April 30, 2015

Planks in the platforms: comparing 11 key policy issues

posted by Ian Hussey

Albertans will vote on May 5th in what is shaping up to be the most competitive provincial election in at least two decades. 

For three weeks now we’ve been subjected to polls, commentary on the (in)accuracy of polls, photo ops, press releases, snafus, and defaced candidate signs. Beyond the predictable, and at times comical political theatre, there is a tremendous amount at stake in this election for workers, taxpayers, parents, students, seniors, and the environment. 

So let’s get down to brass tacks and compare the promises made by the four major political parties vying for Albertans’ votes – the Progressive Conservatives (PCs), Wildrose, New Democratic Party (NDP), and Liberals – across 11 key policy areas. The comparisons are based on the policies articulated in the election platforms released by each of the parties and not any other policy documents, with the exception of the governing Progressive Conservatives' proposed Budget 2015. 

1. Relations with Indigenous peoples and governments

The Progressive Conservatives propose to "Improve the First Nations Engagement Strategy to strengthen releationships with Aboriginal leaders and communities."

The Wildrose platform says they will "Promote partnerships with our First Nations and Metis peoples in the development of our provincial natural resources and overall economy." 

The Liberals do not mention Indigenous people in their platform. 

The NDP make six points on Indigenous peoples and governments:

  • Implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by building it into provincial law
  • Support a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women
  • Work with Indigenous and federal governments to resolve land claims
  • Ensure Indigenous communities have access to safe drinking water
  • Improve the representation of Indigenous history and culture in the Alberta school curriculum
  • Repeal Bill 22 and consult and collaborate with First Nations Bands on business arrangements

Related Parkland Research: 

As Long as the Rivers Flow: Athabasca River Knowledge, Use and Change 

2. The Environment

Alberta has the worst environmental record of all Canadian provinces, and is the only province without a climate change plan. The government has long delayed the release of their climate change plan, yet its platform declares, “For over a decade, Alberta has led the way in key areas of action on climate change.” 

The Wildrose, NDP, and Liberals all agree that the failed and expensive carbon capture and storage program introduced by the Progressive Conservative government has to go.

Progressive Conservatives

  • Again commit to a comprehensive climate change strategy
  • Restore or enhance wetlands and riparian areas for flood mitigation
  • Proposals on oil sands tailings ponds include limiting the amount of tailings that can be accumulated, ensure ponds are "ready" to be reclaimed within 10 years of end-of-mine life of the project
  • Clarify lake health governance system, implement baseline water testing near fracking operations, work with municipalities to improve municipal water systems 

Wildrose

  • Amend legislation on the Alberta Energy Regulator "to ensure Albertans' rights to notification, hearing, and independent appeal are respected"
  • Claim they can ensure the extractive industry leaves the environment and private property as healthy and clean as it was before extractive activity started
  • Double water and wastewater funding to rural Alberta for the next five years

NDP

  • Green retrofitting loan program for families, farms, and small businesses 
  • Phase out coal-fired electricity generation
  • Expand wind and solar energy production 
  • Invest more in public transit; reintroduce bus services in rural areas 
  • Strengthen environmental standards, inspections, monitoring, and enforcement
  • Craft standards based on independent science and international best practices
  • Craft climate change solutions in partnership with other provinces and the federal government
  • Ban gas drilling in urban areas
  • Protect Castle Wilderness Area
  • On the negative side from an environmental perspective is the NDP’s plan to encourage oil upgrading and refining; their plan may indeed create jobs, but we should be looking at ways of phasing out oil sands production if Alberta is to contribute in a meaningful way to action on climate change

Liberals

  • Invest in CTrain and Edmonton LRT expansions
  • The statement that "pipelines will not get built until we clean up our environmental reputation" implies the Liberals are in favour of building pipelines to export Alberta oil and gas
  • Put a price on actual carbon emissions
  • Phase out coal fired power plants by 2025
  • Ensure independent environmental monitoring and introduce stiffer penalties for "rule breakers"
  • Incentives for energy conservation and for renewable energy
  • Phase out fresh water use for deep well injections
  • Protect the watershed as a public good; protect surface and groundwater, endangered species, and habitat

