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On May 30 of 2017, I invited out-of-work energy workers to Alberta’s Legislature, many of them my former colleagues. They were protesting government policies - including higher corporate taxes and the carbon tax. They were protesting jobs and investment leaving Alberta and going to South Dakota, Texas, and even Middle Eastern dictatorships in search of more stable business climates.
Rarely does a day go by where I don’t think about that rally, and the message of those protesters continues to motivate me to get those men and women get back to work.
Perhaps no jurisdiction in the world faces more headwinds right now than Alberta. Not only does our province face ongoing health concerns around the coronavirus pandemic and a worldwide recession, but oil prices remain stubbornly low.
While we know we can’t solve every problem, Alberta’s government is moving forward with its ambitious plan to create the conditions for recovery. Alberta’s Recovery Plan was announced June 29 by Premier Jason Kenney in Calgary and contains ambitious measures to continue protecting Alberta’s families and businesses from COVID-19, create jobs by lowering taxes and attracting investment, build critical infrastructure to create jobs and support communities, and diversify the economy.
My ministry is responsible for building much of the infrastructure that is so critical to this plan. In fact, this year will see more than $10 billion spent on projects in the province, creating 50,000 jobs. That’s the largest-ever infrastructure investment in Alberta’s history.
Among these projects are schools, hospitals, highways, seniors housing, and courthouses. These projects are important for making communities attractive to private sector investment, particularly as government accelerates its reduction in corporate taxes and announces targeted programs to attract tech and petrochemical businesses to the province.
At Alberta Infrastructure, I have made efforts to speed up processes and get these projects on the market for bids. With so many people out of work, it is unacceptable that vital infrastructure projects are held up by layers of red tape.
We also continue to pursue private financing for public infrastructure projects. Public-private partnerships (P3s) will allow taxpayers to save money building vital infrastructure sooner. I have spoken extensively with investors from around the globe encouraging them to come to Alberta and letting them know that in spite of the slowdown we are open for business.
Alberta’s government has also doubled spending on capital maintenance and renewal – projects like replacing boilers or fixing leaky windows – an effort to get people to work right away. These projects may not be glamourous but they increase the value and lifetimes of our schools, hospitals, and provincial buildings while providing good paying jobs for typically smaller businesses.
I’m also glad to report federal approvals finally reaching my desk for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. We submitted more than seventy projects to Ottawa, many of which are cost-sharing agreements between municipalities, the province, and the federal government. These will provide important jobs and vital infrastructure in communities in every corner of the province including community halls, recreation centres, water lines, wastewater treatment plants, and public transit.
My family chose Alberta for the economic opportunity it offered. While the past number of years have been difficult and the past months particularly so, Albertans are facing down adversity as we have done throughout history. While unemployment is high, we are a much wealthier, technologically advanced, and yes, economically diversified place than before. While economic recovery has been slowed by many factors beyond our control, Alberta’s government has a plan, and we are sticking to it.
My message to the energy workers I brought to the Legislature in 2017, and to all Albertans, remains that I truly believe our province’s best days still lie ahead.
Prasad Panda served as the Minister of Infrastructure from April 30, 2019 to June 21, 2022.