By Cal Braid
Westwind Weekly News
Travis Toews is the MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti, an accountant turned rancher and businessman. Premier Jason Kenney appointed Toews to the position of Minister of Finance of Alberta in 2019, and when Kenney decided to step down as UCP leader in late May of 2022, Toews was quick to register his candidacy as Kenney’s successor. On a southern Alberta trip that culminated with a UCP leadership debate in Medicine Hat, he made stops in both Raymond and Cardston on July 26th. He attended a meet and greet at the Raymond Theatre and another in Cardston at the Tanner Centennial Seniors Centre.
Toews’ platform isn’t earth-shaking, but rather comes across as solid ground for those who want both independence and stability.
In promotional video that laid out five key points of his plan, he said, “One thing that won’t work is developing radical and risky proposals that cut us off from the rest of the country. We’ve made great economic gains, great fiscal gains in the past three years. We cannot see those eroded by radical and risky policies implemented in the province. The approach of a lot of political rhetoric, overpromising and under-delivering has not delivered for Albertans.”
Equalization is simmering on the front burner for the UCP candidates who have made local appearances so far. It ensures that citizens nationwide have access to a basic level of service, and this is achieved by each province contributing to the federal program. Toews wants to deliver reforms on equalization and delivered the message bluntly.
“The current formula rips Albertans off. One of those is in the massive inconsistency (in the way) that Quebec hydro income is treated (compared to) Alberta’s non-renewable resource revenue. If that gets corrected, that’s a $5 billion adjustment to equalization that will benefit Alberta. Ultimately, the formula does not take into account that ‘have-not’ provinces have a lower cost of living. That results in some ‘have-not’ provinces being over-equalized. That’s an egregious outcome and it’s simply unfair to Alberta. I will work with other provinces to ensure we have a strong position at that negotiation table.”
Another change that Toews is intent on is to opt out of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and replace it with an Alberta Pension Plan (APP).
“Ultimately, Albertans contribute billions more to the pension plan than they receive back in benefits,” he said. “In the current formula that regulates our participation in the CPP, we have the ability to opt out like Quebec did from the onset, to ensure that Alberta can chart its own course.” He is confident in “the great value proposition of an APP,” for the benefit of future generations.
Autonomy for Alberta is a hot topic among candidates, but it’s the approach and nuance that they quibble over. It’s a charged issue, ripe for debate, and it may determine the outcome of this leadership race.
“I want to erode the federal tax power to create more autonomy for Alberta,” Toews said.
“When I served Alberta as their finance minister, I observed major federal scope creep into Alberta jurisdiction. We disproportionately fund health care and social services in the other provinces. I don’t want to go ‘cap in hand’ to Ottawa asking for revenues only to have them impose conditions on how we deliver programs. That’s not progress. Ottawa doesn’t know best; Albertans know best. It’s time we stop sending our dollars to Ottawa to have them turn around and send them back with strings attached. We need to ensure that we push Ottawa back out of our jurisdiction, that we take control of raising revenues in this province and ensure that we direct our program spending—our health care and our social services programs—and have more autonomy for the province of Alberta.”
Toews is also a staunch advocate for continuing with the Bill C-69 legal challenge. “When it comes to the climate policy, we will ensure that Ottawa treats every industry equitably and that includes the energy industry. When they don’t, I will pass legislation that will enable the Alberta government to tangibly push back on other regions in Canada. That will include targeted tariffs on services and goods produced in other provinces. That’s ultimately going to give Alberta real teeth in the way we push back.”
Toews would like to “build a consensus” for an Alberta police force, though he says he no issue with RCMP officers. He believes that there is a level of bureaucracy that “clouds and shrouds” them and he sees a level of “risk aversion in their culture that ultimately undermines enforcement in rural areas.” He wants a force that answers to Albertans rather than Ottawa.