Public Interest Alberta held its 12th annual advocacy conference, "Alberta at the Crossroads: Forward Not Back," on April 5th and 6th, 2018 at the Chateau Louis Hotel and Conference Centre in Edmonton. A big thank you to our volunteers, speakers, moderators, facilitators, note-takers, and participants for another successful conference!
Below you will find a re-cap of the conference sessions, including video and other resources.
Thursday, April 5th
The day began with a pre-conference workshop, "Understanding Provincial Budgets and Tax Revenue," facilitated by Diana Gibson and Alex Himelfarb. The workshop gave a comprehensive overview of the Alberta provincial government's revenue shortfall and explored the various options available, including a wide-ranging discussion on what the right mix of taxation could look like (e.g. sales tax, income tax, wealth tax, etc.). To learn more, download the slides from Diana Gibson's presentation.
That evening, Alex Himelfarb delivered his opening keynote presentation, "Rebalancing Power: Collective Action for the Common Good." Alex's presentation discussed the global trend of lower taxes, deregulation, privatization, wealth inequality, and deunionization embraced by governments and explored how we reassert the power of working people, provide economic security in a time of precarious work, and rebuild the collective action toolkit we will need to move these ideas forward.
During the evening, executive director Joel French informed the conference participants about Public Interest Alberta's latest campaign, Revenue Reno, which calls on the provincial government to fix Alberta's revenue shortage by overhauling our tax system to protect and revitalize our public services.
Friday, April 6th
Day two of the conference began with the first panel, Forward or Back? Exploring Alberta's Options, with panelists Ricardo Acuña (executive director of the Parkland Institute), Gillian Steward (columnist for the Toronto Star), and moderated by Michael Janz (Edmonton public schools trustee). The panel gave an overview of the current political landscape in Alberta, with the province moving forward in a number of areas since the 2015 election, such as raising the minimum wage, campaign financing, labour laws, and carbon pricing. The coming 2019 election could result in Alberta continuing to move forward, or it could mean a return to the kinds of spending cuts and regressive policies the province experienced under Ralph Klein in the 1990s. These two pathways were explored by the panelists in detail.
The second panel of the day, Implementing Reconciliation in the Alberta Context, discussed reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous peoples with panelists Jennifer Tupper (dean of the University of Alberta's Faculty of Education), Lewis Cardinal, and moderated by Charlene Bearhead (education coordinator for the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women). They gave their thoughts on the most effective ways organizations and individuals in Alberta can move forward on reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous peoples.
The third panel of the day, Connecting a Cleaner Environment to a Stronger Democracy, featuring panelists Kevin Taft (former Leader of the Opposition), Laurie Adkin (professor of political science at the University of Alberta), and moderated by Nikki Way (analyst for the Pembina Institute), discussed protecting the environment in a province with an economy that is highly dependent on fossil fuel industries. The panelists discussed what Albertans can do to confront these dual and interrelated challenges.
Following the panel, conference participants were divided into six breakout sessions to discuss Public Interest Alberta's latest publication, Priorities for Advancing the Public Interest. These sessions included discussions of our Action Areas:
- Human Services and Poverty
- Post-Secondary Education
- Health Care
- Child Care and Early Learning
The conference wrapped up with Diana Gibson delivering her closing keynote presentation, Moving Forward in the 2019 Election and Beyond. Gibson, a principal with PolicyLink Research Canada, tied together the themes of the conference with a message to be bold and unapologetic in your advocacy work, with calls to protect and strengthen public services and push back against austerity and precarious work situations.
The conference ended on a positive and uplifting note with conference participants invigorated and ready to go back to their communities and workplaces with new tools to continue their advocacy work!
See you next year!