Society

The UCP and Alberta Women

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Alberta and the War on Women

Alberta’s UCP government is waging a “war on women.” If you follow Alberta politics at all, you’ll have heard this rumour at least once. It’s likely pure political spin designed to win support and votes, so I didn’t buy it. I didn’t vote for the UCP in the last election, but they did have some good ideas in their election platform. I was hopeful that they’d do something good for Alberta. Would a political party in this day and age wage war against 50% of the population? I decided to see for myself.

Why Examine Women and Policy?

I’ll admit that I’m not a stereotypical feminist. I’m not looking to burn bras along with the patriarchy and have a female-only government. I aim to treat people fairly. I will judge you by how you treat those you don’t stand to gain from. Stepping on others to get ahead tends to make me pretty vocal. I also measure the success of a society by its most vulnerable members, and that often sees me pushing for equality and the rights of women, LGTBQ2, disability, minority, and other groups. I feel Canadians are held to a high standard and should behave accordingly. These values put me in a bit of an odd position here.

I wasn’t a women’s studies or political science major in school. Many other people would be far more qualified to examine these issues than I am. However, I am still a female voter who has lived in and around Alberta her entire life. And because I understand that politics can, do, and will significantly impact my life and the lives of those around me, I feel I must pay attention to what’s going on around me.

Political Parties and Alberta Women at War

Lastly, I need to look for myself because I don’t fit current political labels and don’t have the option of merely following my party’s leader. The NDP tends to veer too far into socialism and spending. They seem to forget that everything comes with a cost. The UCP, on the other hand, supports big business and capitalism at the expense of the average person, and that tends to make me cranky. (Historically, I’ve been a happy Alberta Party member and a multi-generational conservative voter before that.

While my views tend to lean a bit to the left of the center these days (I’m chalking that up to the increased pubic need caused by COVID and open corruption / political tactics used by the current government to fight the NDP — more on that later), I am a firm believer in the concept that a good idea is a good idea, regardless of its source. Opposing sides should be learning and working together by hotly debating topics so that, in the end, the people always get the best possible solution. I know. Idealistic, but I feel it’s an important goal. Anything less would do this province (and this country) a great disservice.

How I Dug Into the Issue of Women and the UCP

As grandpa always said, if you want to know the truth, ignore people’s words, and pay attention to their actions. To accomplish this, I went through Hansard, line by line, for Legislature 20, Session 2. I also went through the social media profiles of prominent government members to see how they phrased and worded things, which topics were important to them, and how they reacted to various issues. My final step was to trace some of these guys back as far as I could to understand where they stood on various issues before being elected.

Once I organized and divided the information into topics, I began to examine each bill introduced during this session and the aspects of life they affect. My goal was to decide if women benefitted (or were protected) in each industry examined.

Note: When women benefit, I do not mean that women don’t benefit from a healthier economy. It does not mean that governments should only look at ways to help women or release women-centric policies. It does not mean that a decision is detrimental for women if it’s favourable for men. This is purely an attempt to gauge the effects each decision or policy has had and understand where the role of women lies with the current government.

Where Women Stand with Alberta’s UCP

Here’s what I looked at:

  1. Bill 1 – Critical Infrastructure Defence Act 2020
  2. Bill 2 – Gaming, Liquor, and Marijuana Act
  3. Bill 3 – Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Amendment Act
  4. Bill 4, 5, & 6 – Money Matters
  5. Bill 35 – Alberta’s Innovation Employment Grant and Job Creation Tax

Alberta’s Women & Bill 1 – Critical Infrastructure Defence Act

Earlier this year, you’ll remember the upheaval caused when First Nations demonstrators blocked railways and highways in an attempt to bring attention to pipeline projects going through traditional territories. To prevent this from disrupting the economy and Alberta industries again in the future, the UCP government introduced Bill 1 to make these sorts of protests illegal. (I should mention that this bill passed.) If you get caught now, you could be jailed for up to six months and face up to $25k in fines.

Why Albertans Would Want to Protest

I can understand why the disruption of rail or highways is a problem. They are horrific for the country’s economy, businesses, and agriculture — many of whom have nothing to do with the protest or the thing being protested. With some companies losing millions and others watching their livelihoods being put at risk, I can see why it is unfair and devastating.