Related Parkland Research: 

Directly and Adversely Affected: Public Participation in Tar Sands Development 2005-2014
Taking the Reins: The Case for Slowing Alberta’s Bitumen Production
Wrong Turn: Is a P3 the Best Way to Expand Edmonton’s LRT? 
Alternative Water Futures in Alberta
Greening the Fleet: National Trends and Opportunities for the City of Edmonton 

3. Taxes and user fees

Progressive Conservatives

  • Personal Income Tax: 0.5% increase for income from $100,000 to 250,000 in each of the next three years starting January 1, 2016; 1% increase for income over $250,000 starting next year, then 0.5% in each of the following two years, before dropping back to 11.5% total tax in 2019. From 2019 on, the plan would leave Alberta with two tax brackets (10% for income up to $100,000 and 11.5% for income over $100,000)
  • Introduce a "health care contribution levy" for individuals earning over $50,000; there’s a $1,000 cap for people earning $130,000 and up. It's important to note that the revenue from this surtax isn’t actually going to health care, but will instead go into general revenue.
  • No change to corporate taxes (remains at 10%) or the small business tax (remains at 3%) 
  • The government has already increased various commodity taxes (e.g. fuel, alcohol, and cigarettes) as of March 27, 2015
  • Increase various user fees (e.g. birth, death and marriage fees, provincial park use, motor vehicle registrations, land titles transactions, toll roads) 
  • Reduce the charitable donations tax credit from 21% to 12.75% (the other three parties have all pledged to reverse this move, and Prentice also recently reversed the PC position on the change
  • Increase insurance premiums tax by 1% 
  • Introduce a 500% increase to the variable fee for mortgages and land titles (increase from $1 to $6 for every $5,000 of property value)
  • Increase the flat fees for mortgages and land title transfers by 50% (each will go from $50 to $75)
  • Increase the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit in mid-2016
  • Introduce a Alberta Working Family Supplement in mid-2016

Wildrose

  • Reverse all tax and fee increases proposed by Budget 2015
  • No change to the corporate income tax or to the small business tax
  • The Wildrose commits to no new taxes and to end all corporate welfare subsidies
  • Introduce tax incentives to stimulate research, investment, and economic activity

NDP

  • Cancel the proposed "health care contribution levy"
  • Cancel the many user fee hikes proposed by the PCs
  • No sales tax
  • Raise the corporate income tax rate from 10 to 12%; keep the small business tax rate at 3%
  • Increase efforts to collect unpaid/outstanding corporate taxes
  • Reintroduce progressive personal income tax rates in addition to the current 10% rate as follows: 12% tax on income from $125,000 to $150,000; 13% on income from $150,000 to $200,000; 14% on income from $200,000 to $300,000; 15% on income over $300,000
  • The 90% of Albertans who earn less than $125,000 annually would pay less in taxes and user fees under the NDP plan compared to the PC plan, while the top 10% of income earners would pay more under the NDP plan
  • The NDP personal income tax plan will increase revenue by an estimated $1.1 billion
  • $89 million Job Creation Tax Credit (businesses receive a 10% rebate on wages paid to new hires, maximum of $5,000 per new employee)
  • Immediately introduce enhancements to the Family Employment Tax Credit and the Working Family Supplement (the PCs will delay enhancements until mid-2016)

Liberals

  • Personal income tax plan: 9.5% on the first $50,000 of taxable income (a 0.5% reduction for individuals earning $50,000 or less); 10% from $50,000 to $100,000; 10.5% from $100,000 to $150,000; 12.5% from $150,000 to $250,000; 15% on income over $250,000
  • The Liberal personal income tax plan will increase revenue by an estimated $871 million
  • Increase corporate income tax from 10 to 12%; eliminate tax on small businesses earning under $500,000. Platform suggests these moves together will mean $302.2 million in additional revenue
  • Return corporate tax collection responsibility to the Canada Revenue Agency to attempt to actually collect all the corporate income tax owned to Alberta
  • Eliminate the proposed "health care contribution levy" 
  • Change the property tax rebate loan back to a tax grant

