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Empire Club of Canada Speech 2017

“After suffering one of the toughest economic shocks our province has faced since the Great Depression in the 1930s, things in Alberta are looking up.”

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Hello! Thank you all for coming here today.

Let me begin by thanking the Empire Club for hosting this event, and thank you Kent for that very kind introduction.

The Empire Club has had some remarkable speakers in its history, stretching all the way back to 1903.

Indira Ghandi spoke here.

So did the Dalai Lama, Winston Churchill, Gordon Pinsent, Vladimir Putin and many, many others.

So…No pressure.

My task is clear.

I need to be wise like the Dalai Lama about Alberta’s role in Canada, in our environment and in the world’s energy economy;

I need to be as determined to defend our province’s beaches as Winston Churchill would be — a neat trick, since we have no coastline, as we will discuss in a minute;

I need to find a way to persuade you that Alberta is as much a national treasure as that wonderful Canadian actor, Gordon Pinsent;

And, in a perfect world, I then need to seal the deal by using Facebook to install Alberta’s very own super power, just like Vladimir….

Ok. Maybe we won’t go there.

But with as much wisdom, determination and commitment to this wonderful country of ours as I can, I’m here to speak about three things.

First I’d like to provide you with an update on how Alberta is doing these days.

Second, I’d like to speak to you about the need to open up new markets for our energy products by building new pipelines, such as Trans-Mountain.

….and how new pipelines complement and support the far-reaching action we are taking to tackle climate change.

And finally, I’m here to ask for your help.

So to the first question:  how is Alberta doing these days?

After suffering one of the toughest economic shocks our province has faced since the Great Depression in the 1930s, things in Alberta are looking up.

Three years ago, for many reasons, including slower economic growth in Asia, and the rise of new energy producers in the United States, who have made the U.S. a net energy exporter for the first time in decades…

…The world price of oil collapsed.

That oil price, which had peaked at well over $100, plummeted, bottoming out below $30.

Canada is one of the world’s principal energy producers, with some of the world’s largest energy reserves -- an industry that supports more than 500,000 direct and indirect jobs.

So when you have a price shock that bad, the effects are felt across the country…

…including among the thousands of Ontario-based companies that do business in oil and gas.

…and back home in Alberta, where most of Canada’s petroleum resources are located.

In Ontario, for you, that price shock meant lower demand, lower growth, and lost opportunities.

For families in Alberta it meant terrible stress and hardship.

People lost their homes and worried about how they would put food on the table.

And throughout the country, tens of thousands of workers returned home from Alberta for good without the paycheques they need to take care of their families in their home provinces, pay taxes, and support their local economies.

For us in Alberta the price shock also meant a sharp economic recession, one that echoed throughout homes and business across the province.

And it meant a very severe fiscal shock.

Provincial government revenues dropped by about 20%, creating an $11 billion provincial deficit.

There were those who argued — and continue to argue — that the only thing that mattered in this story was the provincial deficit.

The people didn’t matter.

The need to return to growth didn’t matter.

The only thing that mattered was to immediately balance the provincial budget by making everything worse…

…firing the nurses our loved ones need at their bedside when they are sick…

…and the teachers our kids depend on…

…cutting everyone’s health care and all of our families’ education — by 20% — in the middle of a sharp recession.

We were fighting a fire and these people wanted to deal with it by building a bigger fire.

Classic cut-and-slash austerity, schemes that have been tried and failed all around the world, with little to show, other than the highest levels of inequality seen in a century.

Well, we didn’t take that bad advice, advice that would have put more people out of work and made things harder.

Instead,

  • We stabilized public spending, ending a period of runaway public sector spending growth, and we absorbed that fiscal shock rather than downloading it onto Alberta families.
  • We helped families directly, by doing away with a massive and regressive health levy and replacing it with fair, progressive taxes that people pay when they can afford to.
  • We did what we reasonably could to offset the price shock by investing in the economy, with a strong and carefully-targeted infrastructure plan that put people to work and made up for years of neglect.
  • We are partnering with business in and out of the energy sector to diversify our economy and to move up the value chain, adding more value to what we do.
  • And we are acting decisively to reduce our emissions and to combat climate change, while working to diversify our energy markets. We’ll speak some more about that in a moment.