However, this isn’t the first time First Nations people have tried to stop the government and the energy industry from doing whatever in the hell they want with indigenous land. They didn’t put themselves in danger and stand in the middle of a railway just for fun. It was a last-ditch effort to have some say over their own land and convince the people (who should have listened to them the entire time) to pay attention finally. It’s a logical reaction.

The issues of poverty, clean drinking water, housing, healthcare, and many other long-term problems on top of the daily racism they have to tolerate, in addition to a lack of representation, would be enough to make the most patient person absolutely irate. They don’t have generations to wait to stop a pipeline. Meanwhile, they have to stand idly by while politicians spout talking points about equality and reconciliation year after year.

I can’t imagine the level of frustration and defeat many of them must feel. After all, someone is profiting off all of this, and it certainly isn’t those standing on the tracks or highway. They have a right to be angry. They have a right to be heard. Government officials and energy companies left them with no other choice.

Having said that, I don’t want to discuss First Nations vs the energy industry as it’s a long, complex topic on which many other people are in a far better position to discuss than I. What it does make me think about is this: What happens the next time they need to protest? What happens when women, our kids, or our neighbours reach a point where they feel standing on a highway is the only way they’re going to be heard? This bill gives the government the option to turn marginalized people into criminals.

Bill 1 Limits the Ability of Women to Fight Back

Many of the bill’s critics pointed out that anyone participating or organizing protests or marches on sidewalks, streets, alleys, or other such infrastructure would now violate the law. Anything that isn’t covered by this expansive definition can still be committing a crime since this bill also includes anything the government wants to deem as part of a “transportation facility” or “transportation system.”

Essentially, if the government can find a way to carry an apple across it, even if it’s by bike, skateboard, or by foot, they can deem it as part of the transportation system or a transportation facility. In other words, they have the legislation needed to make any protests illegal should they feel the urge. And that thought is terrifying.

As a Canadian, this law directly violates my right to peaceful assembly, freedom of thought, expression, belief, and opinion, as well as my freedom of association. These are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which make up the foundation of our society. If I feel strongly enough to protest something, you can bet I will be doing it. Illegal or not. And I feel like this urge may not be all that far away, given the way things are going. Women marched in Alberta in 2017. If Alberta women continue to be ignored, subjected to sexist bullshit, and purposefully disadvantaged, it will happen again.

Do I think the government is likely to start charging people for protesting a local development or mill rate change? Of course not. Will they charge First Nation’s people the next time they protest? Not unless it’s worth the political and legal backlash, but that’s what scares me. The government has reserved the right to pick and choose who can and can’t speak out against them and how they can do it. They can silence anyone who disagrees with them, and they love to do that:

ucp silences dissent

Even if it’s illegal:

UCP threatens muzzle students

Except when the shoe is on the other foot:

ucp banned

This bill and law is a disgrace to Canadians and Albertans — not just women. However, given the number of issues women continue to face, this is bad news and a failing grade on the part of the UCP government to address the needs of marginalized groups. I have the right to express my views. In fact, I’m going to exercise my right to do that now:

Premier,

If and when I feel the urge to tell you that you’re wrong, I will do so. And I will do so in a way that I feel is appropriate. You, nor the NDP, nor any political party, government, or institution will ever tell me I cannot.

Earlier this year, you’ll remember the upheaval caused when First Nations demonstrators blocked railways and highways in an attempt to bring attention to pipeline projects going through traditional territories. To prevent this from disrupting the economy and Alberta industries again in the future, the UCP government introduced Bill 1 to make these sorts of protests illegal. (I should mention that this bill passed.) If you get caught now, you could be jailed for up to six months and face up to $25k in fines.

Why Albertans Would Want to Protest

I can understand why the disruption of rail or highways is a problem. They are horrific for the country’s economy, businesses, and agriculture — many of whom have nothing to do with the protest or the thing being protested. With some companies losing millions and others watching their livelihoods being put at risk, I can see why it is unfair and devastating.