Related Parkland Research:
From Gap to Chasm: Alberta’s Increasing Income Inequality  
The Alberta Disadvantage: Gender, Taxation, and Income Inequality
The Way Forward: Progressive Income Tax in Alberta
Stabilizing Alberta’s Revenues: A Common Sense Approach
The Lion’s Share: Corporate Profits and Taxes in Alberta
Room to Move: Alberta’s Taxes Are Too Low
Fixing What’s Broken: Fair and Sustainable Solutions to Alberta’s Revenue Problems 
More than Nickels and Dimes: Albertans Pay Highest Out-of-Pocket Costs for Services 

4. Royalties

The Progressive Conservatives, Wildrose, and Liberals do not mention royalties in their platforms. 

The NDP will create a "Resource Owners' Rights Commission" to analyze Alberta’s natural resource royalty system. The goal is to encourage corporations to upgrade and refine more bitumen in Alberta and create new jobs in the process. 

Related Parkland Research: 
Billions Forgone: The Decline in Alberta Oil and Gas Royalties
Misplaced Generosity: Update 2012: Extraordinary Profits in Alberta’s Oil and Gas Industry 
Selling Albertans Short: Alberta’s Royalty Review Panel Fails the Public Interest 
Selling the Family Silver: Oil and Gas Royalties, Corporate Profits, and the Disregarded Public 

5. Health Care

Progressive Conservatives

  • Cut almost $1 billion from health care (cut management staff, freeze salaries of remaining management staff, reduce severance packages, have remaining managers improve staff scheduling to reduce overtime costs, claim "efficiency teams" of frontline workers will identify additional cuts)
  • Despite major cuts to health care staff, the PCs claim they will reduce wait times by renovating and adding health care infrastructure
  • Maintain a centralized Alberta Health Services (AHS) system, but establish 8-10 districts with local advisory councils that don’t seem to have real power, but will allow people to raise concerns
  • Increase support for disabled people and maintain support for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)
  • Nothing on mental health and addiction services

Wildrose

  • Make deeper cuts than the PCs
  • Cut 50% of AHS managers and consultants; freeze the salaries of remaining managers
  • Decentralize health care, let public funds follow the patient to their choice of provider (i.e. create the conditions for a two-tiered health care system)
  • Create a publicly accessible health care portal so patients can access their health records, referrals, and appointments
  • Create a system to track and report health care system performance measures (i.e. wait times and bed availability)
  • Attach the tracking system to the patient portal so the information can be accessed in real-time
  • No mention that creating this tracking system and patient portal means increasing AHS bureaucracy; no mention of the cost of these two initiatives; no mention of the fact that constantly updating these systems will reduce the time staff have to actually treat patients 
  • Implement a "Wait Time Guarantee" and publicly fund surgeries and specialist visits provided in private operations if public options can't be accessed in a timely manner
  • Increase investigation into fraud in our health care system
  • Increase public and non-profit mental health and addiction services
  • Increase health care spending on prevention 

NDP

  • Reverse the cuts to health care proposed by the PCs (the NDP are the only major party running on an anti-austerity platform, i.e. no cuts to health care and education)
  • Improve access to public health care services in rural areas
  • Will not reorganize AHS as the PCs and Wildrose are proposing in different forms
  • Shorten health care wait times and reduce hospital congestion by creating 2,000 public long-term care beds
  • Expand public homecare to keep people at home, rather than hospitals, where possible
  • End privatization of health care, fund publicly delivered services
  • Take immediate action to complete needed repairs of health care and senior care facilities; reallocate funds from the current carbon capture project to prioritize health care, education, and transit infrastructure
  • Modernize mental health services in Alberta

Liberals

  • Cut AHS administrative costs (i.e. reduce administrative and managerial staff) 
  • The original Liberal platform indicated about $1 billion in "health care savings", but the revised platform removed this reference
  • Take remaining $760 million allocated for carbon capture and storage and invest it in frontline public services
  • Increase health care spending on prevention 
  • Claim continuous reshuffling of AHS is to blame for cost increases
  • Create an unspecified number of long-term care beds to free up hospital beds
  • Mandatory vaccinations for all children unless their parents/legal guardian opts them out
  • Teach consent in all sexual health education
  • Ensure reasonable access to in vitro fertilization for families who want it
  • Invest in multidisciplinary teams to reduce surgery and ER wait times
  • Invest in mental health and addiction services

