Post-secondary tuition, the minimum wage and the province’s economy were among the main topics covered by Premier Rachael Notley Oct. 19 in her state-of-the-province speech.
Notley used the speech, at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary, to confirm that her government’s freeze on tuition levels, imposed last year, will continue through the 2017-18 academic year.
“We need to make sure that education and training are accessible,” Notley said.
“The best education in the world does no good if the people who need it most can’t afford it.”
In another nod to Alberta’s young adults, the premier repeated promises to push the minumum wage, which is currently $12.20 per hour, to $15 within a couple of years.
“If you work hard, you should be able to afford to house your family, and to feed them and to live a decent and dignified life,” said Notley.
“Which is why we are increasing the minimum wage in Alberta to $15 an hour so that better times will be widely shared and no one will be left behind.”
An exact date for implementation of the minimum wage has yet to be finalized.
Notley said the change would be made when there is a more balanced budget.
Notley reassured Albertans that the government could handle the broken economy until it picks up again.
“The provincial government can serve, and is serving, as an economic shock absorber for a time,” she said.
“As our economy improves in coming years, the provincial budget is going to have to be towards coming back into balance.
“That also means that we are very unlikely to have a lot of headroom for major new spending proposals until recovery occurs.”
Notley could not confirm that the toughest times for Alberta are over, however.
“We are cautiously optimistic, but we are still planning to manage as though things have started to improve,” she told reporters.
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark told reporters that he disagreed with the decision to extend the tuition freeze, despite being a supporter of post-secondary education.
“I believe that what we need in post-secondary education is a very clear cap to tuition increase,” said Clark, the MLA for Calgary Elbow.
“If we freeze it for too long there is going to be a snap back at some point, and the money has to come from somewhere.”
While Clark said the decision could strain university budgets, Notley called affordable education the “cornerstone of a healthy economy.”
“We all benefit from well-educated citizens contributing to our economy and building our communities,” she said.
Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Leela Aheer, of the Wildrose Party, criticized the speech, calling it a “rally.”
“This is about Albertans, this isn’t about my party or anybody else’s party,” she said.
Clark also criticized the address, saying it was “polarizing.”
“For a speech that is ostensibly a state of Alberta, she spent an awfully long time running down the opposition,” he said.
“What she’s doing is creating division in Alberta at a time a premier, a leader, ought to be bringing our province together.”