State of the Province Address
"With the Alberta Jobs Plan, we are taking a better approach, with a forward-looking plan that focusses on the needs of families, and builds a more competitive economy that creates jobs today and for the long term."
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Thank you for that warm introduction, Bill (Blais, Chair, ECC). Good afternoon, everyone.
It’s great to be here today.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are here today on Treaty 6 land.
It’s a full house, and along with Mayor Iveson and council, Chamber members and guests, and the city’s business leaders, we’re joined today by members of my government caucus and cabinet.
Let me say how much I appreciate everyone for taking the time to be here today.
The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce represents so much that is wonderful about this great city.
You are diverse, entrepreneurial, optimistic and ambitious.
And you help make Alberta the best place in the world to call home.
You have always been deeply invested in our province, the well-being of its citizens, and the success and sustainability of our business and economic climate.
I know that you’re also very interested in what our government is doing to help our province though challenging economic times…
…when everyone is feeling the reverberations of the oil price shock – the most dramatic price bust in generations.
That’s what I have come to speak to you about today.
I want to lay out for you the concrete actions our government is taking to move Alberta forward, with a plan that creates jobs, diversifies our economy, and protects the vital public services we all count on.
As we confront the fall in oil prices, business leaders and business owners need certainty and stability to plan ahead.
Employers need to maintain the bottom line and meet payroll.
And hardworking Albertans need to know that their family’s future will be secure.
That’s what Budget 2016 – the Alberta Jobs Plan – is all about.
Let there be no doubt about the fiscal challenges we face.
In 2013-14, the province booked almost 10 billion dollars in non-renewable resource revenue.
This year, we are forecasting a 90 per cent drop to 1.4 billion dollars – less revenue than we’ve seen in 40 years.
What does the oil price shock mean to our bottom line?
It is quite simple: it means we are facing a deficit this year of 10.4 billion dollars. To account for the extreme volatility of oil prices, the deficit includes a 700 million dollar risk adjustment.
That’s the fiscal reality.
The question for us now is: how do we respond?
In the past, Alberta governments reacted to a fall in oil prices by making extreme and reckless cuts.
Some say we should do the same thing today….that we should turn back the clock.
Their plan would throw thousands of Albertans out of work.
It would cut supports for families and for business.
And it would put much-needed infrastructure – the life-blood of a modern, competitive economy – on indefinite hold.
It’s a slash and burn approach that will only make a tough situation worse, and it will do nothing to create a diversified economy that is more resilient to a fall in global energy prices.
With the Alberta Jobs Plan, we are taking a better approach, with a forward-looking plan that focusses on the needs of families, and builds a more competitive economy that creates jobs today and for the long term.
The plan is the culmination of what we heard from thousands of people across this province.
The business community in particular had a strong voice, and I want to thank you for providing your thoughtful and constructive input.
We listened to what you had to tell us and we acted.
You said we could support jobs by cutting the small business tax.
Because when oil prices fall, small businesses are some of the first to feel the hit.
So that’s just what we did.
I am very pleased to say that the small business tax is being cut by one third, from three to two percent. It is now among the lowest in the country.
Cutting the small business tax is one important step our government can take to help.
But it’s not the only one.
In my televised address last week, and again in the budget yesterday, we laid out the four key pillars of the Alberta Jobs Plan.
Let me provide a few highlights, beginning with our plan to support Alberta business – our job creators, innovators and entrepreneurs – with concrete actions to support your business.
We are doing this through investments, through tax credits, and through our belief that financial experts, not government, know best how to support businesses.
That’s why we’ve provided ATB with a further 1.5 billion dollars to support lending to small businesses in every region of the province.
Already, ATB has increased its loans to small and medium-size businesses; seeing a $335 million dollar increase in lending during last year’s fourth quarter alone.
That’s why we’ve provided the Alberta Enterprise Corporation with a two-year, 50-million dollar investment, to help ensure Alberta entrepreneurs have the venture capital they need to launch their business, drive innovation, and create jobs.
And that’s why we’ve directed the Alberta Investment Management Corporation to earmark half a billion dollars for Alberta companies with growth potential.
We’re also working to diversify our economy through the Petrochemical Diversification Program.
The program was created to encourage companies to invest in the development of new petrochemical facilities, attracting investment, creating jobs, and providing long-term benefits to Albertans.
This is one way we can turn our energy resources into valuable building blocks for in-demand products right here at home.
It will bring significant benefits to workers and their families.
The new facilities will generate about 3,000 construction jobs, and more than 1,000 permanent direct and indirect jobs.
The Alberta Jobs Plan also moves forward on two important new tax credits; an initiative that is essential for promoting early-stage capital investment.
Again, we listened…and we created the new Alberta Investor Tax Credit, which provides an incentive to invest in eligible small and medium-sized enterprises.
We also announced the Capital Investment Tax Credit, which provides an incentive for the first-time acquisition of new or used property in value-added agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, culture, manufacturing, and processing industries.
