Premier Rachel Notley’s rare televised speech to Albertans this evening served to renew confidence in her governance and provided a preamble to next week’s provincial budget.
In her speech, she reiterated the province’s economic overdependence in oil and the need to diversify to better protect the economy and provincial budget from shocks. Alberta’s unemployment rate is now 7.9%, the highest in 20 years, and the deficit is set to reach over $10 billion this year.
It is projected that royalty revenues will further decline, plummeting by 90% in 2017. About
“This is the royalty rollercoaster we’ve all been talking about,” said Notley. “Our province depends on those oil and gas royalties for one-fifth of our provincial revenues.”
“So we’re dangerously dependent on the price of oil – and our health and education services are very vulnerable. And that’s a dependence we need to reduce.”
At this time, there are no plans to cut and public services in an effort to reduce the budget. Instead, the government will implement cost-cutting measures, such as freezing salaries of provincial elected officials, political staff, and senior public servants.
Programs and policies proposed during the election campaign will be prioritized and implemented more slowly.
“Reckless cuts only download the cost of deficits onto Albertans, creating more economic pain and anxiety,” she said. “And they do nothing to address the most important economic challenge facing our province.”
“Alberta’s economy is just too dependent on the price of oil. And that must change. And so that’s why we’re making a different choice. A better choice. We will not be slashing and burning the programs and services that families count on.”
Notley says new jobs will be created in the process of diversifying the economy and bringing the province out of its recession. The intricate details of so-called Alberta Jobs Plan, to be announced in the April 14 budget, will fulfill the government’s election promise of investing $34 billion into new schools, hospitals, roads, and transit across the province.
She also dds that a pipeline to the West or East coast, to get natural resource products to other markets, remains a priority for her government while the province begins its transition into the renewable sector. To date, Quebec and particularly British Columbia have been opposed to pipeline projects reaching their coasts.
“Every Canadian benefits from a strong energy sector, said Notley. “But we can’t continue to support Canada’s economy, unless Canada supports us. That means one thing: building a modern and carefully-regulated pipeline to tidewater.”
“We now have a balanced framework to develop our industry and every government in Canada understands this issue must be deal with. But I promise you this: I won’t let up. We must get to ‘yes’ on a pipeline.”
In the meantime, some of the most vulnerable Albertans will be receiving a reprieve. The new Alberta Child Benefit Plan beginning this summer will provide low-income single parents with two or more children with over $3,000 per year in additional benefits. It is expected that 380,000 children in the province will benefit the initiative.
“We’re flexible and resilient in Alberta, and we’ve always shown that when we’re faced with challenges we come together with optimism and determination. We can look after our children, and help each other through these tough times.”