Related Parkland Research:
Looking in the Mirror: Provincial Comparisons of Public Spending 
Sick of Inequality: The Case for Action by the Government of Alberta on the Social Determinants of Health
Delivery Matters: The High Costs of For-Profit Health Services in Alberta  
Rewriting Alberta’s Health Laws: A Trojan Horse for Expanding For-Profit Health Care  
The New Alberta Health Act: Risks and Opportunities Report 1: Risks of the Alberta Health Act
The New Alberta Health Act: Risks and Opportunities Report 2: Access, Quality and Affordability
Living in Hope: A Response to 2009-2010 Bed Closure Process at the Alberta Hospital 
Crisis? What Crisis? Public Health Care and Affordability in Alberta 

6. Education (K-12 and post-secondary)

Progressive Conservatives

  • Cut administrative costs of Alberta Education by 9%; no additional funding or teacher hires for an estimated 12,000 new K-12 students in the coming year
  • Cut post-secondary education by 1% this year, no additional funding to offset inflation and enrolment increases 

Wildrose

  • Eliminate mandatory school fees
  • Ensure adequate funding for special needs students
  • Publicly disclose an infrastructure spending priority list and rationale for all projects

NDP

  • Reverse the cuts to K-12 education proposed by the PCs
  • Improve access to public education services in rural areas
  • Establish an "Infrastructure Sunshine List" to improve transparency regarding priorities for new school construction and modernization projects
  • Reduce school fees (unspecified number)
  • Phase in a targeted school lunch program for elementary students
  • Restore funding to the Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) cut by the PCs
  • Reverse cuts to post-secondary education, provide stable and predictable funding
  • Freeze post-secondary tuition

Liberals

  • Build all schools on the priority list
  • Phase out school fees 
  • Hire more teachers (unspecified number)
  • Reduce post-secondary tuition (unspecified number)
  • Provide more grants and bursaries for post-secondary students
  • Move toward doubling funding for the arts, new media, and cultural industries

Related Parkland Research:
A Plan for Alberta’s Post-Secondary Institutions? 
Post-Secondary Education Not Premier’s Priority
Delivery Matters: Cyber Charter Schools and K-12 Education in Alberta 

7. Child care, kindergarten, early childhood development 

Progressive Conservatives

  • Introduce an early childhood development initiative
  • Nothing in the platform on child care

Wildrose

  • Nothing said on these policy issues

NDP

  • Invest in public child care, create new spaces, introduce $25-a-day program, as public finances permit
  • Increase funding to Family and Community Support Services
  • Reverse cuts to services for children in care; improve investigations of abuse and deaths of children in care

Liberals

  • Move toward all-day kindergarten and universal child care
  • Increase funding for Family and Community Support Services by 25%

Related Parkland Research:
Family Day on the Treadmill: Alberta Families at Risk of too Much Stress 

Related Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) Research:
Time to Grow Up: Family Policies for the Way We Live Now
The Parent Trap: Child Care Fees in Canada’s Big Cities

8. Women

Progressive Conservatives

  • Nothing said on relevant policy issues
  • (As most health care and education workers are women; the PCs’ proposed cuts to health care and education services will disproportionately affect women workers)

Wildrose

  • Nothing said on relevant policy issues
  • (Most health care workers are women; the cuts to AHS proposed by Wildrose will disproportionately affect women workers)

NDP

  • Create a Women’s Ministry to improve gender equality
  • Create more spaces in women’s shelters; increase funding for organizations working to end violence against women
  • Increase the provincial minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018 (about 70% of part-time workers in AB are women; part-time workers are more likely to make lower wages)
  • Improve compassionate care leaves (most care work is done by women)

Liberals

  • Gender pay equity: ensure better enforcement of the Human Rights Act; introduce equal pay for work of equal value legislation
  • Teach consent in all sexual health education

