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Alberta Urban Municipalities Association 2016 Convention speech

"As leaders, we can find ways to soften the effects of the downturn and put Alberta on the path to better days."

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Thank you, Lisa (Holmes), and good morning, everyone. I’m happy to join my government colleagues and AUMA members for your convention here on Treaty 6 territory.

It’s wonderful to see everyone again!

I’m glad to be here because, as our province deals with a difficult economy, it’s important for us to keep open doors, and share an understanding of workable solutions.

Alberta is feeling the effects of events beyond anyone’s control.

But that doesn’t mean we must simply submit and hope for relief.

As leaders, we can find ways to soften the effects of the downturn and put Alberta on the path to better days.

This is urgent for urban municipalities.

Since most Albertans live in cities, you are experiencing many of the worst effects of the downturn, such as rising unemployment, reduced household spending and all the challenges that come with them.

You want to do the best you can for your citizens. And I know it hurts to see people struggling with the consequences of low oil prices.

The AUMA is a trusted partner to our government and always has been.

At all levels of government, we are dealing with more challenges and complexity than we have in many years.

It’s important to me and to my government that we continue to build relationships with municipalities where there is give and take.

And that we make every effort to work together, because in the end, we have many shared goals.

So I’d like to set out how we can get Alberta back on track together.

Fiscal situation

As you know, Alberta’s economy has faced serious challenges in the past two years, most of them related to the stubbornly low price of oil.

Housing, retail, construction, labour markets and manufacturing have been weakened.

And the wildfires in northern Alberta didn’t help.

Fortunately, there is evidence that things are stabilizing.

Alberta’s economy is forecast to expand by 2.4 percent in 2017, supported by reconstruction in Fort McMurray and a rebound in oil production.

In fact, some economists are predicting that we’ll lead Canada in growth next year.

Added to this, Alberta still has the lowest taxes and government debt burden…

… as well as the highest private sector investment, labour market participation and GDP per capita in Canada.

However, the oil price crash has had a major impact on the province’s finances.

And the return of growth won’t counteract the need for continued fiscal restraint.

As you know, the provincial government faces a drop in revenue of about $10 billion as a result of the drop in oil prices.

The traditional and easy answer is for government to cut spending drastically across the board…

…leaving municipalities and ordinary Albertans to deal with the consequences.

Municipalities know what the aftermath of those decisions looks like: infrastructure deficits and lost programs and services.

Linking spending to the price of oil is fiscal malpractice.

Our government is taking a more thoughtful and considered approach.

As we’ve said before, we have decided not to make a bad situation worse.

We are making a clear choice to protect public services…

… because Albertans always need consistently funded services — not just when the coffers are flush with energy revenues. In fact, they need services more when times are tough.

Our approach is called the Alberta Jobs Plan and it’s based on:

  • Supporting families and communities;
  • Investing in infrastructure;
  • Diversifying the economy; and
  • Supporting business.

And here is what my government can do for you:

My government will work together with municipalities, capitalizing on the enthusiasm and innovation that our province is so well known for.

We will invest in modern, efficient infrastructure that communities across the province need, like schools, hospitals and transit and we will create hundreds of good-paying jobs as those projects get underway.

We will partner with cities and communities as we transition to a lower-carbon economy.

We’ll support the transition to more green technologies, more energy-efficient buildings and more public transit, through our Climate Leadership Plan and the funds it generates.

We will ensure all municipalities receive reasonable stability in operating and program funding.  

When these initiatives are looked at in tandem, municipalities will see a net benefit to their bottom line and to their communities.

But of course, there are things in this fiscal environment that we can’t do.

The challenge before us is not small.

Balancing Albertans’ very real need for health care and education against the reality of a multi-billion dollar fiscal shortfall makes tough decisions inevitable.

Imagine going home and being forced to re-start  all of your budgets with 20 percent less revenue. That’s what the province is dealing with.

In the face of that, we don’t have the ability to begin our budgeting process with the question,

“What new programs can we fund?”

And so we are asking you to work with us, within the framework and the programs I’ve just laid out.

We don’t have the capacity to add new projects or programs.

Municipal Government Act

There’s another area where your help matters. It’s ensuring that municipalities have the tools necessary to best serve Albertans.

The municipal level is where people have the most frequent contact with government.

So it’s time to get the renewal of the Municipal Government Act done – and done right.

The MGA is one of the most complex pieces of legislation in Alberta. Our very capable Minister of Municipal Affairs, Danielle Larivee, is overseeing the renewal process. And we’re going about it carefully.

We’ve consulted extensively, gathering an enormous volume of feedback from municipal government representatives and employees around the province.

In the spring session, we introduced Bill 21, the Modernized Municipal Government Act, 2016 to give everyone a first look at the proposed changes.

And at engagement sessions this past summer, we reached out to Albertans to get their thoughts.

Now, it’s time to move forward and proceed with amendments that have been through wide consultations.

After almost a decade of work on this file, our government is getting the job done.

This bill deals with some tough issues, and not everyone agrees on everything, but this fall we will move forward with pragmatic solutions.

I think you already like a lot of what you see.

The Act improves collaboration between municipalities on everything from land-use planning to service delivery.

It also introduces a discussion on cost sharing, because it doesn’t make sense for one town to pay the full cost of facilities that are used by others in the region.

This inter-municipal collaboration framework will help facilitate and resolve these longstanding grievances in a collaborative approach.

Through measures like this, we will eliminate duplication and help municipalities provide more efficient services to their communities.

