Former Alberta premier Allison Redford resigned on March 23 after a string of public relations disasters and spending scandals. The race to replace her is now on, as the Progressive Conservative Party will select a new leader on Sept. 6.
Thomas Lukaszuk stepped down from his post as jobs minister to run for the PC leadership on May 22. Many students know Lukaszuk as the former minister of advanced education who oversaw roughly $147 million in post-secondary budget cuts.
While Lukaszuk found $50 million to put back into postsecondary, he remained the face of the cuts.
The Gauntlet asked Lukaszuk about post-secondary spending, the future of Alberta’s economy and his approach to campaigning.
The Gauntlet: You’ve talked about the loss of moral authority in the PC party after recent spending scandals. Why do you think you can restore this authority?
Thomas Lukaszuk: No one can instil their own credibility or acceptance in others. We all have to earn it and re-earn the privilege of continuing to govern. You do that through apologizing — laying out a vision moving forward to prevent this stuff from happening again, as opposed to saying, “you know what, we will simply re-staff a little at the top and we can carry on as we always have.”
The budget cuts two years ago are still fresh in the minds of a lot of students. Why should they trust you?
I hope it wasn’t lost on Albertans that I was appointed to that portfolio less than a month before the budget was announced, a time when the budget was already laid in brick. My mandate, given to me by the premier, was to deliver on it. I think I made it abundantly obvious that the first time I had an opportunity to put money back in, I would. And I did find $50 million to put back in. That’s something that I can personally take credit for.
I’m the one continuously saying that the only way this province is going to move forward — the only way we’re going to stabilize our revenue — is through research, innovation and developing new economic sectors. All that will happen because of advanced education.
You’ve talked about diversifying Alberta’s economy so that we’re not susceptible to fluctuating commodity prices. Do you think that will come from postsecondary?
If all of a sudden your revenue from, be it oil or gas, drops by $6 billion overnight, what do you do? How do you offer predictable and sustainable funding? Are you going to run deficits? Are you going to raise taxes?
In order to offer those most important departments — like education and advanced education — predictable and sustainable funding, what we need to do is generate additional revenue through other industrial sectors.
That would offset some of the ups-and-downs of the commodities that we are currently relying on. Imagine if we had another one or two robust economies today.
We wouldn’t be as susceptible to those dips in our economic performance.
Unless we are willing to switch our revenue model from commodities to tax, I would challenge those candidates to say so. If you are not — and I’m not in that category — than I know we need to develop additional revenue outside of taxes.
How do you see student government shaping the future of advanced education?
I pride myself on my relationship with the student-body, with the Council of Alberta University Students and other associations. When the budget was dropped, the first thing I did was protect students and freeze their tuition. I also instituted an executive salary review, which was later stopped, unfortunately.
At the end of the day, students knew this was not my budget of choice — that this was a job that was assigned to me and I did what I had to do. Students know that a lot of my priority is to eliminate the ongoing rise of the non- curricular fee that students pay in a variety of schools. I believe that first we need to rationalize what it is that we can charge students for.