As 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the many things our government accomplished this year.
We know many hardworking Albertans, families and businesses are facing serious challenges due to the collapse of global oil prices. While there will be challenges ahead, I remain hopeful: Alberta is home to one of the youngest, best educated and most diverse populations in the country. We have strong communities, first-rate universities, and thriving health care and innovation sectors. By protecting health care and education while diversifying our economy, Albertans can be assured of more prosperous times to come.
Our Climate Leadership Plan demonstrates that Alberta can be both an energy producer and a world leader on climate action. It also positions us to work together with the rest of the country towards a strong new national environmental policy that benefits Canadians with jobs and greater economic stability.
As one of the world’s major energy producers, we need to make sure that our energy industry remains competitive and is ready for the future and that means addressing climate change before a plan is imposed on Alberta. And so, leading on climate change is exactly what we are doing.
We are going to price carbon, which will pay for our transition to a more diversified economy. And we’re going to make sure that low and middle income families in Alberta aren’t hurt by a carbon price, by providing them with a rebate.
Our carbon price will also go towards new energy efficiency programs through Energy Efficiency Alberta. This will help families and businesses reduce their emissions and therefore reduce their utility bills. If families who receive the rebate take advantage of our new efficiency programs, they will even see money go right into their pocket. No longer will Alberta be the only jurisdiction in North American without efficiency programs.
We are going to put a cap on emissions in the oil sands. We are implementing a world-leading methane reduction program that formed the basis of a Canada – US agreement on methane reduction. And we are going to replace coal-generated electricity with cleaner-burning natural gas and with a growing, modern, clean, renewable energy industry.
In the process we will create thousands of new jobs in industries that are here in Alberta to stay – the modern, diversified economy of the future. Renewing and modernizing our electricity system is an important part of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan and an important step toward protecting the health of Albertans.. Coal-fired emissions have been linked to respiratory illnesses and even premature death. These emissions have cost our healthcare system billions of dollars.
As part of our plan, we will compensate power companies who own coal-fired electricity units so that those companies can keep investing in our communities and in our workers. It will also ensure that our electricity system remains reliable, affordable, and open to critical investments.
And we will set out more detail on how we will promote the construction of clean renewable energy – wind, solar, thermal and hydro power — efficiently, economically, and without undue subsidy.
The failure of previous governments to act on climate change impeded our province’s ability to access tidewater and open new markets for our oil and gas. As a result, Albertans did not receive a fair price for our energy exports.
This changed because of our Climate Leadership Plan. Earlier this month, the federal government announced it approved two pipelines from Alberta: Trans Mountain and Line 3. From the Trans Mountain pipeline project alone, we expect to see 22,000 new jobs added with construction. Trans Mountain will inject between $8 to $13 billion dollars annually into our energy industry by 2022 and increase the price of our oil by $3 per barrel.
Without our Climate Leadership Plan these opportunities would be lost. There is just too much at stake to turn back the clock.
These projects are an important step forward for Alberta; however, we know there is more work to do. Canada has more than one coast, and that’s why we will continue to work with industry and community and provincial leaders towards Trans Canada’s Energy East pipeline to move our energy products to eastern tidewater.
Alberta Jobs Plan
Through the Alberta Jobs Plan, we are focused on creating jobs in a stronger, more diverse economy while still protecting the core public services Albertans rely on, like health care and education. In August, three months after our plan was introduced, the provincial economy began adding jobs–a trend that is continuing. We have added 25,000 jobs in the last three months, and despite the drop in global oil prices, economic forecasts indicate long-term stability.
To help businesses, we introduced new tax credits, increased access to capital and cut the small business tax to 2%. When small businesses asked us for increased access to capital, our jobs plan increased ATB Financial’s borrowing limits by $1.5 billion and directed them to make it available to small businesses. We also worked with the Business Development Bank of Canada to establish a $1 billion fund for new business loans, and to expand consulting and mentoring supports to businesses, so entrepreneurs can launch more start-ups, innovate and expand.
To support investment from venture capitalists, our jobs plan includes the new Alberta Investor Tax Credit that, starting next year, will refund 30 per cent for investments to Alberta small business in a variety of sectors, helping small businesses create more than 4,000 new jobs. Our jobs plan is also refunding part of small businesses’ costs for new machinery, equipment and buildings with the Capital Investor Tax Credit.
We are moving forward on the biggest infrastructure build in Alberta’s history. Projects added to the Capital Plan are expected to add or sustain about 10,000 jobs over the next three years. This includes investments in the schools, hospitals, roads, transit, and other infrastructure our growing population needs.
New facilities supported by the Petrochemicals Diversification Program are expected to add up to 3,000 jobs during construction and more than 1,000 jobs when operations begin. We have also seen 500 direct and indirect jobs created through Alberta’s Agrivalue Food Processing Centre, a facility that supports the start-up of new food businesses.
We have seen further growth as a result of Alberta’s Modernized Royalty Framework and an increase in drilling. By early this fall, more than 129 new wells had been approved, with each well supporting an estimated 135 jobs.
Supporting Families and Communities
We are supporting families and communities through actions like the Alberta Child Benefit and Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit, and providing funding for income support and apprenticeship-focused training opportunities. I was delighted to hear that the Alberta Child Benefit helped 13-year-old Iyasha pursue her passion for dancing – and has helped around 200,000 Alberta children.
Our government made a promise in our election platform to create child-care spaces based on a $25 a day fee structure. We’re moving forward on that progress by funding at least 18 Alberta Early Learning and Child Care Centres that will create up to 1,000 new child-care spaces capped at $25 a day, up to 230 new child-care jobs province-wide, and economic security for parents entering the workforce.
We are continuing to move forward on our government’s commitment to phase in a $15 hourly minimum wage by 2018. Our government believes working people deserve income security and dignity and that every working Albertan should be able to afford rent, transportation and food. This policy will put more dollars in the pockets of hardworking Albertans who live, work and spend their money here.
Research tells us 300,000 Albertans work for less than $15 an hour and 100,000 working parents are trying to raise children on an extremely fixed budget. I believe that work should pay enough so people can take care of their own families. Recent studies show positive effects of raising minimum wage, including increased consumer spending on meeting their basic needs such as housing, school supplies, clothing and groceries; lower wage inequality and better health outcomes; with little negative effect on overall employment levels.
A good education goes beyond the walls of the classroom, and involves making sure our students are given the supports they need to focus on learning – like ensuring they’re happy, healthy and aren’t going hungry.
Our government has have launched a school nutrition pilot project with 14 Alberta school boards that will benefit thousands of students. We know that education is the cornerstone of a healthy Alberta economy, and we know that students cannot focus in class if they’re hungry. We also know that difficult economic times in our province have put a strain on household incomes, and some of our families may need a helping hand.
Our government is investing $3.5 million into this program this year and that’s just the start. We hope to grow this program next year, and again the year after that. Minister Eggen and Alberta Education selected 14 urban and rural school boards relying on socio-economic data. Each board is being provided with a $250,000 grant to be put towards school nutrition in one or more schools they are responsible for.
In regard to cost-saving measures, we have frozen salaries of MLAs, Cabinet, political staff, management and non-union employees within the Alberta Public Service, saving approximately $57 million over two years.
The recent Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act enabled us to consolidate or dissolve 26 agencies, boards and commissions, saving taxpayers $33 million over three years. Public agency appointments are now open to all Albertans: A new, open online recruitment process will help ensure appointments to Alberta’s agencies, boards and commissions better reflect the province’s diversity and strengths.
In addition, our government is reducing budgets for salaries and supplies in government departments by nearly two per cent this year, deferring some campaign promises and re-allocating savings to where they’re most needed.
For many years, our agreement with the Alberta Medical Association has been the single largest expense in the provincial budget—at $5 billion a year, it accounts for approximately ten per cent of the total budget. Costs related to this increase have increased by an average of 9.7 per cent per year, for the last ten years. However, we have successfully re-negotiated an agreement with the Alberta Medical Association that holds spending increases to about two per cent per year through 2018.
In fact, under our leadership, growth in the government’s operating budget falls to an average of 2 per cent for the next three years. At the same time, we have a significantly lower debt-to-GDP ratio than Canada and other provinces which means we have the fiscal capacity to protect the services Albertans count on.
Wood Buffalo Wildfire
One of the most challenging moments of 2016 by far was the Wood Buffalo Wildfire in May, which began in the forest southwest of Fort McMurray and forced the evacuation of more than 88,000 people. Before it was tamed, the wildfire would scorch more than 5,000 square kilometres and destroy more than 2,400 homes and buildings.
While the disaster changed the lives of tens of thousands of people, it did not destroy their strength, resiliency, and courage. Albertans did not sit idly by and simply watch this wildfire wreak havoc. They acted. This devastating event is a reminder and a demonstration of the spirit of Alberta – that when times are at their worst, Albertans are at their best.
Those We Lost
We lost a number of remarkable Albertans this year. Premier Jim Prentice, Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong, and Premier Don Getty were are remarkable men in their own right, and Alberta is better for their service to our province.
Alberta’s 16th Premier, Jim Prentice, served our province in so many roles for so many years, from Parliament Hill to the Alberta Legislature. He deeply loved Alberta. He worked tirelessly for all of us, in the true spirit of one who is committed to public service. I benefited from his advice, and the Government of Alberta is continuing to pursue many of his initiatives. All Albertans are the better for this.
As Alberta’s 16th Lieutenant Governor, Norman Kwong brought an effortless dignity and warm humanity to his vice-regal duties. His contributions to public life earned him many honours, including the Order of Canada. He was a person of exceptional character and extraordinary accomplishment, a great Albertan and a great Canadian.
Don Getty, Alberta’s 11th Premier, distinguished himself not only in politics, but also in the worlds of sport and business, through leadership, hard work and service. Our province has lost an incredible champion, a strong and compassionate leader, and a proud family man. One of his greatest legacies was the introduction of Family Day – a holiday where Alberta families could spend time together, strengthen bonds and reconnect.
I would like to commend Albertans for the remarkable strength and determination as we’ve all navigated a trying year together.
We’ve taken some hard economic knocks from the international price of oil, but nobody knocks Alberta down for long. We’re getting back on our feet. We’re working together to build a better future for our families, our children and our grandchildren, building on the legacy of those who came before.
We all share a love and pride of Alberta: a province that has led before, and is leading now.
I wish you a Happy New Year, and all the best for 2017.