Related Parkland Research:
The Alberta Disadvantage: Gender, Taxation, and Income Inequality
Alberta has nation’s largest gender gap and it’s growing
Women’s Equality a Long Way Off in Alberta: Gender Gap Remains the Widest in the Nation
A Social Policy Framework for Alberta: Fairness and Justice for All 

Related CCPA Research:
Narrowing the Gap: The Difference That Public Sector Wages Make 
The Best and Worst Place to be a Woman in Canada: An Index of Gender Equality in Canada’s Twenty Largest Metropolitan Areas 
The Gap in the Gender Gap: Violence Against Women in Canada

9. Seniors

Progressive Conservatives

  • "Enhance home care capacity"
  • Build 464 new "continuing care" beds (the other parties call these "long-term care" beds)
  • Build 2,612 supportive living spaces
  • (Finally) Upgrade sprinkler and fire safety systems in seniors facilities over three years
  • Require minimum staffing standards for seniors facilities
  • Implement an elder abuse prevention strategy

Wildrose

  • Increase funding for home care, supported housing, assisted living, long-term care, and palliative care hospices to reduce the strain on our hospitals
  • Protect existing pension benefits for all civil servants and pensioners

NDP

  • Take immediate action to complete needed repairs of senior care facilities
  • Shorten health care wait times and reduce hospital congestion by creating 2,000 public long-term care beds
  • Expand public homecare to keep people at home, rather than hospitals, where possible

Liberals

  • Double funding for senior supports so they can stay in their homes
  • Create more long-term care beds to free up hospital beds (unspecified number)

Related Parkland Research:
From Bad to Worse: Residential Elder Care in Alberta
Delivery Matters: The Impacts of For-Profit Ownership in Long-Term Care 
Sustainable Healthcare for Seniors: Keeping it Public 

10. Farm Workers

The Liberals pledge to protect paid farm workers by ensuring they are covered by Alberta’s workers’ compensation program and instituting stronger occupational health and safety standards

The other three parties don’t mention protecting farm workers in their platforms. 

Related Parkland Research: 
A Dirty Business: The Exclusion of Alberta Farm Workers from Injury Compensation  

11. Political finance and government transparency and accountability

Progressive Conservatives

  • Work with the Auditor General of Alberta to transparently report on the province’s finances (the same Auditor General that the PCs are currently underfunding)
  • No mention of reforms to political finance rules

Wildrose 

  • Eliminate sole-source contracts, ensure open and competitive tendering and bidding process for all major government contracts and procurement
  • Create an Independent Budget Office to provide analysis, projections, and cost estimates
  • Publicly disclose an infrastructure spending priority list and rationale for all projects
  • Zero-based budgeting and value for money audits
  • Strengthen legislative watchdogs (Auditor General, Ethics Commissioner, Chief Electoral Officer)
  • Prohibit floor-crossing without a by-election
  • Provide easier, fairer, and more affordable public access to Freedom of Information requests
  • Phase out corporate and union donations to political parties
  • Implement MLA recall legislation
  • Improve representative democracy by introducing "opposition days" and by having all-party committees review and amend legislation 
  • Publicly disclose all travel expenses of politicians and senior staff
  • Strengthen whistleblower legislation
  • Implement fixed dates for elections, budgets, quarterly updates, and the opening of legislative sessions

NDP

  • Create a commission to analyze Alberta's royalty system
  • Ban corporate and union donations to political parties
  • Establish an Infrastructure Sunshine List to improve transparency
  • Strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to combat cronyism
  • Amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLA use of government resources during elections, ensure the Chief Electoral office can effectively investigate breaches
  • Respect the independence of all-party committees
  • Adequately fund the Officers of the Legislature, including the Auditor General
  • Ensure the City Charter process is mutually developed by the province and cities

Liberals

  • Ensure Legal Aid is adequately funded
  • No mention of reforming the political finance rules

Related Parkland Research:
A Monochrome Political Culture?: Examining the Range of Albertans' Values and Beliefs
Less Exclusion, More Engagement: Addressing Declining Voter Turnout in Alberta
Governing Alberta: Citizens' Views

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