After 10 years of leading Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP), leader Brian Mason announced his intention to step down from the role.
He gave members of the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce some of his reasoning May 20 and provided thoughts of what Alberta’s political landscape will look like in the near future.
He said with the Wildrose Party gaining strength and a leadership race for the Progressive Conservatives, the Alberta NDP could be in a position to influence to future of Alberta.
“What we would like to see in the next election is some balance in the Legislature. There is a possibility that it could in fact be a minority government,” explained Mason.
Stepping down to give a younger leader a chance to take the reins is something Mason feels will help his party in the long run. He says the new leader may drive interest in their party, which would help entice individuals to change their political ties.
Construction in the oil sands
As the oil sands area population grows, so does the need for skilled construction workers, but Mason says at some point, oil sands companies are not going to need to expand as much, which could cause issues for people looking for work.
“That’s not a permanent situation and nobody’s talking about it,” he stated.
Keeping jobs in Alberta may occur by finding ways to develop bitumen in the province through a bitumen tariff. This tariff would provide funds to help develop bitumen. Mason also wants to see renewable resource development in Alberta.
“There’s going to come a time when people in the rest of the world may not want to buy our oil,” said Mason. “And that’s not a decision they’ll make here.”
One of the areas the NDP would like to see change is in the government’s reliance on fluctuating prices of non-renewable resources such as oil and natural gas. Mason says royalties in the early 2000s brought high natural gas prices, which resulted in royalty revenues of $8 billion a year during peak times.
Since then, prices have dropped drastically with natural gas royalty revenues at less than $1 billion a year, he added.
“We should be reducing our dependency on royalty revenues to pay for program expenditures,” said Mason.
He says at the same time that gas prices were high, corporate taxes dropped, which Mason feels created a large loss in tax revenue. He suggests tax breaks should be applied to the middle class taxpayer who is more likely to spend their money on the local economy.
Stabilizing healthcare and education
Eliminating one of the two bureaucracies managing healthcare in Alberta — Alberta Heath Services and Ministry of Health — could bring about a more efficient process for Albertans, suggests Mason.
He says the ministry could accomplish the same job currently performed by two organizations, which would reduce the high cost of operating healthcare by removing unnecessary staff. Mason suggests there has become an over-centralization of services, which affects patients in rural Alberta. “We need to ensure local input into our healthcare system.”
With regards to education, Mason says proper learning for students must be accomplished across the province.
“We need to focus on making sure that students get the basic education they need,” he explained.
“You also need to make sure that they understand how to apply them,” he added.
Mason suggests these public programs need to be stabilized by not relying on non-renewable resource revenues. He feels when revenues are low, these programs suffer, which affects Albertans overall.
Deregulating electricity a bad idea
Ever since electricity rates were deregulated, Mason says the customers have been the ones who have had to pay higher costs. “Deregulation is actually a misnomer.”
He says the regulated industry was much more simple than what the deregulated industry looks like today and feels it would be better to regulate electricity rates again.
“They’ve (planners) created a massively complex system that doesn’t work. They’ve added middle men that all take a cut,” stated Mason.
The majority of Canadian provinces regulate the industry and he suggests Alberta should as well.
Mason intends to resign as head of the Alberta NDP Oct. 19. There are four sitting Alberta NDP members of the 87-seat legislature.