Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties 2016 Fall Convention Speech
"It’s essential to our government that we build relationships with municipalities based on a true sense of partnership."
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Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Al (Kemmere), for that introduction. And congratulations on securing another term as President!
You’ve been a great advocate for rural Albertans. I’m happy that my government can keep counting on you as our partner.
On behalf of my colleagues in cabinet and caucus, it’s a pleasure to join AAMDC members on historic Treaty 6 land for the association’s fall convention.
I’m glad to be back because we have a lot to talk about, much of it connected to Alberta’s economic situation, and all of it related to the kind of province we want to build together.
The first thing on everyone’s mind is the slowdown.
Alberta is experiencing the consequences of decisions made a world away.
And low oil prices are hurting the rural parts of our province.
Oil and gas spending is down, damaging small businesses in the service sector, while local governments are struggling with declines in tax revenues and public spending.
Most importantly, families all over the province are worrying about their employment and economic security.
Governments at every level are confronting more challenges and complexity than we have in many years.
In this context, It’s essential to our government that we build relationships with municipalities based on a true sense of partnership.
And that we make every effort to work together, because in the end, we share the goal of putting the province we love on a new and better path.
So I’d like to speak to how we can achieve that.
We are facing some big challenges in Alberta due to a dramatic fall in the price of oil.
But we are going to do what Albertans always do when faced with challenges.
We are going to team up and tackle them together.
These efforts focus on four areas.
First, we’re doing one of the most important things a provincial government can do in your communities when the province is facing such a tough economic shock: we’re protecting your key public services.
Second, through consultation with you, we’re almost finished the first major review of the Municipal Government Act in over two decades.
Third, we’re investing in the important infrastructure your communities need to stay healthy and vibrant.
And finally, we are building a more diversified economy through our Jobs Plan and our Climate Leadership Plan…
…as we continue to expand our markets and focus on getting Alberta’s products to customers around the world.
Let’s start with that first point: protecting public services.
I grew up in a small Alberta town. I know how important local provincial services are in communities like yours.
It may be easy to sit in Edmonton and point at numbers on charts and say that health care and education and other provincial services need to be rolled back because we have to hit some targets this year.
But that means more families in your communities — families led by teachers, nurses, and other people serving their neighbours — losing their livelihoods. And that means your local services doing less at a time when people need help more.
There are already enough families in Alberta worrying about how to meet the mortgage. Creating more unemployment and reducing more services won’t make things better.
It’s a rough fight sometimes. The pressure on us to take a different approach is relentless. But we’ve been very clear about this and I will be clear again today.
Provincial public services in your communities are safe in our hands.
We’re not going to respond to this economic shock in your communities by making it worse.
MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT ACT
Now let’s talk about giving you new tools to help you do your jobs better.
As you know, the Government of Alberta is reviewing the Municipal Government Act, to help you respond effectively in your own roles to the challenges facing our province.
Municipalities need robust and forward-looking legislation to meet their communities’ evolving needs.
So our government is renewing the Municipal Government Act.
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 process. And we’re going about it carefully.
There hasn’t been a major review of this legislation in more than two decades, but our government is getting the job done.
In the spring session, we introduced Bill 21, the Modernized Municipal Government Act, to give everyone a first look at the changes.
And this summer, we obtained valuable feedback on those changes from experts, municipalities and thousands of Albertans.
We are very pleased at the solid support most of the proposals received. Respondents also offered excellent ideas for improving the draft legislation.
So we will introduce amendments to the Modernized Municipal Government Act in the fall session to further strengthen this bill.
The AAMDC has been a vital part of the MGA review.
We heard from you, we listened to you and we are moving forward with your input.
The focus of the new MGA will be on coming together, working together and making our province better together.
For instance, we know that a number of municipal districts and counties rely on linear property tax as a key source of revenue.
Our government’s objective is to keep rural Alberta healthy, ensuring that services for rural Albertans are accessible and sustainable.