How is that all working out?

Well, as I said, things are looking up.

Greatly helped by a slow but encouraging recovery in commodity prices, Alberta is reclaiming its rightful mantle as the economic engine of Canada.

A few more quarters of this, and we’re going to be able to say that Alberta is back.

I could cite many statistics, but here are a few that tell the story:

  • According to the Conference Board of Canada and major Canadian banks, Alberta is expected to have the strongest GDP growth in Canada in 2018 — RBC recently revised their forecast for Alberta up, from 2.9% growth up to over 4%.
  • Investment and activity in the energy sector is recovering. Our strong, well-capitalized and Canadian-based energy industry is investing in the future — with a number of major projects announced in the last quarter.

And that confidence in our future is reflected right through the industry.

For example, drilling activity is way up, more than double compared to 2016, with over 2,700 new wells being drilled since this time last year:

  • According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, small business confidence is up, now above 2015 levels.
  • Housing starts are up, exports are up, manufacturing is up, retail sales are up, restaurant sales are up, business incorporations are up.
  • And my personal favourite, since June of 2016, Alberta has added more than 70,000 full-time jobs.

The bottom line is this.

We have more work to do and not all Albertans are feeling it, but we are clearly on the mend.

All the credit for this goes to the smart, energetic, entrepreneurial, and resilient people of Alberta.

Once again, just like we always do, we’re adapting to new realities in this global market we live in.

We are used to challenges in Alberta.

And we still face a few to be sure.

Which brings me to what I want to focus on today: pipelines, and the need for market access.

I want to speak very directly and very clearly on this issue.

Alberta’s energy industry helps drive our national economy.

It supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country…

…including right here in Ontario in companies like DistributionNOW in Sarnia and Thunder Bay…..an industry-leading provider of pipes, valves and industrial tools…

…or Dresser Rand in Mississauga and Sarnia, which is one of the largest suppliers of rotating equipment.

And the financial contribution Alberta makes to our fellow citizens in other provinces is enormous.

There is not a school, hospital, or road anywhere in the country that does not owe something to a strong energy industry in Alberta.

But – and this is key – for Alberta, and therefore Canada, to have a more stable and secure economic future, we need to be able to sell energy to more than one client.

Right now all of our energy infrastructure is built for export to the United States.

They are a monopoly buyer, and as a result we often get a heavily discounted monopoly price.

The United States has also tripled its own energy production over the past decade, and built numerous pipelines -- while we in Canada were arguing over ours.

So the United States is our sole customer and is emerging as our principal competitor.

You don’t need to have a degree from the Rotman School of Management to know this doesn’t make a lot of sense and it needs to change.

To be economically safer and more secure…

to be more resilient in the face of the inevitable ups and downs of the energy market…

we must develop new markets and new customers.

To do this, we need to build a Canadian pipeline to the ocean.

The best option is to go west, so that we have access to the Asia-Pacific.

To say this even more clearly:

Being smarter about how we market our energy is basic common sense.

And those who argue otherwise — who somehow claim that we can’t tackle climate change and support working people…

…are just playing politics with hundreds of thousands of good jobs for ordinary working people…

…in Alberta, in BC, in Ontario, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and across this country.

Progressive-minded Canadians — like all Canadians — care about jobs and working people in this country.

And you don’t support working people by attacking the hardworking women and men in our energy industry, and by attacking good, mortgage-paying energy jobs.

Getting better prices from more customers — which is what we’re trying to do by building new pipelines — will also make our energy exports safer.

There are those who argue that these pipeline projects are going to make us all less safe, and more prone to spills and tragic accidents.

That is false.

Getting Canadian energy exports off the railroads and into modern, well-regulated, well-designed and closely-supervised pipelines will be safer, more secure, and will avoid future tragedies like we saw in the recent past. 

Finally, there are those who argue that building a new pipeline to open the door to more markets and better prices will make it impossible for Canada to meet its climate change targets.

