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I’ve been reading about the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak in Alberta, and this, I think, is some useful historical context in our province and across Canada. It was claimed that almost as many victims as the Great War died in 1918.
It's hard to imagine such an avalanche of loss. The war was not yet over when the flu erupted. Unlike COVID-19, that epidemic over a century ago targeted young, otherwise healthy people, including young parents, leaving thousands of orphans across Canada.
In Alberta, doctors and nurses performed heroically.
Many perished in Indigenous communities. Lumber and mining camps were hit especially hard. But socioeconomic status was no vaccine. Business leaders, other professionals, academics and political leaders also succumbed. In fact, Edmonton lawyer, Alexander McKay, who was Canada's first provincial health minister and whose swift and decisive actions were credited for Alberta's relatively low fatality rate – well, he ultimately died from post flu complications about a year after the outbreak subsided.
As terrible and as tragic as that time was, I think we can draw comfort and strength from the courage and fortitude of our forebears who faced their own pandemic without the modern medicine technology and the experience that perhaps we take for granted today. Canadians, including Albertans, soldiered through the twin catastrophes of war and disease, then got on with building our country into the most durably peaceful and prosperous place on earth throughout the 20th century.
That's a tribute to our fundamental Canadian strengths as a nation, our free and democratic society, our free market economy, our prudent stewardship of our natural resources, and our civic virtue as a welcoming and pluralistic society.
So nothing can inoculate us completely against this latest global pandemic, or against the folly of states who are compounding its economic damage. By choosing this worst possible moment to launch a global oil price war, I believe we are only beginning to feel the effects of this perfect storm of global events and that things will get much worse before they get better.
That is not pessimism. It is realism. At this time, we must continue to hope and pray for the best and work for the best, but we must prepare ourselves for the worst. Alberta has suffered more than most parts of the country in recent years. The southern Alberta floods and the Fort McMurray wildfire are two of the largest natural disasters in history. But we know from the that experience that what we need is quick decision making from public officials.
In this case, and particularly for our expert public health officials, we need direct and timely interventions by governments to support workers and employers. And we need generous support for families and businesses across all of our society to help us take care of each other, and especially the most vulnerable amongst us: the old, the sick, the unemployed, and those without family or other support.
And so I'm asking all Canadians, all of my fellow Albertans, to commit to a spirit of cooperation and a national resolve to do whatever is necessary to protect Canadians health and their jobs and their livelihoods.
It won't be easy. That is especially true in Alberta where we have been hit by a triple whammy of developments.
First of all, of course, is the impact of not only the public health crisis represented by coronavirus, but also the global recession that it has provoked. Secondly, the total collapse in world energy prices will affect Alberta very gravely and its ability to generate wealth for the Canadian economy.
Thirdly for Alberta, these two significant developments are layered on top of five years of economic adversity and fragility, which has affected many people and has had very serious human and social consequences.
First, let me address the public health aspect. First of all we, as of the latest public reporting, have identified 19 cases of presumed or confirmed a coronavirus infection in Alberta. I would like to thank once again our tremendous medical professionals who are leading the response to this pandemic, in particular our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, whose team has done tremendous work in identifying isolating cases, and then in being engaged in enormous work to track close contacts of those who have been infected.
Fortunately in Alberta, we have a very robust pandemic influenza plan that dates from 2014, but was exercised effectively just last November. We also have the advantage of a strong, stable single healthcare administration in Alberta Health Services. And because of those recent major disasters that we have experienced, we have a high level of interagency and inter-governmental cooperation. That cooperation is needed now, more than ever. Of course, that includes the federal government and our provincial and territorial partners.
What are the subjects of my conversation with Deputy Prime Minister Freeland this morning? We ask people to follow the best public health advice that has been offered. Of course that includes being more and more mindful about personal hygiene practices. We should say this every time we're in front of a microphone. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, frequently. Avoid shaking hands. Avoid crowded events if you can and, if you're feeling ill, stay at home.
In the case of Alberta, call 811, the medical assistance line, to get advice if you're coming in from overseas. We ask people to self isolate and to watch their health condition very closely. And finally, we are now recommending that anybody over the age of 65 in Alberta avoid traveling outside the province if they can avoid it .
Later today I will be having our second meeting this week with the Cabinet Emergency Management Committee to discuss with officials advice for Albertans on large events, and we will continue to take on board very seriously the advice of our public health officials.
Let me then turn to the economic consequences of this. I announced earlier this week that we are appointing a extraordinary economic advisory council to be chaired by Dr. Jack Minz, former president of the CD Howe Institute. I will be announcing the membership of that council, hopefully tomorrow, to provide us with expert external advice on how best to respond to this unfolding economic crisis.
And let me be clear. The government of Alberta will take extraordinary action. We are developing an emergency economic aid package, elements of which will be announced in the weeks to come. We will do whatever it takes to protect people from the economic impact of the triple whammy that Albertans are facing, and we hope and expect that the Government of Canada will be close partners with us. In this, I received that assurance from the Christina Freeland earlier today.
