job creation tax cut and reducing the amount of burdensome red tape on development. Economists have estimated this will drive the creation of 55,000 new jobs.
We will also be scrapping the carbon tax and using every policy and legal lever available to us in fighting the imposition of Trudeau’s unconstitutional federal carbon tax. In the Peace Country, we understand that the use of oil and gas products is non-negotiable. We need to transport our products (both into and out of our communities). We need to heat our homes and businesses. We have to dry our grain and run our equipment. I have talked to many local businesses whose carbon tax bill has been in the tens of thousands of dollars or more. These businesses would like to invest in growth and in new employees, but they are being stifled.
I think that what is best for the Peace Country is to pursue pro-growth policies that allow our core industries – oil and gas, agriculture, and forestry, plus all the businesses that work in tandem with those industries – to compete in global markets. For me, it is a priority to see Alberta shed its unfortunate “closed for business” reputation and take common sense steps to speed up approvals for development, both for private projects and public infrastructure.
Meyer: We are a pro-markets party. We need to let businesses and consumers chart the course of the economy. We support our energy sector but understand we build economic resilience with growth in emerging sectors. Small business inject $100 billion into our economy every year. Our plan will help new business during their challenging start-up years.
As a small business owner, I know personally how much I’ve struggled to keep the business viable without anywhere to turn to get the help I needed. Our plan would be to make funding available to kick-start business expansion and provide new jobs.
Delays in the construction of the new Grande Prairie Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre has resulted in local patients battling serious medical conditions being referred to health facilities 4-5 hours away to access services that otherwise would have been available to them in Grande Prairie. Do you have a plan in place to support these patients in any way?
McCuaig-Boyd: We’ve all had family members who needed treatment and have to travel long distances. I understand the impact these construction delays are having on real families.
By their own admission, the previous government was building the hospital at the same time as they were trying to design it. They left us a frustrating mess that Rachel Notley and our government has worked hard to fix. The new Grande Prairie hospital will get built. The question is: what services can we expect when the doors open?
If Rachel Notley is re-elected, we will have the nurses and doctors we need to provide expanded services in the region.
Jason Kenney has a different plan. He is proposing the biggest corporate tax giveaway in Alberta’s history, and he’s planning big healthcare cuts to pay for it. Under his plan, even if the hospital was opened today, there would be no money for doctors and nurses we need.
Loewen: I have heard a number of very concerning problems with the construction of the Grande Prairie Hospital, and it seems that much of it stems from the way that we have deviated from the original construction plans. There are multiple government departments involved in this project and confusion seems to reign. It is unacceptable that infrastructure projects should be subject to so many delays and added costs for each year that crawls by.
In terms of what needs to be done for patients in the meantime, I think that it’s worth exploring different mobile options that can allow diagnostic and treatment services to be offered from town to town in a cost-effective way. Regardless of the status of the GP Hospital, it is my opinion that we should be trying to offer services in rural Alberta as much as possible rather than consolidating our health services in large, urban areas that can be hours away.
Meyer: Currently there are a number of supports available, including free flights with West Jet to Edmonton or Calgary; billeting; and volunteer drivers to taxi patients to and from appointments. Also, there are a number of private businesses who provide funding for personal needs because they support our local communities.
When the new hospital is completed – hopefully soon – radiation therapy will become available in Grande Prairie, eliminating the need to travel.
The controversy over the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project has given rise to discussion in conversation circles within the oil-and-gas industry of the need for Alberta to build its own oil refinery. If elected, will you press to have a major oil refinery built in Alberta?
McCuaig-Boyd: I believe that building a new refinery would create good-paying, long-term jobs. When combined with our effort to get our resources to new markets, new refining capacity could help lower the oil price differential over the long term and ensure we get full value for the energy resources owned by all Albertans.
That’s why, in response to industry encouragement, we issued a Request for Expressions of Interest in December 2018 to determine business cases for investing in a new refinery in Alberta or one tied to Alberta production. Companies had until February 8 to submit an Expression of Interest. To be eligible, proposed projects must be physically located in Alberta or tied to an Alberta facility and be a new facility, an expansion of an existing facility, or a combination of both. Furthermore, any proposed facility must only use Alberta-produced feedstock.
The results from the Expression of Interest will inform next steps.
Loewen: The policy of the United Conservatives is that we should be incentivizing development through broad-based tax and regulatory relief. If we set up competitive conditions, investment will flow to where it is best suited. When the government attempts to pick winners and losers, it often ends up backstopping poor investments with taxpayer dollars – investments that the private sector did not find viable.
It is also important to consider that even with more refinement here, we would still be faced with pipeline capacity shortages. Even with the refining we already do here in Alberta, we still need to get it to foreign markets.
Meyer: We believe the question is not pipeline versus refinery because we need both. We would support the building of a major refinery because it creates jobs and adds value-added component to the oil that we produce.
We have seen that our product is being purchased in other provinces at a cheaper price (petrol) than here in Alberta. Since we all know the reason is proximity to a refinery I can think of no reason why we shouldn’t be refining our own oil.
Alberta has announced spending $3.7 billion to move 120,000 barrels per day by rail by mid-2020. Smaller shipments will begin in summer 2019. Already, concerns have been raised that grain shipments will stall once Alberta begins shipping more oil by rail. What do you say to farmers who are worried that more oil by rail will create logjams and delay grain shipments?
McCuaig-Boyd: This investment in crude by rail will have no impact on the shipment of agricultural products because we are purchasing new capacity on the rail network.
Every Albertan will benefit from this investment. Our economy will benefit from an estimated US$4 per barrel reduction in differential between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select from early 2020 to late 2021. These actions will give oil and gas companies a little more breathing room, including small producers who do not have the ability to take this action on their own.
Taxpayers will benefit as well. We anticipate that, with commercial revenue and increased royalty and tax revenues, the province will generate approximately $5.9 billion over the next three years, for a profit to taxpayers of more than $2 billion in revenue.
Loewen: I believe that the NDP’s massive taxpayer-funded oil-by-rail plan exposes Alberta to tremendous risk at a huge cost that experts have already claimed is much higher than the market rate. Once again, this is an example of how government interference in the market can create economic distortions and unintended, negative consequences. Of course, one of these serious unintended consequences has been the risk of reducing access and driving up costs for getting our grain to market at a time when the agricultural producers are already being squeezed by new taxes, regulations, and trade disputes.
A UCP government would not go along with this plan, and instead find free market solutions to moving our oil in the short-term. In the long-term, the solution is the construction of pipelines. On that, we must be prepared to fight for our provincial interests.
It has become apparent that Alberta is not getting a fair deal in Confederation and that our oil-and-gas industry has been subject to slanderous attacks from foreign-funded opponents. It’s time to get foreign money out of politics, counter the smears of anti-oil activists, and play every card in our hand to get a proper deal for Alberta from the rest of Canada.
If this means pulling our equalization dollars and turning off the taps to BC, then we are prepared to use these options to assert ourselves as a province. As we’ve seen with the grain issues, the Notley-Trudeau alliance’s failure to deliver on pipelines is now having unacceptable impacts on other sectors beyond oil and gas.
Meyer: We believe that this a band aid that tries to resolve one problem and creates another and has very little benefit. The real solution is go straight to solving the problem – which is pipelines and refineries.
We would support the farming community by creating new markets and be there to solve any problems with getting the product to market.