That’s why the Modernized Municipal Government Act maintains the current linear tax assessment system, while at the same time setting out changes in your rights and obligations to each other.
Alberta’s communities are interconnected. All residents in a region use the same services and infrastructure.
The act improves collaboration among municipalities on everything from land-use planning to service delivery.
Instead of duplicating costly services, municipalities will be better able to work together to deliver more effective, efficient services to their communities.
Many great examples of collaboration already exist, where municipalities have come together on projects and cost-sharing initiatives.
We will continue to celebrate the successes of the municipalities that are leading the way. But we cannot rely solely on ad hoc, local initiatives.
Especially during these tough economic times, Albertans expect their governments to be efficient managers of the public purse and to avoid duplication of services.
We must work together to ensure every dollar goes as far as possible.
Locally negotiated inter-municipal collaboration frameworks with neighbouring communities will strengthen working relationships between municipalities to better share the costs of services.
This change will make rural Alberta stronger.
INFRASTRUCTURE & ENVIRONMENT
Cooperation between us will also give Albertans the infrastructure they need.
As part of our $34.8 billion Capital Plan, our government is investing in modern, efficient infrastructure — like schools, hospitals and transit.
Given the economic climate, investing in priority infrastructure is not only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.
We’re using capacity in the construction industry and the comparatively low cost of building to complete essential infrastructure across the province.
And we’re creating thousands of good jobs as these projects get underway.
The Capital Plan provides:
- $3.5 billion for school projects;
- $3.5 billion for health facilities;
- $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 to be sure we’re pursuing the right priorities.
So we will be working closely with you to be sure we’re identifying the right projects, the right priorities and the right timing for this important investment in infrastructure.
We have some great examples of cooperation.
The GreenTRIP transit program is one of them.
You told us what you need, and we’ll be announcing approved projects for the third round of funding in the coming weeks.
You also asked government to bring back the Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program — and we heard you.
As announced by Minister Brian Mason earlier this week, in the upcoming year $35 million will be dedicated to STIP, so towns and counties can get roads, bridges and other related projects up and running.
You mentioned that the application process for STIP required updating. Again, we listened.
The renewed program is simpler and fairer. And it encompasses more types of infrastructure, to reflect your priorities.
Stability in public services and progress on municipal reform and infrastructure will pay off for Albertans.
But the core of the province’s difficulties is a lack of economic diversification and market access.
Friends, that means we have to change some of what we’ve been doing. Even if we don’t want to — as some of you have been saying at this meeting.
If Alberta is to be successful in our efforts to renew and diversify the economy, our reputation matters.
Our customers worldwide will increasingly judge us by our efforts to mitigate the impacts of development.
Alberta’s handling of environmental risks will do more than anything to shape our reputation in a crowded international market.
That’s one of the reasons behind our creation of the Climate Leadership Plan.
I understand some of you have been critical of that plan. Changes of this magnitude are always challenging. Nevertheless, this issue is key to repositioning our economy.
We must do this to address new trends.
We must do this, because it will enhance our access to new markets.
And we must do this, because protecting our environment is the right thing to do, now and for future generations. Governing is about making hard choices, and this is a choice we must make.
There are some important opportunities for your communities here. The Climate Leadership Plan is a vital tool for diversifying our economy.
New sources of energy mean new opportunities for rural entrepreneurs.
And they drive innovation that creates jobs which don’t depend on fluctuating commodity markets.
But none of this will happen from the top down.
Our government included municipalities in the discussions that led to the plan’s development.
And dialogue will be ongoing about specific aspects.
We want to empower municipal governments —who want it— to play a key role in climate leadership, and many of you already are.
Municipalities are on the front lines, pioneering new technologies and cleaner, greener ways of operating.
So we’ll look to you for advice about what works and what doesn’t, and how we can better enable your success, through sound policymaking and the right supports.
Friends, there is much more we need to do to address our economic challenges.
Alberta is home to some of the most advanced and adaptable producers anywhere.
This is true of every sector, from energy and agriculture to forestry and manufacturing.
