As part of his “Open for Business Tour,” Wildrose Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt spoke with members of the McLennan and District Chamber of Commerce on September 27.
Fildebrandt who is the Official Opposition’s shadow minister of Finance and Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Assembly attended the luncheon meeting to hear the concerns of local businesspeople and their response to the recent budget.
“Well, it is primarily more of a listening tour than a speaking tour. We are here foremost to meet with job creators and to hear what they have to say about making Alberta open for business again,” says Fildebrandt. “But we also want to share Wildrose principles, values and policies in northern communities.”
Fildebrandt says that at this very difficult time for the province, some of which he recognizes is due to market forces beyond anyone’s control but he also asserts that government actions and policies are making things worse.
“The most common things I hear when I travel to northern communities are that the carbon tax and, minimum wage, are piling it on to make a bad situation even worse.”
Fildebrandt also suggested that the Wildrose Party would rescind the carbon tax if they were elected in the next election.
“I don’ t see any benefit in kicking our industry when it’s down when it is going to have no affect whatsoever around emissions.”
However, the businesspeople gathered in McLennan were less categorical in their response with some consensus expressed that the carbon tax may not be a bad idea but agreeing that this is not a good time to implement it.
On the issue of raising the minimum wage small business owners say it places too great a burden on their operations and that a consequence of a $15 minimum wage is that employees who are at present earning money in that range would also demand higher wages.
“I hear almost universally from small business owners on this tour that raising the minimum wage is going to hurt employment, particularly youth employment, that it should not be raised. But it’s clear that the NDP will not listen to economic studies. They won’t even release their own economic studies within the government and yet they are going to move ahead with a $15 minimum wage.”
Conversely, of course, if minimum wage is less than $15, businesses will favour employing children who live at home rather than paying a realistic wage to adults who need to support themselves and their families. In response to that rationalization, Fildebrandt’s position is rather heavy handed.
“The problems of poverty are better suited with social programs than with blunt instrument economics like this,” says Fildebrandt.
When asked to respond to the view that while cheap youth labour may be good for small business, suggesting that social programs are the answer to adults trying to live independently or support a family is blunt force economics of another kind, Fildebrandt simply reiterated his earlier statement.
Returning to the oil and gas industry and environmental concerns, Fildebrandt believes that Alberta is already held to a higher standard than the industry in other parts of the world.
“Nobody is saying that we don’t need to do anything but how much better than the rest of the world do we need to be before the radical activists accept Alberta’s oil and gas industry? We have world-class regulations for oil and gas extraction and transportation and pipelines and that is not enough for the activists,” he says.
Fildebrandt, pointing to this intransigence of the environmental movement, suggests that any effort to appease the movement is futile. He says that the environmental movement does not want a responsible oil and gas industry they want no oil and gas industry and that negotiating with them is just whetting their appetite and damaging our oil and gas industry.
“That hurts our economy. If you own a convenience store, a small restaurant or you are a pipe fitter, we are all affected,” he says. “I think the federal government has a constitutional obligation to ensure that responsible, national energy infrastructure gets built. If the federal government is not doing that then it is not doing its job.”