Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA talks carbon tax, GSAs, adoption reform
Spruce Grove-Stony Plain's MLA says he's enjoying his time back in the community this summer.
Searle Turton was elected this spring to the UCP government, and finished his first session at the Legislature at the end of June.
He recently stopped into The One's studio to discuss a variety of topics from his first three months on the job.
Turton says one of the government's initial accomplishments stands out.
"The number one thing that I think most of our caucus is excited about is just the removal of the carbon tax. That was a message told to us loud and clear during the election cycle, we have been promising that for months, and months, and months," he said.
"So as a Bill 1 to be able to remove that carbon tax, I think (it) was a fantastic win."
Despite so-far unsuccessful court challenges to the federal carbon tax from Saskatchewan and Ontario, Turton says Alberta is different.
"We've had a carbon tax on major emitters here in the province of Alberta since Premier (Ed) Stelmach was in power. That's really the biggest difference between the situation here in Alberta, and Saskatchewan and other provinces that had no type of carbon tax. So a big basis of the legal challenge that the Province of Alberta put forward is that we already have a carbon tax put in place," he said.
Turton was also clear that even if a court case isn't successful, he can live with the alternative.
"Let's be honest; absolute worst case scenario, the federal government's tax is still less than what the previous government did. So regardless, residents of Alberta are going to be benefiting one way or the other. But we feel pretty confident in our legal standing when we bring forward the unique circumstances that the province of Alberta has over other provinces, and we'll see how that plays out in the courts," he said.
Listen to Evan Cooke's full interview with Turton:
Turton also discussed some of the other major topics from his first session in government, including:
Bill 8: The Education Act
Local students who want to join a gay-straight alliance (GSA) will still be able to do so safely, according to Turton, who says he stands by his party's controversial Act.
Critics of Bill 8 say it no longer mandates that schools start a club immediately after students ask for it.
Turton says the language of the previous Act was too vague.
"What does that exactly mean in terms of a time limit? Does it mean within minutes? Does it mean within a day? Does it mean before the board can even meet? Or the principal can actually put together a plan? So we just want to give a little bit of flexibility to make sure that from a legal perspective, the province was looked after," he said.
"And that we weren't overly onerous upon the individual schools - some have different administrative capacities as well, to be able to put this forward."
He says the government believes GSAs should be in any school that wants them, and that he can't picture a scenario where a public or private school would try and deny a student a GSA.
"That's why we put forward in the legislation that GSAs, if requested by a student, have to be in all the public schools as well as private/charter schools. That was missing in the legislation a couple years ago - I mean, that's a really important piece that I think Albertans recognize," he said.
"I honestly believe that all students, in wherever school they are in the province, if they feel as if this is an avenue that they want to pursue, I think that they'll have the resources, and the clubs, and the peer-supported support that they need to get in order to feel safe. I have no qualms about that happening."
Bill 2: Youth Minimum Wage
Turton says the province is hearing good things when it comes to its new law that lowers the minimum wage for youth workers.
The change saw the province's minimum wage drop from $15 to $13 per hour, for workers under 18.
"I've had business owners say 'you know what Searle, it's hard to pay $15/hour for a new student to give them that work experience, when they don't even know which way to hold a broom,'" he said.
"There has to be that youth incentive, because my fear personally as a dad and as an MLA for this area, is that we're taking away incentives to get those new students into the workforce and gain that experience."
He says with a lower wage, teenage workers can make more money, sooner.
"It's our goal that anyone that enters the workforce - be it a student, be it an adult - that they're not at minimum wage for a long time. That they gain those skills, they gain that experience, and they move up the income ladder so they can provide for their families," he said.
"It's always up to the business owner to dictate whatever wage they want to them pay at. So they don't have to pay them less, and there's been business owners that have said 'no, we're going to pay a 16-year-old the same amount of money as that 19-year-old.' But obviously with all legislation, we're going to continue to track it moving forward."
Bill 9: Public sector wage arbitration
Back on July 19, local members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees protested outside of the WestView Health Centre in Stony Plain.
The government's bill is attempting to push back scheduled arbitration talks from the end of June until October.
Turton says it's far from ideal, but that the new government needs this extra time.
"From a strict bargaining perspective, it would be wonderful for a union to bargain with someone that absolutely had no idea where they were fiscally. And that's the case right now with the province, we need to be able to spend those couple extra months really tearing into the books, seeing the true fiscal state of the province before we begin those negotiations," he said.
He also says that cutting a new government some slack isn't an unprecedented request.
"This isn't really any different from what other governments have done. Albertans elected us with the idea of getting the fiscal house in order. I mean, we're hurting as a province financially. And so, we're dealing with people's lives, we're dealing with livelihoods. We're dealing with a lot of issues on the provincial level, and we want to make sure we get them right."
At the WestView protest, AUPE Vice President Bonnie Gostola says the plan is to take the government to court.
Turton says he'd like to see that position be reconsidered.
"We're talking about a 90 day delay. It's three months. We're not talking about a year, we're not talking about settlement plans that have been put forward or been arbitrarily imposed upon those groups. We're talking about 90 days. We're talking about a chance for the government to do its due diligence to find out its true financial state, before those negotiations take place."
Private Member's Motion: Adoption
Finally, Turton talked about the progress of his motion that calls for changes to clean up the costs and red tape surrounding Alberta's adoption process.
The cause is close to him, as he and his wife adopted their youngest son.
Turton says he spoke to now-Premier Jason Kenney about the initiative after winning the UCP nomination, and has worked steadily on it since being elected.
"The Motion just simply directed government to look at ways to streamline the adoption process, and make it easier for families to adopt, and for kids to find forever homes. So I was very pleased that the motion was unanimously supported (including all opposition MLAs) in the Legislature. So that kind of kick starts a process for me meeting with stakeholders all over the province. I've just been flooded by stories of adoption providers and parents," he said.
Turton says along with stories, he's got plenty of leads when it comes to ideas for how to reform the system.
He says now's the time to narrow those down.
"At this stage, it's a pretty big pot of ideas. And we have to be able to sift through them to see which ideas are good for the long term, without maybe perhaps a short term loss. So we're going through a lot of those discussion points right now with stakeholders, but I can honestly tell you I have folders and folders of ideas. This motion really resonated with Albertans," he said.
"We're getting a lot of ideas forward so that if asked to bring forward a Bill later on, we'll be in a position to potentially make some constructive improvements to the process. Potentially, I look forward to given the opportunity, to put forward a Bill, maybe in the spring."
The next session of the legislature is set to begin on October 22, following the results of the next federal election.