We will be facing some unique challenges in the vulnerability of our energy sector. I met two nights ago with one of Canada's leading energy analysts, and his message was sobering, to say the least. He told me the anticipated cash flow for the oil and gas industry for 2020 was in January.
The projection was $50 billion, but as of Monday, that has been revised down to less than $9 billion. That is a net loss of more than $40 billion that would have been injected into the economy in the form of jobs, consumer spending and taxes paid. $40 billion is equivalent to almost three per cent of the Canadian Gross Domestic Product, and over 10 per cent of Alberta's GDP.
Folks, this is serious, and this requires serious action. All of us need to park our parochial interests and partisan divisions. Canada needs to help the Alberta economy, to help us get through this challenging time and for us to get back on our feet.
Let me say that in the 2008 global financial crisis, one of the reasons that Canada got through that with greater strength in virtually any other developed economy was because of the dynamic growth of the Canadian energy sector centered in Alberta. With its growth, we kept our head above water as a national economy. And now with these enormous multiple threats to the Alberta economy, we need the country’s resolve to get through this.
Albertans have been remarkably generous, contributing over $600 billion net to the rest of the federation through their federal taxes since 1960. Even during challenging times, through five years of economic decline and stagnation, our net annual contribution to the federation has been in the range of $20 billion a year.
Alberta has been the greatest engine of job creation across the country and of high incomes in Canada. In recent decades, a quarter of a million Canadians relied upon the energy sector directly for their employment. Hundreds of thousands of others relied upon it indirectly, and tens of thousands of businesses across the country.
I held a round table with industry leaders on Tuesday. One of the participants said that he had been in Cambridge, Ontario, not long ago and, out of curiosity, he asked industry members there how much business they did with companies. He asked his members in Alberta how much business they did with companies in Cambridge.
He was surprised to learn that his members, and this is the oil field service sector, did business with more than 165 companies in that one mid-sized Ontario city alone. He estimated that 4,000 jobs in Cambridge, Ontario, are linked at least in part to the health of Canada's energy sector. That's why, by the way, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers indicates that more than 1,100 companies employing more than 70,000 people here in Ontario are in the oil sands supply chain alone.
Or take, for example, the Quebec ore industry. Much of the ore that is mined in Quebec is used here in Canada to make steel, often in southern Ontario, to make the pipes that are eventually laid across Western Canada. Overall, the supply chain for the oil sands employs more than 200,000 people outside of Alberta at more than 2,200 companies. And that does not include our conventional oil or natural gas sectors.
So the message I have here in Ottawa today is that as goes Alberta, so goes Canada. And a strong Canada needs a strong Alberta. Alberta will do everything that we can to participate in national efforts to combat this global health threat, and also to ensure economic resilience for the Canadian economy.
As I say, we are preparing an emergency aid package that will involve such elements as a surge in additional infrastructure spending. Even though we are already maintaining a very robust capital budget of $7 billion a year at a record high, we will bring forward every project that we can identify for infrastructure support this year, to create and maintain jobs.
We are in conversations with the industry and the financial services sector about how we can address a pending liquidity crisis in the Canadian oil and gas sector. We are focusing on what we can do to help small- to medium-sized businesses – particularly in the service, hospitality and tourism industries – get through the weeks and months to come.
I know of some very dramatic measures in this respect announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the British budget yesterday, and we invite suggestions from policy experts, people across the political spectrum and in every sector of the Canadian economy to identify how we can work together in the way forward.
I think it's very important for us to recall that, as public health officials advise a growing number of people to stay home, we must ensure, through programs like Employment Insurance and other programs, that people are not disincentivized to follow that medical advice. It is very important that we not force people to choose between their health and their financial capacity to care for their families.
And so we are already reviewing any regulatory changes that we can make in Alberta in terms of labor standards to ensure that there is a seamless support for those who need to take time off of work.
We also need to acknowledge that there are many jobs where people cannot work from home. We need, I think as policy leaders, to be especially sensitive to those individuals who are going to need that consideration.
I'll share with you, for example, the fact that the oil sands are not operated on the basis where y the producers can simply flick a switch and turn off production. Because the consequences of that would be catastrophic and could potentially result in the loss of billions of dollars of capital investment. So there are certain strategic assets in this country that need to continue to operate.
I've asked our officials to work with energy producers in Alberta to do everything we can to ensure protocols are in place to protect the workers in the Canadian oil sands from the coronavirus, to ensure that there are rigorous and redundant public health protocols in place to protect the future of those critical assets. Something I also raised with Deputy Prime Minister Freeland earlier today.
We'll need the sound advice of experts such as those at the CD Howe Institute to help us define our course of action in the days and weeks to come. And most importantly, I think what Canadians need to hear now is a message of resilience, of resolve, of strength, and of unity across the geographic, cultural and political diversity of this country and the challenging days to come.