The new tax credits are valued at $165 million.
I want to offer my thanks to everyone in the business community and many others who advocated for these new tax credits and worked with us to make them a reality.
They are a critical piece of the Alberta Jobs Plan. They will make Alberta’s economy even more competitive.
Let me also point to a number of other important actions we are taking to seize the initiative and support Alberta business.
The Entrepreneurship Incubator Program will help entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses bring their ideas to market.
We are providing 10 million dollars to Innovate Calgary, TEC Edmonton, and regional commercialization organizations to support innovation and job creation.
We’re providing the Alberta Enterprise Corporation with 25 million dollars to spur innovation and job growth in Alberta’s knowledge economy.
This adds to the 50 million dollar commitment to AEC that I mentioned earlier.
We’ve earmarked 10 million dollars to expand the Agrivalue Processing Incubator Program, supporting further success in creating new companies in Alberta’s food industry.
An investment of 5 million dollars will help Alberta attract major investments and new headquarters to our province.
And we’ve committed 10 million dollars for the Regional Economic Development Program.
This initiative supports community and business leaders to come together and collaborate on local strategies to promote a wide range of industries across the province…from tourism to value-added processing.
As the Finance Minister said yesterday in his budget address, “these job creation initiatives reflect our government’s central commitment to Albertans: in tough economic times, we’ve got your back.”
INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE
Another key pillar in the Alberta Job Plan is to invest in infrastructure...a proven way to inject a much needed boost into our economy and to create jobs for Albertans.
And with interest rates at historic lows and the economy in need of support, there is no better time to invest for the future.
We followed the advice of former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge, and last October announced an ambitious 34 billion dollar capital plan to build and upgrade new roads, transit, schools and hospitals across the province.
Funding commitments include 900 million dollars in affordable housing, and 365 million to expand long-term care, funding more than 2,000 new long-term care beds for seniors throughout Alberta.
Here in Edmonton, 35 school projects will add nearly 19,000 new student spaces.
We expect the Royal Alberta Museum to be completed this year, thanks to an investment of 375 million dollars, which included 122 million from the federal government.
Construction on the Northern Alberta Urology Centre is also expected to be complete this year, and construction is currently underway on the Royal Alexandra Hospital – Concurrent Disorder Capable Treatment Continuum.
This redevelopment project will create much needed mental health and addiction treatment capacity.
Let me be clear, these are real infrastructure projects where real cement will be poured and a real school or a real road will be built.
They will create thousands of jobs today for Albertans, and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.
DIVERSIFYING ENERGY INDUSTRY AND OUR ENERGY MARKETS
Also very real is the importance of our energy industry to Albertans.
And the Alberta Jobs Plan takes action to diversify Alberta’s energy industry and our energy markets.
Despite the pain we’re feeling over oil prices today, Albertans have enjoyed the advantages being a resource-rich province.
Energy will always play an integral role in Alberta’s economy.
It’s the rollercoaster ride we can do without.
We can’t afford to wait any longer to reduce our vulnerability to energy prices and to open up new energy markets.
CLIMATE LEADERSHIP STRATEGY
Last November, I stood alongside leaders in industry and First Nations, and with climate and environmental leaders to launch our climate leadership strategy.
I took the strategy to Paris, where I’m proud to say it was widely well-received.
One of the strategy’s aims is to secure Alberta’s economy by diversifying our energy industry and opening up new markets for oil.
Our Climate Leadership Plan will:
- Phase out emissions from coal power generation to reduce pollution;
- Implement a world-leading methane reduction plan;
- Invest in new green infrastructure and help to grow Alberta’s renewable energy industry; and
- It will advance new technologies that will increase energy industry productivity and efficiency, creating new products for exports as we grow our place as a progressive world energy leader.
At the centre of the climate strategy is the carbon levy – a price on carbon that will serve as an incentive for consumers and businesses to reduce their carbon emission.
Every penny raised by the carbon levy will be rebated back to Albertans or put back to work for our economy in new economic initiatives.
Six out of ten Alberta households will receive the full rebate.
And all Albertans will benefit from the economic investments that the carbon levy will support to diversify our economy, build new green infrastructure and create thousands of jobs.
Our Climate Leadership Strategy is about responsible energy production.
It is showing the world that we are committed to being one of the most environmentally responsible energy producers in the world.
It will help open new markets for our products, and ensure Albertans get full value from the energy we sell.
But first, we need the infrastructure to get our energy to new customers.
Market access is so important to the future of Alberta and of our country. And pipelines are the safest and most environmentally responsible way to transport oil.
As I said last weekend, and as I have been saying for months: I will continue to advocate for pipelines until we get to “yes” so that Albertans – and all Canadians – get full value from our resources.
And while I am on the subject of getting to yes, let me also say we need a “yes” from the federal government to change EI rules for Edmonton and surrounding communities.