However, this isn’t the first time First Nations people have tried to stop the government and the energy industry from doing whatever in the hell they want with indigenous land. They didn’t put themselves in danger and stand in the middle of a railway just for fun. It was a last-ditch effort to have some say over their own land and convince the people (who should have listened to them the entire time) to pay attention finally. It’s a logical reaction.

The issues of poverty, clean drinking water, housing, healthcare, and many other long-term problems on top of the daily racism they have to tolerate, in addition to a lack of representation, would be enough to make the most patient person absolutely irate. They don’t have generations to wait to stop a pipeline. Meanwhile, they have to stand idly by while politicians spout talking points about equality and reconciliation year after year.

I can’t imagine the level of frustration and defeat many of them must feel. After all, someone is profiting off all of this, and it certainly isn’t those standing on the tracks or highway. They have a right to be angry. They have a right to be heard. Government officials and energy companies left them with no other choice.

Having said that, I don’t want to discuss First Nations vs the energy industry as it’s a long, complex topic on which many other people are in a far better position to discuss than I. What it does make me think about is this: What happens the next time they need to protest? What happens when women, our kids, or our neighbours reach a point where they feel standing on a highway is the only way they’re going to be heard? This bill gives the government the option to turn marginalized people into criminals.

Bill 1 Limits the Ability of Women to Fight Back

Many of the bill’s critics pointed out that anyone participating or organizing protests or marches on sidewalks, streets, alleys, or other such infrastructure would now violate the law. Anything that isn’t covered by this expansive definition can still be committing a crime since this bill also includes anything the government wants to deem as part of a “transportation facility” or “transportation system.”

Essentially, if the government can find a way to carry an apple across it, even if it’s by bike, skateboard, or by foot, they can deem it as part of the transportation system or a transportation facility. In other words, they have the legislation needed to make any protests illegal should they feel the urge. And that thought is terrifying.

As a Canadian, this law directly violates my right to peaceful assembly, freedom of thought, expression, belief, and opinion, as well as my freedom of association. These are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which make up the foundation of our society. If I feel strongly enough to protest something, you can bet I will be doing it. Illegal or not. And I feel like this urge may not be all that far away, given the way things are going. Women marched in Alberta in 2017. If Alberta women continue to be ignored, subjected to sexist bullshit, and purposefully disadvantaged, it will happen again.

Do I think the government is likely to start charging people for protesting a local development or mill rate change? Of course not. Will they charge First Nation’s people the next time they protest? Not unless it’s worth the political and legal backlash, but that’s what scares me. The government has reserved the right to pick and choose who can and can’t speak out against them and how they can do it. They can silence anyone who disagrees with them, and they love to do that:

ucp silences dissent

Even if it’s illegal:

UCP threatens muzzle students

Except when the shoe is on the other foot:

ucp banned

This bill and law is a disgrace to Canadians and Albertans — not just women. However, given the number of issues women continue to face, this is bad news and a failing grade on the part of the UCP government to address the needs of marginalized groups. I have the right to express my views. In fact, I’m going to exercise my right to do that now:

Premier,

If and when I feel the urge to tell you that you’re wrong, I will do so. And I will do so in a way that I feel is appropriate. You, nor the NDP, nor any political party, government, or institution will ever tell me I cannot.

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UCP & Alberta’s Women: Bill 2 and 3 – Booze, Bongs, and Mobile Homes

alberta parks alchol

The Alberta Government was looking to cover topics a little less contentious with the introduction of Bill 2 – The Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Amendment Act, 2020. Bill 3 Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Amendment Act, 2020 addresses many conflicts between mobile homeowners and landlords. And they’re about as exciting as you’d expect.

UCP Talks Booze in Alberta Parks and Marijuana Law Updates

Bill 2 was essentially housekeeping. Aside from updating the act to come into line with current legislation, it also gives parks the ability to decide if they will allow alcohol sales and consumption.

In terms of women, I don’t see this as a bad or a good thing. It could increase alcohol-related domestic violence. It could encourage outdoor activities and be a catalyst for lots of family outings. I would like to see data before I mark this as a positive or negative change.

Mobile Home Park Disputes and the Alberta Courts

Bill 3 gives mobile homeowners and renters the ability to utilize the Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) to help work through complaints with landowners. Knowing how expensive it can be to take these sorts of disagreements to court and how intimidating that process can be, this certainly seems like a step in the right direction. But does this benefit Alberta women?

