Alberta Party leader Greg Clark’s speech to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association Conference
Posted on September 25, 2015 by Meagan Wade
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I want to start by acknowledging that we are on traditional Treaty 7 territory.
I also want to thank Helen Rice for your tremendous service to the AUMA, to the people of Grande Prairie and to our province. Helen, thank you.
And I also want to recognize incoming president Lisa Holmes. Lisa, I look forward to working with you to advance the objectives of Alberta's urban municipalities for the betterment of all Albertans.
It really is an honour to be here to speak with the AUMA for the first time as leader of the Alberta Party and as an elected MLA. I genuinely believe we reflect the changing landscape in Alberta politics and Alberta communities; we represent an option that focuses on grassroots democracy, good management of public finances, social moderation and most of all, balance. This week I’ve had the chance to meet many of you, and I look forward to getting to know each of you, visiting your communities and building a strong relationship with the AUMA over the coming months and years.
It was 827 days ago that this building was shut down, along with nearly all of downtown Calgary, as flood waters ravaged southern Alberta. Our communities were tested, Albertans were tested, but we didn't falter. We didn't fight with each other and look out only for ourselves, instead we came together as only Albertans can. First responders risked their lives running toward danger while the rest of us sought safety. Emergency management agencies, provincial and municipal, came together to manage the crisis. And neighbours pitched in to help their neighbours while people far from the flood zone came in by the thousands to help complete strangers.
This and countless of other examples like it, big and small, give us the essential definition of community. But I don't need to tell you that, because you live it every day. You are the people who step up and ensure your communities are great places to live, and that they stay that way.
Thinking about how long it's been since the flood I was surprised to find that the southern Alberta floods happened as far back as 827 days ago. In that time a lot of work has been done on a local level and most homes have been repaired, at least from the outside, but many, many people are still hurting. Many are still struggling to get through the DRP process and all are waiting for an announcement about significant upstream flood mitigation.
I'm here to tell you we're all still waiting.
Flood mitigation infrastructure is just one of the many, many capital projects required in this province. The AUMA has long advocated for projects to catch up on the infrastructure deficit left over from years of under-investment needed to build and maintain our schools, recreation facilities, transit, health facilities, roads and other projects. And I emphasize the need to build AND maintain infrastructure, because in many cases repairing aging infrastructure is more urgent that brand new projects. Repairs may not be as politically attractive as shiny new projects, but my hope is the new government will listen carefully to you, our municipal leaders, who understand the real requirements in your communities.
But how are we going to pay for these projects? Like I said before, I believe in balance. Yes, I believe in balanced budgets, but there are times when borrowing money makes sense. Now is one of those times. Alberta is facing a significant economic downturn and Albertans are losing jobs by the thousands. Now is the time to borrow, when interest rates are at historic lows, to create jobs and catch up on the hundreds of badly-needed projects all over Alberta.
If, and I expect when, our new government goes down a path of borrowing to build, I will keep close eye on their debt repayment plan. And make no mistake, our province will not be in a position to repay debt if we don't get our operational spending under control, and we will saddle future generations with our bills. This must not be allowed to happen. Alberta must find ways to make our public service less expensive and more effective. Like thousands of companies, municipal governments, agencies and not-for-profits all around our province, Alberta's public service must deliver more for less.
This does not need to mean massive job cuts or service rollbacks, but it does mean our provincial government must have the bravery to make those difficult but essential decisions that will ensure Alberta's public service costs, which are higher than anywhere else in the country while delivering the same or lesser outcomes, come in line.
I believe stronger municipalities mean a stronger Alberta. It is vital the province recognizes and respects the role of municipalities and we move toward a true partnership, including ensuring stable, predictable contributions to municipal community supports such as FCSS. And I believe we need a new relationship for the two big cities governed by city charters.
But a stronger Alberta is impossible unless Alberta's prosperity is shared. And this is an area where municipalities have again taken the lead, driving poverty reduction initiatives in the absence of a meaningful provincial strategy. Examples like the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance, Medicine Hat becoming the first jurisdiction to end homelessness, Edmonton's recently introduced End Poverty Edmonton initiative and many more plans and strategies around the province, all driven by municipal leadership. Access to affordable housing is a significant challenge in nearly every part of our province, and although a lot of great work has been done at the municipal level, you cannot do it alone. You have my word that I will to encourage the provincial government to do their part to help bring affordable housing to your communities.
I am also very supportive of the recent efforts to promote regionalization. I attended the forum hosted by Mayor Bill Given in Grande Prairie last year and I applaud and support your efforts to rethink regional governance and revenue models. I'm also very encouraged by the presence of so many members of the AAMDC here this week. I hope to see as many AUMA members at the upcoming AAMDC conference and I sincerely hope this is the start of even more collaboration in the interests of Albertans.
In closing, it's important to remind ourselves how truly fortunate we are to live in Alberta. We live in a province where it doesn't matter where you come from. It doesn't matter where you went to school or who your parents were. If you have a good idea, if you're honest and if you work hard, you will succeed in Alberta. That isn't always true in other parts of our country or other parts of the world. But it is in Alberta, and that's one of the many things that makes our province special.
My vision for Alberta is a province that we can continue to be proud to call home. And make no mistake, I am fiercely proud of Alberta and proud to call this place home. Home is a place with a strong economy, an open, welcoming and entrepreneurial culture, a thriving arts scene, great schools, safe and healthy communities and opportunity for all.
Under your leadership, and in a spirit of true partnership with the province, Alberta will continue to be great.