This release was issued under a previous government.
First of all, I would like to acknowledge that, while I am honoured to be invited here to your convention floor, I would also respectfully observe that we are on the traditional territory of the Treaty 6 First Nations people.
Now, I believe the next order of business is a hearty congratulations to your executive on their election this morning!
You know, this is my first formal opportunity to thank you all in person for your support, for your best wishes on my election and on the election of your fellow members as new NDP MLAs. Let’s hear it for: MLAs Heather Sweet, Nicole Goehring, and Erin Babcock! Regretfully, Kim Schreiner, another AUPE member, could not be here today.
So what an appropriate convention theme – because we have truly made history, and now we have the chance to build the future.
And I’m happy to say we started building that future the moment we took office. We began to redefine what Alberta is about, by taking leadership on what really matters.
We froze tuition fees to help families put kids through the colleges, universities and technical institutes that AUPE members keep running.
We put funding back into K-12 schools, protecting 800 support staff positions, and making sure new students arriving in classrooms had teachers there waiting for them.
And we restored health care funding, saving 1,500 frontline positions that are absolutely vital to ensuring Albertans get the service they need.
And finally, we increased the minimum wage, to help the lowest paid workers in Alberta make ends meet for their families.
And, I am proud to say, my Cabinet is the first in the history of this province to have full gender equity.
As your Premier, I am committed to the Alberta way of doing things. That means talking straight, keeping promises, and supporting the services families count on to support children, to support parents, and to support grandparents.
Albertans were given three options in the last election, and not all of them did things the Alberta way:
One was a party that had become arrogant and entitled, putting the interests of corporate donors ahead of regular people. The next was an extreme party that vowed to cut billions from health care and education, eliminating thousands of employees providing services that help Alberta families.
And then there was us. We gave Albertans a clear, positive option to support prudent spending on the public services that mattered, even if it meant balancing the budget a little bit later, and asking those who did so well under the policies of the last government – to contribute just a little bit more in taxes.
And I am honoured by the choice that Albertans have made!
We have to reflect on what that choice means, not just here in Edmonton, but in Grande Prairie, Slave Lake, Medicine Hat, Wetaskiwin, Lethbridge, Calgary – all the great communities in this great province, that are represented on this floor today.
Across this province, Albertans like you were told to be afraid of us, to fear a government that defends workers’ right to join a union – to fear a government that believes workers not only have a right to a safe workplace, but that employers have an obligation to provide them that safe workplace.
Albertans were told that everyone would have to make sacrifices during these tough financial times, to pitch in more and make do with less unless they happened to be large corporations.
And to everyone’s surprise, on May 5, Albertans rejected all of that fear mongering, in huge numbers. To borrow a line we all know well, Albertans sent a clear message that hope is stronger than fear.
So that was our first, important step towards making this province a better, fairer place for the individuals and families we all serve.
And now we take our next steps. They are about rebuilding a strong, working relationship between the government, AUPE, and all the public sector unions that represent frontline employees – because I know that behind the bargaining positions, we share a fundamental interest in stabilizing and protecting the services we provide Albertans.
I truly believe that we can have a respectful relationship – we can disagree without being disagreeable – and as a result deliver better services for all Albertans. And we can all work together – making history and building our future for the right reasons – doing a better job for all Albertans.
Next week our government tables its first budget. And, while I can’t tell you today what will be in that budget, I can tell you that it will do three things: It will stabilize public services. It will carefully bring balance back to government finances. And it will stimulate job creation in a diversified and prosperous economy.
I put stabilizing public services first in this list, and for very good reason. Providing the services that people and families depend on is every government’s first responsibility. Stable public services support Alberta families, they support our communities, and they prevent a difficult economic picture from becoming worse.
We depend on all of you to help us deliver the services Albertans need, while making the most of every available dollar.
Delivering the quality services Albertans expect won’t be easy in the current economic situation. We ran a $1.1 billion surplus last year. Our predecessors in office projected that our province would run more than a $5 billion deficit this year. Since that estimate, pressure has continued on oil prices, and therefore on provincial finances. That deficit may well end up being higher.
Let’s remember that government is not just taking in less royalty revenue. The ripples from low oil prices spread to include less income tax revenue because of lay-offs, fewer user fees paid as families tighten spending, and higher demand for services.
So stabilizing public services will require a partnership, and I will be counting on all of your expertise, your hard work, and your dedication to help our government deliver services to Albertans who need them.
That brings me to the second budget goal, setting out a plan to balance government finances. In the first five months of our new government, we made serious financial commitments to fulfill promises I made to Albertans.
As I mentioned earlier, we cancelled drastic cuts planned by the last government, which would have eliminated thousands of frontline positions required to maintain services Albertans need, and I would note that our official opposition proposed to make even deeper cuts.
Instead, we restored $800 million to health care, making sure frontline employees would continue to be there, helping Alberta families. We put $103 million back into K-12 education, keeping 800 support staff at work in our schools, helping kids get the start they need. And we made smaller but no less important commitments, such as $15 million in supports for women and children who are the victims of family violence.
But, to continue to provide stable public services over the long term, we need to move towards balancing the money coming in, with the money going out. As the economy recovers, we have to make sure our government’s bottom line recovers, too.
That means we will need to manage the growth of spending on individual programs and move spending from lower priorities to higher ones. And we will need the partnership and long-term vision of a committed public service and its union leadership to make it happen.
Managing the money going out is just part of our economic picture. The other part is enhancing the money coming in. That’s why the third goal in our government’s approach to budgeting is to stimulate economic growth, diversification and job creation.
We have seen what happens when the Alberta government relies too heavily on one commodity and fails to maximize the value of that commodity, and fails to diversify other sectors of the economy. It has consequences on the health, happiness and security of working Albertans and their families.
For the long-term stability of public services and the families they support, we need a more diverse, dynamic and inclusive economic engine. Alberta is a good place to start a new business, build on a new innovation and get a new idea off the ground. But that’s not enough. We need to be the best place in Canada to do all these things.
And I’m happy to say that I have discovered there is a very enthusiastic group of government employees who have been waiting for years to have their talents and ideas put into action, helping Alberta’s economy grow larger, more diversified, and more resilient.
And the jobs and personal prosperity they help create will provide a broader, more stable revenue base for more stable public services. To help us all get off the revenue roller coaster.
These things – stable public services, a plan to return to balanced budgets, and more jobs in a more diversified economy – will be the foundations of a better future for Alberta.
In the same way, government does not provide stable public services alone. We need the public sector. So let me be clear – you have the respect of this government. Many of my Caucus have stood by you previously, some in this very room during convention, and we will work with you now.
We are fully committed to more equality for individuals, and that includes a respect for workers' rights. We believe in and will develop more supportive workplaces. And we share a common commitment to stable and predictable funding for health care and education.
Where we have common cause, we will be strong partners, and I ask for your support. And if we disagree, we will continue to work with you from a position of respect, and ask for the same.
In the end, I believe Alberta’s new government and AUPE have a common passion for delivering quality public services. We are both committed to putting the public interest first and foremost. And if we keep that in mind, then we can work through any differences, and make Alberta – and the Alberta public service – the best places in Canada to work. We can make history, and build a future that we can celebrate together.