Alberta economy looking strong

By Maria Fitzpatrick, MLA for Lethbridge-East

This past month has been busy with events in the community and I am preparing for return to the Legislature. And with that on the go, Finance Minister Joe Ceci provided the third quarter fiscal update and economic statement last week.

I think it is worthwhile to highlight some of those points. In this update, GDP growth was revised up to 4.5 per cent. The big news: the deficit is down sharply by $1.4 billion.

Economic growth continues to exceed expectations, with 2018 growth projected on a continued strong path. More Albertans are working, as 90,000 full-time jobs were created in 2017. Unemployment was revised down to 6.8 per cent from 7.6 per cent in the 2017 budget. That is the kind of encouraging news we need to be talking about: more jobs, more opportunities for families. The economic downturn of 2014-16 created many hardships for Albertans, so reporting economic and employment growth is wonderful to be able to share.

There is much more to do and we will proceed as Minister Ceci indicated; we will do so prudently and carefully as we strive to find further savings to balance our budget by 2023-24. The contributing factors to this are a higher non-renewable resource revenue, increased investment income and an improved Balancing Pool forecast. We have said all along that we must continue to support and protect the public services that we as Albertans rely on.

This government has taken prudent restraint measures that include signing practical agreements with public sector unions, extending management salary freezes in the public sector, that has saved Alberta $29 million a year. An ongoing hiring restraint across the public service has saved a total of $204 million since 2015.

The NDP government has consolidated government corporate services, such as communications and IT creating further efficiencies. We continue to review public agencies, boards and commissions, that will result in cuts in salary for some of the highest-paid agency executives and our government did away with perks like golf club memberships.

We are also reducing health-care costs by $100 million over three years by reducing generic drug prices, and $28 million in 2017-18 from the operational best practices review.

My colleagues and I in government are committed to make life better for all Albertans and protecting the basics services families rely on. Locally, the opening of Lethbridge’s ground-breaking safe consumption site, staffed by ARCHES, occurred. Despite an opposition MLA‘s ignorant opposition to the safe consumption sites, the very day it opened, the site has already reported helping 80 unique individuals registered, over 200 visits by users and most importantly, two lives saved.

In keeping with this theme of the safe consumption site contributing widely to the public good, our Lethbridge Public Library reports a noticeable decline in dangerous drug debris at the Main Branch site and a decline in noticed drug activity as well. Just prior to opening, Lethbridge experienced a terrible rash of 52 OD incidents, so, if you have friends or relatives at risk of a dangerous overdose, please refer them to the safe consumption site.

People cannot be treated for addiction if they don’t survive.

I also want to support the Blood Tribe Council and the province in their innovative plan for a temporary safe consumption trailer on the reserve. Right now it is imperative to save lives, and work on treatment and future prevention as they are saved.

On Thursday the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD). The day celebrates the contribution and achievements of women and International Women’s Day has been celebrated for nearly as long as Alberta has been a province. It is a day that we recognize everyday women in our communities who are working hard and are shaping the future of their families, communities, cities and the province.

Our government is dedicated to the success and safety of each and every woman in Alberta. We are doing our part as a responsible government. That is why we established Canada’s very first gender-balanced cabinet and created the Ministry for the Status of Women to lead our work in forging opportunities for women of all backgrounds.

We know that building a better Alberta means realizing the potential of all women.

We’ve raised the minimum wage to help lift Albertans out of poverty and start to tackle inequality - a huge benefit for many women, who make up the majority of minimum-wage earners in our province.

We announced a pilot program for $25-per-day daycare, so families will have access to affordable, quality childcare, giving many women more time to be engaged in their communities and get in the workforce.

We increased the child tax benefit, which puts money directly into the hands of families.

We’ve given more money to women’s shelters and passed legislation that lets people fleeing domestic violence leave their rental agreements without financial penalty.

Finally, come out and enjoy a Taste of Nicaragua March 23 at the Southern Alberta Ethnic Society. Tickets are $12 for children and $20 for adults, and it starts at 6:30 p.m. The event takes place at the Multicultural Centre (421 6 Ave. S.).

First published March 9, 2018, in the Lethbridge Herald.