Who Lives in Alberta’s Mobile Homes?

According to Stats Canada, 16.5% of the homes in Alberta are “others,” which includes semi-detached, row housing, and other moveable housing and mobile homes. While they are only a portion of that 16.5%, mobile homes are a substantial source of affordable housing for a large number of women and low-income families. And I’m not playing off the whole “trailer trash” stereotype with my reference to affordable housing. As Al Kemp for Manufactured Home Park Owners Alliance of BC said, mobile homes are often between $50 and $100 thousand, and lot rent averages around $500.

In 2018, Alberta’s median income for individuals in the province was $35,800. This number doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Women in Alberta make approximately 40% less than their male counterparts. You need to consider the effects of the pandemic.

COVID Could Increase Landlord-Tenant Disputes

Job losses, wage cuts, a cut to hours, and lower incomes overall have made it harder to pay rent. And now that the government has lifted the stay on rent increases and evictions, it could get a lot harder. Landlords are also struggling to make repairs and maintenance. Lastly, an increase in domestic violence has pushed more women into low-income housing. These changes are not going to make life easier. Then, consider lifestyle changes.

People are spending more time at home. While this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to run out and buy a mobile home instead of renting an apartment, for example, it does mean there are more interactions between tenants, landlords, and neighbours. It’s more time for people to notice how their homes may not be meeting their needs. And with everyone being stressed and low on patience, I could see an increase in conflicts and disagreements.

Overall, I felt this bill from the UCP helped women. Not overwhelmingly. It was almost a side effect, but it was a win nonetheless. I do want to put a massive caution sign on this decision, however. The UCP tends to pack important positions with UCP members, donors, and well-to-do friends, which could change in the future.

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Bill 4, 5, and 6 – Alberta’s Money and Women

Bill 4 – Fiscal Planning and Transparency (Fixed Budget Period) Amendment Act, 2020 essentially gives the government a set period to release a budget. While this can put things like municipalities and school boards in chaos if governments don’t release their budgets in a timely fashion, this bill is pretty benign in improving Alberta’s women’s lives. It also segues into Bill 5 – Fiscal Measures and Taxation Act, 2020 and Bill 6 – Appropriation Act, 2020, which is the budget.

I want to dig into these bills, but honestly, they affect everything. These bills move post-secondary education back to then-Premier Ralph Klien’s embarrassing performance-based funding from the late 1990s, give the government more control over how education boards spend money (including money in reserves) and create a whole host of other issues. To discuss these issues, I’d prefer to cover them by topic. That’s why I will consider these bills neutral.

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Bill 35 – Setting the Financial Stage for Alberta’s Innovation Employment Grant & Jobs Tax Cut

Bill 35 (Tax Statutes (Creating Jobs and Driving Innovation) Amendment Act, 2020) sets the stage for the creation of the Innovation Employment Grant and adjusts to accommodate the Job Creations Tax Cut. In my view, as a regular Albertan, innovation is one of the most important areas of our economic recovery plan. (Innovation is the creation of a new product line, service, or technology based on.) If innovation is properly supported, this could be extremely beneficial to Alberta and its future. Has the UCP managed that? I’m not so sure.

The Innovation Employment Grant and How It Works

“[T]he Innovation Employment Grant will encourage economic growth by supporting small and medium-sized businesses that invest in research and development (R&D) with a grant worth up to 20% of qualifying expenditures.”

Alberta Government on the Innovation Employment Grant

The idea behind this grant makes sense. If you make R&D more affordable, businesses will be more willing to innovate, take risks, and increase revenue. Like tax cuts, though, more money doesn’t necessarily mean more jobs or higher R&D investment. Companies, after all, must answer for financial losses. Their shareholders want profits. They may even invest it in R&D elsewhere. Rather than get into that debate, I’d like to focus on how this program works.

The Alberta Government says the Innovation Employment Grant will “[p]rovide an 8% payment towards a corporation’s R&D spending in a given year, up to its base level of spending.” The wording here is interesting. Not all small and medium businesses are corporations.

