Calgary Chamber of Commerce speech
"Alberta will continue to be a healthy place for private investment under our government."
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Thank you for that very warm introduction.
And thanks to all of you for coming here today…
… in pretty remarkable numbers!
I am acutely aware…
..as I speak to you today…
… that I am the only thing that stands between all of you…
… and the end of an important baseball game.
So let’s share an historic moment, and then I will make you a pledge.
Here is the historic moment: an Albertan Premier is hereby going to say “LET’S GO TORONTO!!!”
Or at least, the Blue Jays.
And my pledge is that I will try not to speak for too long.
I’m very grateful to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce for bringing us together today to discuss some of the issues facing Alberta.
And I’m also very grateful for the thoughtful, progressive and helpful advice and counsel the Calgary Chamber has been offering our government since our election.
We value the relationship we have with you, and were delighted you accepted out invitation to be one of the first groups to meet with us at our government’s very first Cabinet meeting here in Calgary.
Let’s face it – this is a good time to be offering advice.
The Government of Alberta was overdue for a reset and a renovation.
I am the fourth Premier our province has had in two years.
There have been many tumultuous surprises in and around the legislature in Edmonton.
A lot of exciting drama.
A lot of uncertainty.
And then a change in the governing party – for the first time since 1971.
It has not been dull in Alberta politics.
But now is the time for a little less drama and a little more governing, in the public interest.
We have re-entered a period of political stability, and strong majority government in this province.
Which gives us an opportunity to deal with some important matters that require a steady hand and some careful thought.
To that end we have been working hard on our agenda.
The next major milestone in this work will be our provincial budget, which we will put before the Legislature on October 27th.
I’m here today to outline what we’re working on.
And then I’m going to conclude by offering you a few thoughts on the coming federal election.
Let me begin by saying that as everyone in this room knows well, the challenges that the people and Government of Alberta face are not small.
A year ago today, energy prices were strong, often trading above $90. Yesterday the price was testing $50 after a long drop.
In 2014 the Albertan economy grew by 4.4%. In 2015 our GDP is projected to shrink by 0.6%.
The economy of Alberta added 48,400 jobs in 2014. By one estimate we have so far lost some 35,000 jobs in the energy sector alone this year.
Energy sector capital expenditures in our province have significantly declined.
These realities are confronting the Government of Alberta with a tough fiscal challenge.
We ran a $1.1 billion surplus last year.
Our predecessors in office projected that our province would run more than a $5 billion deficit this year.
Since that estimate, pressure has continued on oil prices, and therefore on provincial finances. That deficit may end up being higher.
These are tough challenges to be sure.
Put up against this, we have some significant advantages to build on.
Alberta has world-class universities and colleges – which can be fountainheads of innovation and new ideas, if we could partner them closely with job creators and innovators in the broader economy.
We have one of Canada’s youngest and best-educated workforces.
Our province still has, by far, the lowest overall provincial taxes in Canada, with no sales tax.
… And it’s going to stay that way.
We have, by far, the lowest provincial debt in Canada – zero net debt, all in.
We have an innovative, flexible, made-in-Alberta capital market.
And as much as our energy industry is under pressure, our world-leading energy companies – many led by people in this room -- know how to cope with the volatility that is inherent in the energy business these days.
My duty as Premier is to make sure the Government of Alberta does its part to help address the significant economic shock we are facing. And my duty is to make sure the Government of Alberta a good partner, leading our province forward, building on those advantages I’ve outlined.
We will live up to our promise to grow prosperity and create good jobs and conditions that will be widely and fairly shared – renewed prosperity that will benefit every Albertan.
We know there is only one way to succeed.
And that’s by supporting an open, sustainable and increasingly diversified economy.
We can’t accomplish this by ourselves.
Job creators create jobs in the private sector, not government.
And so we will be honest, thoughtful partners to them.
Alberta will continue to be a healthy place for private investment under our government.
