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Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties Annual Convention Speech

"We care about your communities, and we’re going to be very good partners with you in the years to come."

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Introduction

Thank you very much for that introduction.

And thank you for having me join you as you meet on the traditional Treaty 6 lands.

Being here is especially meaningful for me, because I value…and I know my caucus values…the relationship we have and want with you.

The AAMDC has always been great partners with government, and we want to see that continue.

After all, we all want the same thing…healthy and vibrant communities that can provide jobs, homes, schools and opportunities.

And you are the level of government that is closest to the people we all serve.

By listening to you, we are listening to the voices of Albertans, in all their regional, economic and cultural diversity.

I know that voice first-hand…and I have to say, being with you feels like a bit of a homecoming!

I grew up in Fairview, in the “Heart of the Peace.”

I know what a wonderful quality of life we can enjoy in a warm, tightly knit community that is:

  • proud of its business and industry,
  • proud of its heritage,
  • proud of its educational and recreational opportunities, and
  • most of all…proud of its people.

All roads lead to Fairview!

I know you feel that way about your own communities.

And those are views shared by thirteen government MLAs who are hard at work for rural, resource-driven, northern, and agricultural communities each and every day.

Communities like yours are extremely well-represented in our government…in the full meaning of the phrase.

That also is true at the Cabinet table.

Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd represents Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley…

…which, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, is an excellent name for a provincial riding.

Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee represents Lesser Slave Lake.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier represents Whitecourt-Ste. Anne.

And a number of us around the Cabinet table have deep roots in smaller communities around the province.

We care about your communities, and we’re going to be very good partners with you in the years to come.

Three issues

I want to speak about three issues today.

First, I’m going outline some of the measures we outlined in our provincial budget a few weeks ago that I think are important to you.

And then I want to say a few words about two issues that affect all Albertans:

  • welcoming refugees from Syria, and
  • taking action on climate change.

Budget

Let’s start with our budget and its impact on your jurisdictions and some plans moving forward.

Let us consider the environment in which we are operating. 

We’ve inherited a historic drop in the price of oil. 

With that comes the challenges that presents to our communities and their economies.

So we must balance the fiscal challenges faced by the province with the immediate difficulties faced by families and communities as the economy slows.

Under our plan 93% of Albertans pay less tax than they would have under the Prentice budget.

Overall, we remain the lowest taxed jurisdiction in the county by a long shot. 

And we will remain that way.

So within that are the priorities of our budget.

By now you know that our three budget pillars are:

  • stable public services,
  • moving towards a balanced budget, and
  • job creation in a diversified and resilient economy.

These pillars were adopted with the real life experience of Alberta’s families in mind.

Public services are the backbone of Alberta’s communities…both large and small.

Hospitals across Alberta are the first point of contact for parents when their children get sick.

Teachers in local schools get to know families as well as their students.

The local library is a community gathering space and an after school hang-out.

Providing stable public services means your children will have schools to go to, and teachers to teach them.

Your families and constituents will have health care when they need it….and access to other public service providers.

Our government also is providing more than $1 billion a year in municipal grant funding to help you provide stable public services that are in your areas of responsibility.

Most of that money comes through:

  • the Alberta Community Partnership, and
  • the Municipal Sustainability Initiative that includes the Basic Municipal Transportation Grant.

Stable public services extends to the infrastructure those services depend on.

Hospitals and regional care centres in Edson, Grande Prairie, High Prairie and Fort McMurray remain funded and underway.

We made a commitment to small-scale municipal infrastructure…such as drainage and bridges…in this budget.

I know there are hundreds of local bridges that need repair to keep people safe.

In all, we are investing $34 billion over the next five years,

That includes:

  • $3.8 billion for schools,
  • $4.7 billion for roads and bridges, and
  • $2.2 billion for health facilities and equipment.

And today my Minister of Infrastructure announced that our government is investing 545 million dollars over five years to fund critical water infrastructure in municipalities across Alberta.

This is a $170 million – or 45.3 per cent – increase compared to the previously proposed March budget.

We strongly believe that reliable access to high quality drinking water and wastewater treatment systems is crucial for building strong, healthy communities and rural economies.

The increases we’re planning to the capital budget will create 8,000 to 10,000 new jobs in communities like yours, and will increase the GDP by about 0.5%.

We are taking an evidence-based and fiscally responsible approach to infrastructure investments, and that approach includes listening to you.

Of the $34 billion earmarked for infrastructure over the next five years…$4.4 billion is for new projects and programs that are not yet identified.

We will be looking to you to identify the needs and priorities for these funds.

We are looking carefully for useful and well-thought-out “shovel ready” initiatives that make sense.

Our government will start consultations next year with you and other partners and stakeholders to restore the Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program in 2017-2018 fiscal year.

We expect $100 million to be available between 2017 and 2019.

Our government will work with you and all municipalities to modernize the Municipal Government Act in time for the next municipal elections in 2017.

As our province grows, it is important to recognize that our communities transcend municipal boundaries.

I know that many districts and counties rely on linear property tax as their main source of revenue.

Let me be clear: we will not compromise the ability of rural municipalities to serve their residents.

We are approaching this issue with one question in mind: how we best ensure that all rural Albertans are supported.

That’s why I’ve created a cabinet committee chaired by the Minister of Economic Development and including the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Danielle Larivee.

As we consider whether there are ways to improve how our communities grow and are funded, I commit to you the AAMDC and its members will be a fundamental part at an early and at a determinative stage of discussions.

I also welcome the AAMDC’s offer of collaboration to build better relationships with our indigenous peoples, as outlined in your letter of November 6.

And I agree that…as a culture and a province, we must share in righting past wrongs, and in making sure indigenous people can contribute to…and benefit from…a new and optimistic future.

