Posted on Jan 4, 2016

MLA report: Many successes in 2015

MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas with Premier Notley and Minister Joe Ceci in the Alberta Legislature

This past year brought monumental change and I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of our government steps in the past months.

In May, Strathcona-Sherwood Park elected its first NDP MLA to be their representative in the legislature. It has been a privilege to serve a community that is as hard-working, thoughtful and supportive as ours. Across Alberta, we saw a sweeping change in the shade of orange. In the election, we achieved representation that reflects the social fabric of our society from age, ethnicity, professions, gender and sexual orientation. The varied experiences of the many MLAs has been essential for the authentic debates occurring in our legislature. Politicians that are willing to demonstrate vulnerability, from my perspective, is a breath of fresh air. Another refreshing change is the level of civic engagement throughout the year. The swearing-in ceremony stands out in my mind as was utterly unique; the legislature grounds were so crowded with folks that adults stood in the pool to watch as our new cabinet was sworn in.

We began the work in the legislature weeks after forming government. We have passed landmark legislation, provided a solid fiscal framework that takes care of Alberta families and provides economic opportunity, and sets the province toward a very bright future. Our platform outlined the nine government bills in 2015 that passed.

We passed legislation that bans corporate and union donations, a change essential to renewing democracy in Alberta. We restored fairness to public revenue through the re-introduction of progressive taxation. Additionally, our fiscal framework was enhanced through a bill that requires the government to present the finances in a three-year plan and to adhere to a new debt cap. We passed legislation to enable paid farm and ranch workers to refuse unsafe work, preventing death and injuries, and to assist workers and their families in cases of accidents. We passed legislation to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. This has been described as a milestone accomplishment for the province of Alberta. We supported, and helped pass, a private Member’s Bill which would allow domestic violence victims to break their leases without financial penalty. Our Caucus passed the first-ever NDP budget, focused on supporting jobs and supporting families the Alberta Way: protecting front-line services, setting Alberta on a course for a diversified economy and on a path towards a balanced budget.

We have passed landmark legislation, provided a solid fiscal framework that takes care of Alberta families and provides economic opportunity, and sets the province toward a very bright future.

Our budget demonstrates a strong commitment to students and families by ensuring children have good schools, enough teachers and every opportunity to succeed. Stable and predictable funding for our schools will fully cover growth in student enrolment. For the 2015/16 budget, $7.6 billion has been put into school infrastructure and education. Local projects include Ardrossan Elementary School’s Rebuild and Fultonvale School’s modernization project. The initial Ardrossan rebuild was recently expanded in consideration of the projected growth of the Ardrossan community. Fultonvale will be able to accommodate 100 additional students after the modernization with a completion date of September 2016. Our government also worked with Ecole Francophone de Sherwood Park on a two-step solution to building a francophone school in Sherwood Park. Communication with parents and trustees played a vital to ensure that the needs of our local community were being met.

Throughout 2015, there have been many conversations about our health care system. We heard them in budget consultation and continuously through most meetings. Concerns that are continuously highlighted are our long-term care needs, wait times and the cost of the health care system. In October, a new board was formed to provide oversight that ensures AHS is able to give patients the care they need from the right health care provider in the right place at the right time for the right value. We are confident that by having leaders like Linda Hughes chairing and Richard Dicerne, Deputy minister of Executive Council, serving on the board. It will bring a strong connection between Alberta Health Services and government.

We have also made a number of important announcements since the end of summer. A new pilot project that will provide more treatments options for Albertans suffering from vision loss, and will save patients approximately $300/year. We have increased funding for midwifery in Alberta with up to an additional $1.8 million from the Government of Alberta. The number of publicly supported births by midwifery will increase to approximately 2,774 this year.

Seniors help build this province and we are committed to investing in long-term care and dementia care so they can live with dignity and access the support they need. We are funding projects to meet the highest need for long-term care beds and dementia spaces. Albertans expect us the spend tax dollars wisely, and we are proud to be funding strong, financially-viable projects that will support Alberta families.

For too long Alberta has operated with a deep infrastructure deficit. The provincial government listened to the needs of Albertans and increased capital spending by 15 per cent over the next five years to build and repair our schools, hospitals and roads. This capital spending will support Alberta’s economy during hard fiscal times by putting Albertans back to work.

Many transit users look for fast reliable service essential to delivering a positive travelling experience is having enough buses to meet the demand. By investing $10.7 million through the Green Trip Funding we will see an additional 22 double-decker buses. We are committed to investing in a modern, safe, efficient transit network that supports economic growth while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The environment is of huge concern for us all. That’s why our caucus introduced a Climate Leadership Plan, which accelerates the transition from coal to renewable energy, puts a price on carbon pollution, and sets emission limits for the oil sands. This plan received very strong support, and has been endorsed by respected representatives from environmental organizations, First Nations and the oil industry. This bold plan will enable Alberta to respond to climate change and what’s right for future generations: protecting jobs, our health and the environment. The Climate Leadership Plan supports us in being strong environmental stewards.

I am looking forward to another productive legislative session this coming February. Next steps following the royalty review will be discussed and shared with Albertans. Alberta’s government caucus is dedicated to the well-being of Albertans. We will continue to listen to Albertans’ needs and keep building a more prosperous province for all.

I hope you had a restful holiday and an excellent new year!

This column originally appeared in Sherwood Park News on January 4, 2016.