Our energy industry is a foundation of our economy, and will be for many years to come.
Looking for new opportunities in our energy economy, and pioneering advanced technologies — all this will continue to require investment on a large scale.
So under our leadership, Alberta’s abundant oil and gas reserves will remain open to investment.
We will maintain one of the most competitive tax systems in Canada.
Our government will boost exports by seeking out new relationships, strengthening old ones and enhancing Alberta’s environmental record.
And we will be consultative and prudent in how we take the province in a new and better direction.
We don’t control the international price of oil.
We therefore have to manage the hand we have been dealt, while working to diversify our economy and working to reduce our dependence on a single product and a single price.
We can also work on strong, progressive policies that move us forward and position us to build on these resources as prices recover.
For example, this July the Canadian Energy Strategy was endorsed and adopted by every provincial and territorial government in Canada, at the Council of the Federation meeting held in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
The Canadian Energy Strategy is a very important inter-governmental framework, that will help Canadian governments align on an environmentally-responsible, sustainable, and prudently managed development of Canada’s energy resources and energy potential.
There were some important competing views on these issues.
But ultimately, conducting inter-provincial business respectfully and politely turned out to be the best strategy.
An important commitment all of us made in the Canadian Energy Strategy was to work to build our energy economy in a way that is environmentally responsible.
We are listening carefully to Albertans about this issue, because Albertans feel strongly – as do many business leaders in the energy industry – that it is long, long past due for us in the Government of Alberta to get it right on the environment.
Air pollution and poor air quality is a direct threat to the health of our children and our seniors.
Albertans know well that environmental issues – and specifically, the issue of climate change – is a key global problem that every community and every jurisdiction must help address – especially energy producing jurisdictions like ours.
If we don’t get it right on this issue, a solution is going to be imposed on us – sooner or later – by others. By the federal government, and by our markets, who will increasingly insist that energy products they buy be mined and processed responsibly. If we want an environmental policy that works for Alberta and keeps our capital in Alberta, then the time to act is now.
And finally, our province needs to act because doing so is increasingly going to be the price of admission to those energy markets.
It is my hope that by acting decisively on the issue of climate change, we will reframe the current national debate over pipelines and energy infrastructure.
By making better decisions in Alberta about the environment, we will hopefully then be able to discuss key pipeline projects on their own economic and environmental merits.
Speaking of the energy business…
I’d be willing to bet you’ve noticed that we are conducting a royalty review.
This is an important review that is about modernizing and updating our royalty system, so that it fits our future energy industry instead of its past.
This review is about considering whether there are ways to better manage our royalties so that they better support processing, diversification and value-added development.
And this review is about ensuring that, as prices recover, we collect and begin to save an appropriate share of our own resource wealth in the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, for the future of our children and our grandchildren.
The time is past due – long past due – for the Government of Alberta to return to a responsible, long-term approach to collecting and investing our royalty wealth – so that we stop being the farmer who pays for the groceries by selling the farm’s topsoil.
Here is the timeline:
We intend to announce our policy changes in this area by the end of this year – by the end of 2015.
Any changes will be implemented after one’s year notice. So investors and energy companies will have a year to prepare for any royalty reforms, which would come into effect in January 2017.
Now let’s speak about Alberta’s broader fiscal challenges.
We have seen drops in the price of oil many times before in this province.
And we’ll see price cycles many times in the future.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the kind of revenue shocks we are witnessing as I speak.
We’ll be setting out the details of how we intend to manage this situation in the provincial budget we will present to the Alberta legislature on October 27th.
We are looking to achieve three things.
First, we are going to stabilize public services like health and education, and we are going to correct some mistakes that in our view the previous government made in managing public finances.
Second, we will present a plan to return to fiscal balance.
And finally, the Government of Alberta has an important role to play as a good partner to Alberta’s job creators, entrepreneurs, good ideas people, and visionaries.
