UCP MLA Ron Orr gave a presentation at the monthly lunch meeting of the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 17.
Orr gave a recap of what the UCP has done so far for Albertans and a forecast for the financial future of the province, country and the on the global stage.
Getting Alberta’s financial house in order has been a challenge for the UCP’s since they were elected this spring, says Orr.
The UCP’s created a panel to “deep-dive into finances” that reported on Sept. 15.
Orr says the only real surprise with the MacKinnon report is that the budget projections were “unrealistically high,” adding the Alberta government will be revising that to bring the numbers “closer to reality.”
The other concern heard about the report was the timeline of the budget, as it will not be approved until fall because of the spring election.
“We will survive — it is a challenge, I know.”
The UCP passed two budgetary bills in the spring, both of which basically ensured funding for programs and the running of the government would continue until the new budget is passed.
“As a government we are committed to legislation that will enhance our economy,” adding the UCP will do what it can to ensure open markets for Alberta products.
One of the first acts of the UCP was to repeal the carbon tax, which relieved a burden from businesses in varying degrees.
The UCP have also been working on employment standards such as holiday pay and banked overtime.
Holiday pay has been reversed to what it was previously, effective Sept. 1.
If employees have agreements with employers about overtime, they can trade hours and the overtime rate is time-and-a-half.
The UCP has tried to create greater flexibility with labour relations, restoring the mandatory secret ballot, effective July 18, 2019.
They have also created a neutral, non-biased office for legal support, advice that helps employees understand their legal rights, says Orr.
The UCP passed the Job Creation Tax Cut, to be implemented over four years, reducing the corporate tax rate from 12 to 8 per cent.
The change in minimum wage for students aged 13 to 17 to $13 an hour for a max of 28 hours a week before bumping up to adult minimum wage, is meant to encourage more businesses to hire young people.
“In reality what we’re trying to do is get students back to work,” said Orr.
The student minimum wage is optional and employees can choose to pay more.
Hiring students allows them to learn, gain experience, and invests in the next generation of young people moving into the work force, says Orr.
“Hire a student — that’s all I can say.”
The UCP is in the process of reviewing the minimum wage for servers who also make tips.
“I personally feel there will be no roll back there. There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for that,” said Orr.
“We’re still wrestling with that a bit.”
Orr says the UCP is currently in the process of working with professional associations to speed up their certification processes, particularly for immigrants who could be working, but are waiting for certification to be finalized.
The UCP isn’t asking organizations to change their standards, but to “just deal with it” in a timely manner, letting applicants know what else is needed instead of stalling for two years.
Orr says for too long, Alberta has left immigration entirely in the hands of the federal government.
Provinces have the ability to ask for a certain kind of immigrant, such as skilled workers needed for a certain industry, or the kind that will renew a smaller, stagnant community, such as those looking to start businesses.
Orr says the UCP has launched a review of Alberta’s energy regulator and will continue to fight anti-pipeline legislation.
Another issue Orr says the UCP is tackling are road test wait times.
The previous government terminated 150 contractors right before the end of their term, ahead of the spring rush of people wanting to get their license.
The NDP replaced some of those with government employees, amounting to 72 instructors — less than half of the number the province used to have — creating a backlog.
At the height of summer, there were 36,000 on that waiting list, and 29,000 as of mid-September.
The UCP’s have hired an additional 20 instructors, private operators, to help deal with the backlog as a temporary measure and hopes to implement a more permanent solution by next spring.
The UCP passed the Red Tape Reduction Act, in the hopes of attracting more businesses to Alberta.
“There are a few voices of optimism … it will take time,” said Orr.
“Our challenge is with issues in Ottawa.”
“The outcome of this election could radically alter some of the direction Alberta takes.”
Orr says the UCP remains committed to “getting a fair deal in confederation” and looking at the equalization payments.
Orr shared what the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, managed by Alberta Investment Management Corporation, sees as the greatest challenges facing the global economy.
Canada’s trade war Canada with China and the U.S. has created volatility in the markets and a “new era of protectionism,” says Orr.
The biggest challenge is how banks respond to world trade, he says, adding the banking crisis of 2008 isn’t over yet.
Countries are increasing their currency supplies, but banks aren’t loaning, and major corporations aren’t investing in monetary markets, but in real estate.
All of this means the trade war is becoming a currency war, and European countries have even started loaning with negative interest rates, which Orr called “mind-bending.”
Orr referenced experts who believe all of this will lead to a collapse in U.S. currency.
China started developing a digital currency a year ago with ambitions of it becoming the new word-wide currency, which Orr says could become “more disruptive than anything else we’ve ever seen.”
He says it will change things on the world financial stage, “in ways we don’t understand,” and added, “I think the perfect storm is coming.
“As businesses, as governments, we have to start getting our heads around it. We are in a very fluid time of change.
“Canada can’t be immune to this stuff. Alberta cannot be immune to it.”
Orr finished by saying he is committed to pushing for solutions to this potential problem.
Upcoming chamber events
The chamber business awards will be held on Oct. 25 at the Legion. Tickets are now on sale. To purchase, contact chamber president Heather Bendera.
The chamber is hosting an election forum on Oct. 8, starting at 7 p.m. at the Ponoka Legion.
Passport to Christmas will kick off on Nov. 12 after Remembrance Day and end on Dec. 26, inclusive.
Midnight Madness will be held on Nov. 22.
The Santa Clause parade is being organized.
The annual tree lighting, courtesy of the town, will take place at the old library site.
The chamber has two new members: Makkinga Market and the Ponoka and District Health Foundation.