The opposite is true.

Alberta has taken a very strong leadership position on these issues. No one in Canada holds a candle to Alberta on tackling climate change.

Our plan is the most comprehensive anywhere in North America.

We have introduced an economy-wide price on carbon to promote lower emissions.

We are eliminating coal pollution that is bad for our air, our health and our productivity.

We are introducing an industrial and domestic energy efficiency program to reduce waste and pollution.

And – let me emphasize this -- we have placed a hard cap on emissions in the oil sands.

This is very important for Canadians to understand.

Because Alberta has capped oil sands emissions, a new pipeline to tidewater does not – does not – increase carbon emissions.

The only thing the pipeline contributes to is more economic prosperity for working Canadians in a stronger, more resilient national economy.

The measures I have just outlined are at the core of Canada’s national climate leadership plan — and therefore will help Canada reduce carbon emissions in every province and territory, across the country.

And they enable us to act on climate change while building a more prosperous, generous and equal Canada for all our citizens.

So as the Premier of Alberta – a province that contributes mightily to the economic well-being of our country and leads Canada on climate action…

….I carry this message to you and to every Canadian.

If you care you care about the climate.

If you care about jobs and working people.

If you care about building a society where everyone matters.

If you care about building a national economy that can compete and win in the global marketplace.

If you care about these things like I do, and still want to stop Alberta from diversifying our markets, then please, give your head a shake.

You can’t pick and choose.

Without Alberta, there is no national climate plan.  Period. 

With Alberta, we can build a nation where we tackle climate change without leaving working people behind.

And to be crystal clear: any climate plan that ignores working people is not a plan – all hat and no cattle.

So stand with Alberta and help build a nation that can tackle climate change and support working people...

….or harm any hope we have of reducing emissions and meeting our climate targets.

Friends….it’s a stark choice.   But those are the stakes.

Demand for oil will continue to rise.

The world can either buy its oil from Alberta, where we take climate change seriously, or it can buy it from places with runaway emissions like Venezuela and Russia.

We can act as one country that thinks strategically and competes internationally…

…or we can be a bunch of economic fiefdoms competing with each other for economic advantage.

So let me reiterate:

  • Building the new pipelines such as Trans Mountain, will be good for the Canadian economy.
  • Getting better prices from more buyers will be good for the jobs of tens of thousands of ordinary working Canadians.
  • Getting pipelines built will give Canada a safer, less risky energy infrastructure. Pipelines are safer than what we are doing now.
  • And getting better prices from more buyers will not come at the expense of increased emissions, thanks to our climate leadership plan – the strongest plan of its kind on the continent.

Most Canadians support these goals.

Most Canadians, in each and every province of this country including British Columbia, support the moderate, progressive approach I’ve outlined today.

But we — the moderate, progressive majority in Canada — risk being out-shouted.

We risk being out-shouted by people who have chosen to stick to their same old divisive approach regardless of their failures and the economic consequences for ordinary working families.

And we also risk being outshouted by their peculiar allies, the people who chose to ignore the overwhelming evidence and deny climate change…

…people who want Canada and Alberta to fail — so they can take us all backwards, putting our climate and our economy at risk.

I’m hoping you – you, listening to me at this event today — are part of the moderate majority in Canada who want to see a progressive plan.

If you are, now is the time to speak up.

It’s time to tell governments in Canada that we have the right climate leadership plan, and that it should be implemented.

And it is time to tell governments that we have made the right decisions about energy infrastructure, and it is time to implement them too.

It is time to respect those decisions, and to get the safe, modern energy infrastructure we need built.

And built now.

I’m here today to ask for your support, as engaged Canadian citizens, and as members of Canada’s balanced, moderate, progressive majority.

We can do this.

We can act on climate change.

We can build a prosperous economy with good jobs for working families.

We can have a functioning national economy — that is capable of making decisions.

We can step back from extreme positions, and reach solutions together.

Like the one I’ve been talking about today.

You can help make it happen.

Please do.

The time to speak up is now.

Thank you.