Things are looking up in Alberta

By Estefania Cortes-Vargas, MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park

As the MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park, my priority is to be a strong voice in the government for the needs of rural and urban families in Strathcona County. This past year, we saw the benefits of our plan to stimulate economic growth, workers and businesses are seeing some relief as the economy is bouncing back.

The recovery is well underway: retail sales are up, business confidence is up, 70,000 new full-time jobs and this province is expected to lead the country in economic growth this year. Yet, it is clear that we still have a long way to go, we must also keep focused on diversification to assure long-term stability of our province.

Alberta is primarily an export market; our stability relies on trade deals like NAFTA and the current talks with the United States is being prioritized. On behalf of Albertans and the minister of Economic Development and Trade, I worked hard to establish connections and advocate to senators and legislators to establish a productive dialogue that recognizes how vital it is for both countries to reduce barriers to trade and make a compelling case by tying the specific information of Alberta‘s trade with their state. I appreciated the support I received from local farmers and businesses that influenced the presentation I lead as the co-chair of the Canada-U.S. relations committee with the Council of State Governments-West.

Increasing our market access is a theme throughout our economic development work. Our premier has been advocating for our energy industry in a recent cross-country tour to promote pipelines, and finished the same day the National Energy Board ruled in favour of Kinder Morgan to support Trans-Mountain Pipeline project. Kinder Morgan executives have cited our Climate Leadership Plan, as it positions us in a way to have strong arguments and advocacy when confronted by opposition to building a pipeline - and we’ll keep standing up for Alberta‘s energy industry to get our products to tidewater.

More than a year ago, the Industrial Heartland MLAs began working with the Energy minister to find a solution to that incentivized investment in our value-added energy sector; from that came the Petrochemical Diversification Program.

A few weeks ago, when Inter Pipeline announced their $3.5-billion investment in the Industrial Heartland, they noted this program played a key role in choosing our area. To put it simply, the company is looking to develop recyclable plastics from the abundance in propane feedstock we have in the province. The new plant would bring 2,300 full-time jobs at the peak of construction.

Throughout the year, there has been a few key investments made that are tied to programs put in place by this government. Another investment announcement is the record-setting Alberta renewables auction which will result in about $1-billion investment by three companies in the green power generation.

We set a record low in the price of energy coming in at over half less that the price Ontario pays per kilowatthour.

Locally, companies like Nutraponics have been able to grow the investors in their business by accessing the investor tax credit that we introduced this year. We can see the positive impacts of our policies right here in our region.

Over the course of the past two years, we could have chosen a path that Alberta has seen before in a recession. We remember the stuffed classrooms and the crumbling schools. The opposition calls for cuts, when still feeling the effects of decades of mismanagement.

The opposition also calls for deep cuts to the healthcare services that we all rely on, especially seniors who have worked to build this province and the young families who will help build it over the next 50 years.

We’re fostering a strong economic recovery while also protecting the services protecting services senior deserve and supporting the education for our children.

We’re working for seniors in our community with increasing money by $200 million to support in-home care to help support residents that are aging in their homes and maintaining their independence. In the last year, we moved on affordable housing, and invested in 59 seniors lodge projects, including the Clover Bar Lodge replacement facility in Sherwood Park. This will double the number of spaces available to our seniors in the county. In December, we announced our dementia strategy and action plan; it offers a targeted approach that will lead to quality care, better brain health and stronger community support for caregivers and those living with dementia.

As your MLA, I’ve heard heart-wrenching stories about the opioid crisis, and know this isn’t an issue just in the city, but in our county, as well. I’m proud that we announced the opening of an opioid clinic at Strathcona Community Hospital - expanding on the opioid dependency program offered in Edmonton. This initiative will improve access to care for people in Sherwood Park and the
surrounding area.

We’re building schools across the province, including announcing or opening a total of 1,900 new learning spaces in Strathcona-Sherwood Park. The work on projects like Fultonvale, Davidson Creek and Ecole Elementaire in Ardrossan represent a $55-million investment in our students here.

One of the things that’s most important to me is our government‘s investment in community. It’s important to maintain the funding for community grant programs to help community-based organizations meet local needs, and $340,000 supported that work in Strathcona-Sherwood Park.

Over the past year, we have seen the opening of the Fultonvale playground, which was known for having one of the top slides in the Edmonton region. In Uncas, it was an exciting day with the new playground opening, as the kids finally got to climb on the monkey bars. It’s exciting to see improvements at the Ardrossan Memorial hall, Antler Lake and Deville-North Cooking Lake Halls
and minor sports organizations, such as the Sherwood Park Archery Club and Strathcona County Minor Football, as they were able to update their equipment.

Our government‘s support for children and youth is also exemplified in our $25-per-day childcare project. There are already two dozen facilities involved in this pilot project, and it’s going to expand significantly in 2018. Parents are now going to have peace of mind in knowing that if they take a leave of absence to care for sick children, their job is protected.

Over the past year, a lot has been accomplished for Albertans - too much to capture in one article, so I invite you to contact my office for more information. It is a humbling experience to serve our vibrant community, I look forward to another active year.

First published Jan. 19, 2018, in the Sherwood Park News