That future includes a more diversified economy that offers more jobs and opportunities for economic growth.

It includes diversification within…and beyond… energy. It includes value-added agricultural products.

And it includes developing the intellectual property and innovation of people who are ready to turn their ideas into marketable products and services…in any field of endeavour.

That is why our budget is mobilizing almost $2.1 billion to support job creation and diversification.

We're increasing the resources available to Alberta Treasury Branches by $1.5 billion, so it can offer loans on commercial terms.

We will invest $50 million over the next two years into the Alberta Enterprise Corporation to support entrepreneurship and a venture capital market.

The Alberta Investment Management Corporation will set aside three per cent of our Heritage Fund, $540 million…to encourage business growth.

To encourage employers to lean in the direction of hiring, we are offering a new job creation incentive that will reward eligible job creators in your communities with grants of up to $5,000 for each new job created.

And then — just to underline how very much we care about job creation, especially for young people — we’re bringing the STEP program back. I really hope you take advantage of that program to create opportunities for young people in your communities.

So to summarize, you’re all about building your communities. We’ve put some very significant new tools forward in our budget. Lets work together to put those tools to work for the people we all represent!

Syrian refugees

Let me now speak to two other issues that affect all Albertans.

First, I know you join me in my profound concern about the trend of events in the Middle East.

What is happening there is an unfolding tragedy that has led to a massive wave of refugees fleeing terror and violence.

And I know you share my outrage and sorrow at seeing that terror and violence inflicted on the people of Paris and Beirut a few days ago.

Those crimes were outrageous and intolerable. 

And they are happening every day in parts of Syria and Iraq.

So, like all Canadians, we in Alberta condemn these crimes.

We look for justice.

And we ask ourselves…what can we do?

The Prime Minister was elected to provide national leadership on this issue.

He made a commitment in the recent election to provide sanctuary for up to 25,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq before the end of this year.

Based on our population, that means about 3,000 people will be joining us here in Alberta.

We have been debating this matter in the Legislature, and the position of the Alberta government is very clear.

First, the federal government must ensure the safety and security of our own people here in Canada.

That means refugees applying to come to Canada must be meticulously screened, and the risk that violent criminals will exploit a humanitarian effort must be effectively addressed.

Seeing to the safety and security of our country is one of the Government of Canada’s basic jobs.

I am sure Prime Minister Trudeau is mindful of this responsibility…and will see it attended to as a top priority.

That done, we will then do our part, and I know we will rise to the challenge.

I know we will open our hearts.

I know we will open our arms, and our doors, because that’s the kind of people we are, and have always been.

Today’s refugees who come to make a better life for their families now…will contribute to our community and business leadership in the future.

Climate change

This is on my mind for many reasons, and one of them is that I will be leading the Alberta delegation to the United Nations conference on climate change the first week in December.

In Paris.

That conference will proceed.

And our government will take part…because that our best answer to the insanity and criminality committed in Paris by people who have lost all touch with humanity, including their own.

Paris lives.

The whole world is going to go to Paris in early December to build…to work together…to care for each other…and to move forward together.

We will bring to Paris a new Alberta climate leadership plan that corrects some serious mistakes committed by the previous government, and sets us on a new road.

Our government predecessors believed they were helping the energy industry:

  • by ignoring climate change, and
  • by failing to act on the environmental challenges our province faces.

We saw where that got us when the United States decided to reject the XL pipeline…

…in part…so they said…Alberta’s energy is among the “dirtiest oil in the world.”

That is not true.

In fact, the heavy oil the US currently is importing from other countries is a far more environmentally damaging energy source than Alberta’s oil sands production delivered by pipeline.

But President Obama certainly gave us all a very important wake-up call…that we are paying with our reputation for our failure to act on one of the biggest problems facing this planet.

So just like we will do our part for the refugees, we will do our part for climate change, too.

In a few days…before I go to Ottawa…before I go Paris…we will set out our plan to the people of Alberta.

We are going to phase out electricity generated by burning coal. In its place, we will create thousands of jobs building and operating cleaner natural gas and renewable electricity plants.

Some of you have written to me about this initiative. Let me assure you, we believe no one should disproportionately carry the cost of this necessary conversion. We will be providing appropriate adjustment programs to help us all move forward.

We are going to promote energy efficiency to help industry, communities, individual Albertans, and your governments and ours, reduce the energy we use.

And we will reduce the pollution we put into the atmosphere, and promote greater energy efficiency and lower emissions, by putting a fair price on carbon.

These steps should have been taken 10 to 15 years ago. Now we are playing catch-up.

As we saw with the XL pipeline decision, our major energy markets are less and less inclined to cut us any slack on our environment policies.

Not a single new pipeline has been built in any direction under the old policies pursued by previous governments…

…because our neighbours have been trying to force us to adopt better policies.

It’s time to act.

It’s time to act to reduce pollution for the sake of the health of our children, because it is the right thing to do…

…and because…by acting…we will have a made-in-Alberta solution that works for Alberta, and keeps our capital in Alberta.

Conclusion

You are community leaders.

You know our energy economy is facing tough challenges at the moment.

And you know that if we keep doing the same thing….we’re going to get the same results.

So it is time for a change.

It is time for a new approach to:

  • how we manage Alberta’s public services and finances,
  • how we build and diversify our economy, and
  • how we take action on climate change.

And given the shocking events of recent days, I’m going to be very proud to join governments from all around the world to talk that last issue, …in Paris…two weeks from now.

None of us is afraid.

We’re going to keep doing our part to make a better world.

It starts here at home, in our Alberta communities…and with your governments and mine as partners…and friends.

Thank you.


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