I spoke earlier about the economic facts and figures facing our province. Those numbers affect the lives and economic security of your neighbors and mine. They are affecting families in every community in this province. So job-creation has to be at the heart of our province’s agenda.
Alberta has always been a great place to start and build a business.
Our aim is to become Canada’s best place to start and grow a business – competing at the high end, with Alberta-owned businesses that provide our people with good, high-skill, mortgage-paying jobs.
Which is not about a race to the bottom on taxes.
Albertans are willing and ready to pay for well-managed, prudently budgeted health care, education and public services.
These are foundations of both a good society, and a good climate for growth and investment – in each and every one of our communities.
Being a great place to launch and build a business is about having a modern, efficient, and globally-competitive infrastructure.
That being so, we are considering a strategy to make a significant investment in Alberta’s infrastructure.
Capital is relatively inexpensive.
There is some capacity available in the construction industry.
And we have a not-to-be-missed opportunity to build the infrastructure we will need in Alberta’s future economy.
We are here in Calgary.
It is right to say that when a window is available to address some of our infrastructure gaps, in this city that is about priorities near and dear to the hearts of the citizens of this city.
Like finally getting to work on a new cancer center.
Like getting to work on building a flood management solution.
And like stepping up to some of this city’s public transit needs.
There is more the Government of Alberta can do to be a good partner with job creators.
We can work within our means to expand access to capital.
We can support innovation.
We can be determined about trade development, and single-minded in attracting inward investment throughout our economy.
And we can reform the way we structure government, so that we are easier for job creators to work with – one-stop shopping for government business services.
We are considering all of this carefully, and will have a lot more to say in and around our budget.
Let me conclude with a few thoughts on the federal election, coming next week.
I suspect you all know which party I am going to vote for on October 19th. I was literally born into the NDP, and I believe its principles and values are what the country needs as are the grit, determination and intellect of Tom Mulcair.
Whoever wins the election next Thursday, as Premier of Alberta, I intend to pick up our conversation with either Prime Minister Mulcair, or Prime Minister Harper, or Prime Minister Trudeau, in pursuit of the same Albertan interests.
Here are four of the major issues I have on my mind:
First, for the reasons I’ve outlined a few minutes ago, the time is right for a renewed infrastructure program.
We will do our part.
It would be good for Alberta to have a cooperative, dependable, long-term partner in Ottawa to help our province tackle this work.
Second, the issue of how we will finance universal public medicare in Canada lies before us.
We will do our part here as well – protecting Alberta’s health care system, and managing it so that it is stable, sustainable, and there when Albertans need it.
It would be good for Alberta to have a cooperative, dependable, long-term partner in Ottawa to help our province sustainably fund the single largest program we deliver.
Third, Canada will stand before the world at the COP21 conference in Paris at the end of the year.
Alberta needs to come out of that conference seen by the world as a global leader on climate change.
We must do this for all the reasons I’ve spoken about today. Which are in the best interests of building and diversifying Alberta’s energy industry and, specifically, in the hope we can have a drama-free discussion about pipelines on their own economic and environmental merits.
It would be good for Alberta to have a partner in Ottawa who will takes all of these issues seriously, and will work with us constructively and in a way that works for our province and our economy.
Finally, at every level of government, we must do a much better job than we have done for the past 130 years in finding a respectful relationship with First Nations.
The absence of fairness and justice for Aboriginal peoples is one of Canada’s greatest failures – and one of the greatest responsibilities facing our country.
There is a lot to tackle on the national agenda.
Hopefully we’ll get to it soon.
In the meantime, we will get our work done here in Alberta.
We will stabilize our public services and run them well.
We will set out a plan to return to budget balance.
And we will work within our means to promote jobs, value-added production, diversification, and prosperity...
Prosperity that is both widely shared, and in balance with our duty to act on climate change.
Thank you for joining me here today.
I’m looking forward to working with all of you -- to build this beautiful, smart, entrepreneurial, and always exciting province of Alberta!