Alberta is taking a step in the wrong direction

Last month Alberta voters decided who should lead their province. Their choice will affect all of us.

Many challenges we face as a country have little to do with political boundaries. Wildfires and their poisonous smoke. Extreme weather pummeling our homes, businesses and infrastructure. Pollution that flows through our air, water and soil. Loss of species diversity in our ecosystems.

The fact that provincial and territorial borders don’t matter for any of these things is why the May election in Alberta is important to all of us—not just those doing the voting. For people across Canada who are looking in from the outside, there’s reason to be concerned about the trajectory Alberta just locked in for the next four years.  

Much of the election commentary in Alberta painted the contest as a stark choice between the United Conservatives (UCP) and Alberta NDP. Yet from the perspective of living up to our responsibility to preserve and protect the things our kids and grandkids will need to be healthy and well, there was no choice at all.

Most notably, the costs and risks of an increasingly unpredictable climate barely entered the election conversation—a shocking turn of events as Alberta burned. Clearly both parties gambled that enough voters wouldn’t hold them to account on their environmental track records or demand clear positions on key climate issues. They were right. Cue the embarrassing absence of environmental stewardship on display in the province.

This gamble may have paid off in the short-term cycle of electoral politics, but the real price of Alberta’s wager will be felt by all of us. Responding to climate-related harms and shouldering the cost of recovery and adaptation are things we have to do (and pay for) together. The risks are too great to wait for those lagging behind—especially for our kids and grandkids, who will bear the lion’s share of the burden that results from our inaction today.

That’s why it’s especially alarming that Alberta’s new UCP government proposes to lock in their anemic approach to protecting the natural inheritance of younger and future generations by amending Alberta’s Taxpayer Protection Act. This legislation already stipulates that a sales tax can only be introduced if Albertans agree in a referendum. The UCP now wants this law to include ALL taxes, so that “no government can increase taxes on families or job creators without the approval of Albertans.”

For a province with big spending plans (primarily to improve medical care), this is a startlingly simplistic approach to talking to Albertans about the revenue required to pay for the things they want and need. But what’s even more insidious is that these proposed legislative changes effectively commit the province to continued reliance on revenue from the fossil fuel industries that make up 27% of Alberta’s economy. Because who realistically expects Albertans to approve tax increases?

Banking on oil and gas to fund Alberta’s programs and services is shortsighted at best, given global trends towards declining fossil fuel use and the volatility of world oil prices. At worst, it’s betting against the wellbeing of future generations who will live longer with the risks and costs of an unpredictable climate. This risk is compounded by the UCP’s opposition to carbon taxation, even in the face of recent modelling concluding it’s a less economically risky approach than capping emissions in the fossil fuel sector to achieve Canada’s and Alberta’s net zero commitments.

We can all agree that we want our kids and grandkids to have access to what they need to succeed in life. We organize our resources as families to support this goal, and it’s reasonable to think our governments should do the same. With younger generations reporting less optimism about the future, declining mental health, and growing eco-anxiety, clearly this is a goal we’re failing to meet. The path Alberta has just set out on is one more step in the wrong direction.

Andrea LongAndrea Long is Senior Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization for Gen Squeeze. She has more than 20 years of experience in policy analysis, research and knowledge mobilization on health and social issues, including housing and homelessness, poverty, social determinants of health, and health in all policies.


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