With the right supports, enterprises and entrepreneurs can put the economy on stronger foundations, better insulating Alberta from the threat of future price shocks in commodity markets
It all begins with our Alberta Jobs Plan, which is based on:
- Supporting families and communities;
- Investing in infrastructure;
- Diversifying the economy; and
- Supporting business.
In practical terms, supporting business means providing job creators across a range of sectors with comprehensive assistance.
- $500 million to create the Petrochemicals Diversification Program;
- $540 million for AIMCO to invest in growth-oriented companies;
- Access to an additional $1.5 billion in capital through ATB;
- Lowering the small business tax, effective January 1st;
- A $10 million investment in Alberta’s food and beverage industry; and
- $30 million made available over two years to fund regional economic development support programs.
We are also working on improving market access for industry.
Energy producers’ inability to sell their oil to foreign customers beyond the United States is one of the roots of Alberta’s troubles.
The U.S. is our biggest market, but it’s also our biggest competitor when it comes to the energy trade.
While the conclusion of the presidential election may make a new pipeline south more likely, our government’s main objective has not changed.
Opening up new markets for the oil sands means new routes to tidewater, which will run through other parts of Canada.
We have the best possible reason to want more than one customer for our energy. It means we’ll be able to command a higher price, by having direct access to the world market.
So, for example, in April heavy crude in China sold for US$31.75 a barrel — almost $4 more than we were getting for the same product in the United States.
If we could only have had access to those world markets, we would have been in a better position to manage and mitigate the recent crash in prices, and the additional discount we suffer because we are hardwired into only one market.
Alberta represents 20 percent of Canada’s economy overall. It is in the interest of every Canadian that we get this right — that we stop selling ourselves short in the international market.
We have been making exactly that case since we got elected.
We’ll know very soon whether Alberta’s landlock is starting to crack. I’m hopeful we’ll make some good progress soon. And we’re going to keep fighting until we do.
However, we can’t limit talk of market access to energy.
Other sectors, like agriculture and forestry, are equally important to the economy and rural Alberta.
Agriculture employs more than 89,000 people province-wide, generating about $10 billion in annual exports.
And forestry provides more than 15,000 jobs spread across 69 rural communities.
There is high growth potential in both sectors, thanks to keen interest from Asia, Alberta’s second-largest export market.
And I commit to you today that our government will do everything we can to support and grow trade opportunities for local producers.
Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier just wrapped up a trade mission to China and South Korea.
And Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous just began a mission to Japan and China.
In both cases, the objectives are to build relationships that will open new markets and new opportunities for Alberta.
Meanwhile, we need to look after our key markets here in North America.
A new U.S. President will assume office in January.
And like all of the United States’ trade partners all around the world, we will be watching closely to see what the new administration means for our trade relationship.
The new administration has been clear they intend to review NAFTA.
And we saw news reports recently specifically mentioning our lumber and agriculture sectors as potential targets in such a discussion.
We are going to need to be extremely strong and determined to ensure trade rules in those sectors remain balanced and fair.
This is a fight all Canadian governments —federal and provincial— must stand arm-in-arm on. Alberta is going to work hard to ensure we do, and we are going to do our share.
You know what Alberta is going through. And you understand how much is at stake on energy, the environment and the economy.
My government will work together with municipalities, capitalizing on the enthusiasm and innovation that our province is so well known for.
Together, we’ll create jobs and restore the prosperity that made Alberta Canada’s economic engine.
None of this is easy.
But it is achievable, if we operate within a framework of stability and predictability, and live within our means.
My commitment to you is that our government will provide those things.
We will offer municipalities stability and predictability in operating and program funding.
And we will work with you to best serve Albertans with the dollars we have.
There’s no denying that Alberta is dealing with an unprecedented situation.
But we can do this. And we will.
We’ll get through tough times together.
And we’ll build the kind of prosperous, sustainable and resilient province that we all want — together.
Thank you for your help. Thank you for your advice. Thank you for being our valued partners.