By Justin Seward
Southern Alberta Newspaper
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging 2020, Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter feels the government got a lot accomplished through these unprecedented times.
“In terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish for government, as you know I released my annual Red Tape Reduction report and we were able to show that in the first year, we were able to reduce regulatory burden by over six per cent,” said Hunter, who is also the associate minister of Red Tape Reduction.
“What does six per cent mean? In comparison to other countries and other jurisdictions — in the first year, B.C. was able to reduce 1.2 per cent, Manitoba two per cent-and yet we were able to reduce over six per cent.
“That is over and above the fact we counted and catalogued every one of the pinch points (or regulatory hoops) in the stat sheets, regulations, forms and policies —which was a huge effort — 670,000 of these pinch points are what Albertans have to deal with.” The UCP government was able to save Albertans over $476 million in compliance costs.
“Put that into perspective, the first year in Ontario and Saskatchewan, they were able to save about $130 million,” said Hunter.
“You can see the work we’ve done has been substantial. We’ve been purposeful and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot.” The provincial government announced in early December drivers will not have to put expiry stickers on their licence plate.
“I love the fact we realized that through Albertans — they sent in a submission and said ‘Why are we doing this? “We don’t need to do it’—and it made eminent sense and so we got after it,” said Hunter.
“We said OK, if a police officer pulls you over, he can run the plate immediately, which they all do and then he’s going to walk up to the car and say can you provide (a) driver’s licence, registration and proof of insurance.
“Well all that information is all he needs. He doesn’t go and get down in the mud and squint and see whether or not you have an up-to-date (sticker) on your licence.” The province will save $1.2 million annually with the new licence plate initiative.
Changes were made to the agriculture industry in 2020.
“You now don’t have to pay to get a permit to go out and get a Christmas tree, you don’t have to pay a permit to go out and get a cord of wood — actually you can get a three-cord of wood now,” said Hunter.
A licence has to be applied for online to gather wood, but at no cost.
“I think that’s another good commonsense strategy,” said Hunter.
The provincial government worked out a plan to streamline the process of endless paperwork that oil and gas companies have to fill out.
“We did a lot of work in terms of compliance or application time. We reduced the application timeline — you know time is money. And by reducing those timelines, we were able to save Albertans a huge amount of money,” he said.
A bill was passed by the provincial government to save condo buyers about $400 per unit.
Hunter said, “Some people would say ‘Well, that’s nothing.’Well, OK ask a condo builder if I could save $400. Is that worth it? They would say absolutely it’s worth it.” Developers were provided this past year with strong timelines, so there was more certainty for them.
“When they’re going in they realize — you know what, OK I’ve got to wait 60 days for this application to be able to go through the process — and then I can get out working and creating jobs,” said Hunter.
“Well, you need that certainty and that’s something developers have been saying to us for a year-and-a-half now.”
Fifteen pieces of legislation were passed and Hunter said, “They were all important to be able to help us become the freest, fastest-moving economy in North America.” As for the local constituency, the July announcement of the twinning of Highway 3 between Taber and Burdett was a “grand slam home run” in Hunter’s opinion.
“I can tell you straight out that was not on any government radar for a decade,” said Hunter.
“I was able to provide our government and my colleagues with our valued proposition about how we and what (we) do down in southern Alberta well — how we have 70 per cent of all the irrigated land in Canada right down there in southern Alberta, how we produce so much more per acre than anywhere else in Alberta. This is because we have that water, we have those heat units and we have very innovative farmers and ranchers.” Hunter believes the twinning of Highway 3 will help the process of being able to make that corridor between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat more attractive to the agri-food processing companies.
Despite the UCP progression in 2020, Hunter summed up the year honestly.
“I do look forward to looking at 2020 in the rear-view mirror,” he said.
“But 2021, I think is going to be a bounce-back year. In economics, we call it a ‘V’ curve where you’ve got a sharp drop in employment numbers, but those numbers are actually coming back pretty quickly. We’re going to see it come back even faster in 2021.”