Talkin’ shop with Stelmach

By Katy Anderson

Perhaps the province’s busiest man this month, Premier Ed Stelmach was on campus Tue., Feb. 19 to talk with NUTV.

Gauntlet: This year, here at the U of C, tuition went up by $230 dollars per year for a full-time student. If elected, the Liberals have said that they would lower tuition by $1,000 a year. What’s the Conservatives’ plan to take the rising costs of education off the backs of students?

Stelmach: We announced yesterday we’re freezing tuition rates to the rate of inflation, that will be about $150 million dollars over the next three years. The next [plan] is to reduce interest on loans down to prime, that, in the first year, will be the biggest expenditure. The first year, it will be about $9 million and then about $3 million after that. Then we announced additional support for living allowance. Many students have to move from smaller centres to Calgary, Edmonton or Lethbridge and, of course, housing and all the living accommodations increase. The other is with graduate students; increasing bursaries depending on the program, anywhere from $750 to $900. That is a long-term commitment because what we’ll be announcing today is a comprehensive program in partnership with institutions in commercializing more technology in the province of Alberta.

G: When we’re talking about the up-front costs that students have to pay, how will what you announced yesterday change from the tuition freeze that is on right now?

S: It’s extending it, we did it for a few years but we’re going to continue the freeze. We will have to provide the additional support to universities, obviously on capital and staffing, over and above what the inflation is. Universities are having to find people to teach, deliver the courses and, of course, the maintenance of the buildings have increased dramatically over the last few years. That is a very strong commitment on behalf of the government. We’ve commitment

six billion dollars a year to infrastructure and a good portion of that is going to post-secondary institutions.

G: You mentioned affordable housing, an issue that has really been on the minds of students this year. Homelessness has skyrocketed in both Calgary and

Edmonton. How will you work with the municipalities to make housing more affordable?

S: What we did this year was institute a number of programs. First we worked with the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness. We support their goal to end homelessness in ten years-eradicate homelessness. It is a very ambitious agenda, but you have to set ambitious goals. We’ve implemented a number of policies for homeless plus the support programs. Individuals that find they’re homeless usually have addiction issues or perhaps mental illness. We do intervene as government, as a taxpayer you intervene-police, ambulance and emergency-that’s about $150,000 cost per homeless. Let’s break that cycle [by] not only providing homeless shelters but, not a shelter, but a home where they feel comfortable and safe. Then, take the next step in breaking the cycle [which] is providing counseling to help them through their own issues. Now, on affordable housing, what we did is originally it was part of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, the municipal funding, what we did is we took that out as a separate fund, it’s $285 million. Our goal is to increase affordable housing by 11,000 units in five years. Calgary and Edmonton have taken bold steps, what happens is they apply to the fund with a project and we can either support that project through some surplus land that the Alberta government owns or by supporting part of the construction costs, so we’ll reduce the costs of housing. I just visited one brand-new unit on Macleod the other day-all-new construction, all-new concrete, it’s the latest energy efficient building technology that you can get and, again, providing homes for families. Eleven thousand units over the next five years is our minimum goal [but] the way we’ve started out with municipalities I think we’re going to more than succeed that. It’s really increasing supply to bring down the costs for Calgarians.

G: Switching gears a little, let’s talk about the environment. Given the importance of the Albertan oilsands to Albertans, how will your government draw the line between growth and keeping things environmentally sustainable?

S: We will continue to be leaders in the environment for two reasons: one, Albertans deserve it, they also demand it, and also our customers demand it. It’s not only oil and gas, but agriculture, forestry, even tourism. The way we deliver tourism in this province people look to us to be environmental leaders. We’ve taken bold steps as the only jurisdiction in North America to impose limits on greenhouse gas emitters. There are about 100 or so emitters in this province that are about 100,000 tonnes or more, so they pay a $15 a tonne levy into an emissions fund. From that fund we will not only do more research to increase the technology but we will also put together infrastructure to capture CO2 and sequester it, because that’s the quickest way of getting the amount of CO2. Secondly, what we’ve done in Fort McMurray and also in Fort Saskatchewan; which is the northeast industrial heart land, is we initiated an overall cumulative environmental affect study. This is not only CO2 but it’s socks, knocks, water, soil and measuring air quality in both centres and comparing it to other major industrial centres, not only in Canada but in the United States. The other is, what we’ve initiated is the first of its kind in Canada, it’s a biodiversity study this is under sustainable resource development. We’re studying animals in their habitat, birds, fish, vegetation and seeing how it is affected by changes in climate. It is a baseline study that we can share with other provinces. Recently with respect to water we’re working with B.C. and Saskatchewan because we share rivers, to do studies together. We have a very comprehensive Water For Life strategy but we want to do this together so that we have this larger western Canadian partnership to protect the environment.

G: You’ve been criticized for giving a wealth of funding announcements in the months preceding the election, how can Albertans, and students in particular, be sure that your support will continue throughout the next four years, if you are elected?

S: Part of the overall plan of my government is to diversify our economy. We have to move to a knowledge-based economy. Oil and gas will always be important to us, at least for my generation and I’m sure for yours. But, we have the most volatile revenue of any jurisdiction in North America. Any issues in the Middle East, weather in the United States all impact our revenue stream and one way of stabilizing it is to move to a knowledge-based economy and we’re putting a tremendous effort into increasing the number of

post-secondary spaces, training in our technical schools, of course very important and also ensuring that students have a proper education. We have the best, and I’m committed to having the best, loan remission policy in Canada. We’ll make sure that happens and supporting students because, again, educ-

ation is the key to a knowledge-based economy. That is the most significant investment.

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