This is something you’ve identified as a challenge and the new MGA will address it.

You will also see changes to housing rules.

The revised MGA will allow municipalities to reserve a section of land in new developments for affordable housing. This will offer the ability to create more mixed, better planned neighbourhoods.

Again, you asked for this and we listened.

Finally, we are providing more tools for growing communities. Albertans moving into new developments want more than just houses; they want full, thriving communities with the resources they need to call these neighbourhoods home.

In the new MGA, we will expand what municipalities can charge for offsite levies. This will ensure that as our province grows, Albertans have the support, the services and the infrastructure they need to thrive.

These pragmatic solutions that will be introduced in the new MGA will further empower you to create more inclusive, complete communities, as well as more prosperous local and regional economies for the Albertans you serve.

Looking ahead

Changes to the MGA will help you build sustainable communities, but ensuring the infrastructure Albertans need for the future is available requires continued cooperation between us.

This government is investing in municipalities through our $34.8 billion Capital Plan.

Given the economic climate, investing in priority infrastructure is not only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.

It’s too easy to fall back on cuts.

Instead, we’re using capacity in the construction industry and the comparatively low cost of building to complete essential infrastructure across the province.

Our Capital Plan provides:

  • $3.5 billion for school projects;
  • $3.5 billion for health facilities, including in Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Medicine Hat;
  • $4.6 billion for roads and bridges;
  • $692 million for flood recovery;
  • $595 million for water and wastewater;
  • $892 million for affordable housing; and
  • $2.2 billion for green infrastructure as part of the Climate Leadership Plan

Of course, if the province is to fund the right projects, we need municipalities to keep communicating with us.

We have some great examples of cooperation.

The $2 billion GreenTRIP transit program is one avenue for cooperation.

You told us what you need, and we are now considering applications for the third round of funding.

We know many communities are worried about the economy right now, and that’s why my government introduced our jobs plan.

Our $34 billion investment in infrastructure will create thousands of jobs across the province.

We’re diversifying the economy and supporting businesses with a suite of initiatives including:

  • $500 million to create the Petrochemicals Diversification Program;
  • $540 million for AIMCO to invest in growth-oriented companies;
  • Access to capital or small business through ATB;
  • We lowered the small business tax effective January 1st;
  • A $10 million investment in Alberta’s food and beverage industry; and
  • Regional Economic Development Support Programs.

These programs are creating jobs when our communities need them the most.

We’re building a more diversified, cleaner and greener economy for all Albertans.

But we can’t do it alone.

We need your help in implementing our historic Climate Leadership Plan.

The Plan is founded on:

  • An economy-wide carbon levy;
  • A shift from coal to renewable energy and natural gas for electricity generation by 2030;
  • A limit on oil sands emissions, to encourage innovation and efficiency; and
  • A 45 percent decrease in methane emissions from oil and gas from 2014 levels by 2025.

Taking bold steps to reduce Alberta’s environmental footprint is the right thing to do, for Albertans today and for our children tomorrow.

This also makes economic sense.

Growing Alberta’s economy means diversifying our energy mix, so we produce electricity from more —and cleaner— sources.

It means finding opportunities to reduce energy usage, from the level of individual homeowners right up to entire municipalities.

And it means innovating to create good, stable jobs that don’t depend on fluctuating commodity markets.

Our government recognizes that the plan is a big transition for Albertans. It will spur the adoption of new forms of technology, changing the way we live.

This is not something that can be directed from the top. Consultation is the only way to succeed.

Our government involved municipalities in the discussions that led to the development of the Climate Leadership Plan.

And over the summer, we launched the Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel and the Oil Sands Advisory Group to seek input on implementing specific parts of the plan.

But just because one phase wraps up, it doesn’t mean that the conversation is closed.

Change on this scale is ongoing, and so too is the dialogue.

Municipalities are on the front lines, pioneering new technologies and cleaner, greener ways of operating.

We’re looking forward to partnering with you to build resilient communities that include sustainable infrastructure and expanded public transit.

We want to empower municipal governments to play a key role in climate leadership; many of you already are.

We’re counting on you to advise our government about what works and what doesn’t…

… and how we can better enable you to succeed, through policymaking and the right supports.

The economy depends on sustainability and diversification. So, in part, does market access for the oil sands.

Alberta’s future is riding on this. We have to get it right.

Conclusion

Finally, I need your help on a national issue. By now, you’ve all heard about Ottawa’s proposals for national carbon pricing.

In principle, our government supports a common price.

Everyone has a responsibility to reduce their emissions.

And no one should be penalized economically for leading on this issue, while others lag behind.

However, Alberta can’t line up behind this specific proposal without real progress on pipelines.

Building pipelines is not at odds with protecting the environment.

By breaking the landlock for Alberta oil, the federal government can ensure we have the capacity to fuel jobs and growth that benefit all Canadians for decades…

…as well as the means to continuing showing true leadership in the fight against climate change.

Alberta is the world’s most progressive oil producer.

And I’m asking you to talk to the federal government, and to your municipal colleagues in other provinces, so the logic of our position comes across loud and clear.

Let’s get it done, for the good of our province and the good of our country, on both the environmental and economic fronts.

I’m asking a lot of you, but I know that we are all up to it.

You know what this province is going through. And you understand how much is at stake on energy, the environment and the economy.

We can do this.

We’ll get through tough times together. And build a stronger, more sustainable and resilient Alberta the same way.

Thank you for your help. Thank you for your advice. Thank you for being our valued partners.


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