Rural broadband, agriculture incubator part of Alta. throne speech

Alberta farmers can expect the government to move on a rural broadband strategy, as well as expand on an agriculture incubator as part of its plans for this year.

The mandate was outlined March 18 in the 2019 throne speech, an annual event that lays out the government’s priorities for the year.

Details are scarce on the rural broadband strategy, but Premier Rachel Notley told reporters Monday it will move forward on significantly investing in pilot projects to strengthen broadband service in rural communities.

She said the province is hoping to find partnerships with other levels of government.

“We know this is a critical issue for supporting rural Alberta,” she said. “We are giving community members the tools to maintain economic activity.”

She said the province will also expand on its Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator, a facility in Leduc, Alta. that assists start-up food businesses with accessing markets.

“The Ministry of Agriculture is still working on it and continuing with the planning work,” she said.

The throne speech overall largely summed up the province’s commitments over its last four years in government.

Alberta is expected to have an election some time this spring, but the speech provides insight on the NDP’s platform.

Notley said the government will introduce measures that aim to strengthen democratic reform, looking to restore trust in government.

The measure comes as the United Conservative Party continues to be embroiled in a mess over its leadership race in 2017.

The RCMP is currently investigating the campaign of former UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway for irregular political contributions.

Recent revelations show members of Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign co-ordinated with Callaway’s team to undermine former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who was running to head the UCP in 2017 but lost.

Political analysts suggest the co-ordination might not be illegal, though they consider it unethical.

Notley said an NDP government, if elected, would strike a committee after the election to address any loopholes in political campaigns.

“We have to look at the constitution, but if we can can tighten this up then we will,” she said.

“There is a very significant scandal right now (involving the UCP). At its very best, it amounts to very dark back-room politics focussed on thwarting democracy. At it’s worst, it could be criminal in nature.

“We’re going to let Jason Kenney focus on those issues, where we’re going to focus on what matters to Alberta.”

The UCP has maintained Jason Kenney’s campaign had nothing to do with funding Callaway, though it’s evident the campaigns communicated.

Kenney, leader of the UCP, told reporters March 18 he denied any personal involvement in Callaway’s campaign, saying his team did nothing wrong or unethical.

“Our two campaigns were communicating and that would be normal in a competitive leadership election where you have, particularly, a preferential ballet,” he said.

On the throne speech, Kenney criticized the government for not addressing the province’s high unemployment rate or bringing jobs back to Alberta.

“We need a government that is focussed on getting this province back to work, creating jobs, building pipelines and fighting for Alberta,” he said.

In the throne speech, the government also outlined its efforts to diversify the province’s economy, moving to upgrade more bitumen into value-added products, as well as continue to push for the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

It re-stated its efforts to move oil by rail as a medium-term solution to get more product to market, adding its current production cuts to industry must end as soon as possible.

As well, the throne speech said the province will say no to American-style privatized health care, outlining its previous commitments to keep health funding stable and predictable.

It also re-hashed its commitments of hiring more teachers and support workers, adding it will undertake a major new child-care program.

It isn’t known when Notley will call the election, but a number of bills are set to be tabled in the legislature for what would be a short spring session.

The bills address health care, unclaimed personal property and amendments to criminal evidence, safety codes and mobile home sites.

Contact jeremy.simes@producer.com

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