“Corporations” include out-of-province corporations, non-profits, religious groups, societies, Alberta, and out-of-province cooperatives. While I agree that all kinds of corporations can benefit the Alberta economy, the way the policy has been written leaves the door open for companies to shift large chunks of money out of the province. I’m not comfortable with this fact.

Which Industries Spend in Research and Development

To determine how much to pay out for the grant, the government will average the corporation’s previous two years of R&D spending and pay 20% of the amounts over the base level spend. Here, I want to mention that 9.5% of corporations in Canada are two or fewer years old, and R&D isn’t usually an expense that corporations invest heavily in their first year.

One barrier corporations often encounter with R&D is that it’s an expensive, high-risk activity; it leverages large amounts of capital to gain an edge over the competition. Any financial gains are made long-term. (Research On Return Capital formula.) To get around some of these issues, corporations will often partner, merge, or outsource their R&D activity. These activities could also cause much of the money to leave the province as there doesn’t seem to be anything to prevent it, nor any requirement to keep any of the resulting revenues inside the province.

The Innovation Employment Grant will be part of the corporate tax system and pay out up to $4 million to small and medium corporations. It will phase out the grant for firms between $10 million and $50 million in taxable capital.

Will the Innovation Employment Grant Work?

Honestly, unless I’ve missed something significant, I don’t see this generating many jobs. First, many businesses won’t benefit because they don’t invest in R&D. They could be in an industry that doesn’t innovate a lot or that launched as the result of innovation. (They discovered a new product and started a business.) And many businesses don’t survive past their third year. However, government support is one of the biggest factors in R&D.

Money is another problem. The grant is phased out after $10 million, but I can’t see companies making under $10 million hiring large R&D departments. Many businesses of this size would likely merge, partner, acquire the expertise via an acquisition, or outsource, so that would be even less money and fewer jobs in Alberta.

Identifying Innovators

There are many ways to determine innovation potential. The Vitality Index and the Commercial Confidence Index (CCI) are fairly common, but you might also find TFP (Total Factor Productivity) numbers useful. However, to identify innovators on a larger scale, we can look at patents (like legal copyright that prevents others from producing, using, or selling something for a set period).

I know that many of the patents applied for in Canada are from outside the country. The bulk of them are in chemistry, but other areas like civil engineering, transportation, and medical technology seem to do a good share of R&D as well. (You can search patents at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.)


University of AlbertaUniversity of CalgaryUniversity of LethbridgeGrant Macewan
05/24/2015-04/30/201930512034
04/30/2019 – 10/22/202022500
Total Held1,802617396

University of TorontoUniversity of British ColumbiaMcGill UniversityMcMaster University
Total Held (Estimate)3,3531,788935880

While we can’t compare the institutions this way, it’s clear that educational institutions drive a lot of innovation. Pity these institutions have been gutted and are undergoing a severe restructuring that could kill a lot of this work. It seems the Alberta Government didn’t know what it had and won’t know until it’s too late.

Innovation Drivers

Government support is vital to innovation, but it isn’t some magic pill. Perhaps even more important than money and (arguably) education is culture and society. Investors and innovators both seek a society that fosters collaboration between companies, institutions, and industries. The more opportunities various industries have to see each other’s work and work together, the more natural innovation occurs.

Innovation also needs an environment that allows for the freedom to fail. Companies need to be willing to take risks, fund the resources needed, and help guide research and innovation in its chosen direction. Governments need to recognize programs that work, avoid success-driven funding models, and have a financial ecosystem that supports R&D. It should aid in scaling, production, and reduce barriers to entry. We used to have Alberta Innovates, but that was yet another victim of the UCP’s austerity dreams.

Perhaps most importantly, governments and societies need to be knowledge-focused instead of profit-focused — innovation can often take months, years, or even decades to start paying off. And while this program doesn’t indicate that the money will be tied to RORC or a similar formula, the minister decides who gets how much. I worry this would bias investments and skew their idea of which industries (and who) has been the most successful. I also get the sense that Premier Kenney and the UCP think this process is a lot less risky and pays off a lot more quickly than it does.

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I’ve gone deeper into women and the UCP in more detail on a few topics: