Calgary’s Business: What’s your overall sense of Alberta’s economy and where it’s at today and more importantly where it’s headed in the future?
Notley: We know things are looking up. You may have heard the jobs numbers before: 90,000 full-time jobs created last year, mostly in the private sector. And in the past month alone we added another 3,000. So we’re talking about tens of thousands of more Albertans taking a home a solid paycheque than there were a year ago.
Our annual report was released recently and showed that our economy surpassed expectations, leading the country with 4.9 per cent growth. The broad consensus — including the most recent projection by RBC — is that we will lead the country in growth for the next two years as well. Retail, manufacturing, exports are all up, economic indicators are positive across almost every sector … Calgary itself created 31,000 new full-time jobs last year and employment grew by over 3.3 per cent, and most businesses are hiring more this year.
So we are optimistic about the future but there’s much work to do. All signs point to this being a real recovery, but as I always say it’s not a recovery unless it reaches every Alberta family. We’re going to make sure that happens and that it lasts.
CB: How important is it to the Alberta economy that Canada gets this Kinder Morgan pipeline issue resolved and built?
Notley: It’s absolutely crucial we get market access for our resources, which means getting them to tidewater so that we are no longer dependent on selling to the U.S. as our only buyer and at a discounted price. Twinning this pipeline will provide 37,000 jobs and $15 billion to the national economy, annually. You really can’t overstate its importance. When Alberta’s energy industry is strong, Canada is strong. Our energy industry provides good jobs for people across Alberta and Canada, and helps pay for the services we all need and use like hospitals, schools, and roads.
That’s why we’ve been pushing so hard to secure this, working with the federal government and Kinder Morgan to get this pipeline built. And so we were we pleased when Trans Mountain recently filed its project construction update stating that work will begin in Alberta this month, and in the North Thompson region of B.C. in September. We are closer than ever to getting the pipeline built, and we know that this will create even more jobs here in Alberta and across the country.
CB: How important is it to the Alberta economy that we diversify it and not, like in the past, rely primarily on the oilpatch?
Notley: Our economy is diversifying but natural resources will continue to be a big pillar of our economy for a long time. It’s patently false to say we can’t have both a diversified economy and a strong energy sector. So we’re building on our traditional strengths in oil and gas, and making sure our economy is built to last by growing other sectors, too, rather than getting trapped in the boom-and-bust cycle that past governments were happy to operate in.
Albertans were getting sick of that boom-and-bust roller-coaster and it left too many with nothing in their pockets. And in an increasingly volatile and protectionist world, we need to diversify both our markets and our economy.
So on one hand we’re diversifying energy in the tradition of Peter Lougheed — we’re investing in partial upgrading and petrochemical diversification projects in the industrial heartland. And beyond diversifying within our traditional strengths like oil and gas, and agriculture and forestry, we’re also building up other sectors like renewable energy and clean technology, life sciences and artificial intelligence.
There’s also the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, which will make a big difference in that sector. Innovation is booming within small business, too.
We’re in the midst of an exciting time as Albertans are really stepping up and building the economy of the future. We’re proud to support them.
CB: Your critics say your government is not business friendly and has hurt businesses in the province with policies such as the carbon tax and minimum wage hikes. How do you respond to that?
Notley: Conservatives used that tired line to try to scare people before we were elected in 2015, and the opposite is true, both then and now. The fact is we have the greatest tax advantage in Canada by a country mile. The carbon levy did not change that and neither did making sure people are paid a living wage. In fact, the tax advantage in Alberta grew last year from $8.7 billion to $11.2 billion.
In the past three years, when businesses asked for help we listened and delivered. We brought in tax credits that other provinces have enjoyed for decades, supports for new and established entrepreneurs, increased business access to capital and helped them access new markets. We invested widely in innovation. And we lowered the small business tax by a third.
After the price of oil tanked and we Albertans endured the worst recession in generations, we are now on the comeback. Business is booming in some sectors and making steady progress in the others. Companies like Google and Amazon are investing here. The Business Development Bank of Canada says Alberta entrepreneurs will invest more in their businesses this year than any other business owners in the country.
Our low small business tax, personal tax and fuel taxes – and lack of payroll tax, health care premiums, or sales tax – means we are the best place in Canada to invest and do business.
CB: Going forward, what’s your plan to cut down on the province’s deficit and debt?
Notley: When the price of oil collapsed, our government made a decision to not make a bad situation worse. We invested in the services that Albertans rely on, we built schools, hospitals and affordable housing to put people back to work. And we diversified our economy.
Our plan is working. Now that Alberta’s economy is growing again, we’ve put forward a six-year plan to clean up PC waste and control spending so we balance by 2023. We have already outperformed that plan, delivering a deficit $2.5 billion lower than originally predicted this year, and we did this without firing thousands of teachers and nurses.
Some of the ways we’ve already saved money include cutting perks and salaries for top executives in the province’s agencies, boards and commissions ≠ and amalgamating many of these agencies – a strengthened hiring restraint of the public service, consolidating HR and corporate services, and cutting travel and hospitality expenses to about a 10th of what previous governments racked up.
We’ll keep finding responsible cost-saving measures on the path to balance, as we keep on standing up for the services that hardworking Alberta families rely on.
– Mario Toneguzzi