Some Albertans now have 20 weeks more benefits, and for that the federal government deserves some credit.
But it just makes no sense to exclude Edmonton.
Unemployed oil workers in Edmonton are suffering just as much as unemployed oil workers in other parts of the province.
So once again, I call on the federal government to fix this unfair situation, and to fix it soon.
SUPPORTING ALBERTA’S FAMILIES
Supporting unemployed Albertans through expanded EI is one step we can take to help families get back on their feet.
So too are the steps we are taking to support children.
I have always said we need to protect our most vulnerable…and that means no child should go hungry just because oil prices are down.
So this summer, we are implementing the Alberta Child Benefit and enhancing the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit, actions that will improve life for 380,000 children.
The Alberta Jobs Plan also invests in education and skills training…to help Albertans gain the skills they need for success in the future.
We are fully funding enrollment growth in our public schools and increasing operating grants to our universities, colleges and post-secondary institutions.
The Alberta Jobs Plan invests 15 million dollars to help apprentices complete their training and work experience requirements, and 10 million for the Training for Work Program.
This program targets unemployed or marginally-employed Albertans – including women, Indigenous people and newcomers – to help them secure and maintain employment in high-demand jobs.
We’re giving Albertans the tools they need to succeed.
In doing so, we are investing in the success of all of Alberta, including the business community, which will benefit in the long run from the skills and talents these new workers will bring to the workplace.
THE PLAN TO CONTROL SPENDING
Our jobs plan highlights many of the supports we’re introducing to help businesses and protect the public services Albertans count on.
But no plan is going to succeed unless it includes careful and thoughtful action to control our spending.
Yesterday, Minister Ceci highlighted the steps we’re taking on that front, including:
- Amalgamating or dissolving 26 agencies, boards and commissions;
- Freezing salaries at government agencies, boards and commissions, and reviewing compensation of salary rates overall at these agencies;
- Freezing salaries for Cabinet, MLAs and political staff for the entire term of this Legislature;
- Freezing senior public servants’ salaries for two years;
- Reducing budgets for salaries and supplies in government departments by nearly 2 per cent this year;
- And deferring some of our campaign promises, slowing down their rollout and re-allocating savings to where they’re most needed.
To be clear, cutting costs does not mean cutting access to the public services Albertans count on.
It doesn’t mean slashing and burning health care and education, only to restore funding when oil prices go up.
That kind of unpredictable budget making is wasteful and inefficient.
It throws more people out of work does and nothing to address unemployment.
So instead of extreme and reckless cuts, our government is taking a thoughtful, practical…and sustainable approach.
We will protect vital public services like health care and education by funding and maintaining them responsibly.
But we will bend the cost increase curve down.
For example, operating increases for public health care, which takes up the largest part of our budget, have increased by an average of six per cent each year over the last ten years.
The Minister of Health, working with her dedicated health care partners, is bringing costs increases down.
Over the next three years, the operating budget for health care will increase by an average of 2.5 per cent.
The bottom line: Owing to our efforts to carefully control spending while protecting public services, the overall growth in the government’s operating budget falls to an average of two per cent for the next three years.
At the same time, Alberta maintains the lowest overall tax regime in Canada, with no provincial sales tax, no payroll tax, and no health care premiums.
And we have a significantly lower debt-to-GDP ratio than Canada and other provinces.
Some say that instead of carefully controlling costs to bring down the rate of increase in government spending, we should simply cut billions of dollars from the provincial budget.
We fundamentally disagree.
Our government won’t repeat the mistakes of the past by downloading deficits on to Albertans.
Our government won’t respond to the fall in oil prices by making knee-jerk and panicked cuts to the very things we need to grow our economy and create jobs.
Our government won’t turn back the clock on Albertans and make a tough situation worse.
Our government is moving Alberta forward.
We are moving Alberta forward by investing in communities and by supporting families.
We are moving Alberta forward by working to open new markets and build a pipeline to tidewater.
We are moving Alberta forward by building the hospitals, schools, roads, and transit that we need to secure our quality of life and make our economy more competitive.
And we are moving Alberta forward by working with business – with all of you – to create jobs and diversify our economy.
With the Alberta Jobs Plan – and every action this government is taking – that is our aim, that is what we are working to achieve.
Let me conclude my remarks by thanking you all again for being here.
As we confront the fall in oil prices, I know that all eyes will be on the government.
But I also know that, when it comes to Edmonton’s business community, and especially in times like these, all hands will be on deck.
Edmonton’s business leaders have proven time and again that you want what’s best for our province.
You’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves and work together to improve things.
And you’re not afraid to let your government know your views and your vision.
I can wholeheartedly attest to this. And I thank you for it.
I want to continue hearing from you and continue working with you.
Together, we can do this.
Together, we can create a more diversified and resilient economy that create jobs and economic for business and all Albertans.
And we will.