Jason Kenney announced a cabinet shakeup tuesday, moving Doug Schweitzer into the newly created Ministry of Jobs, Economy, and Innovation, Tracy Allard to Municipal Affairs, and Kaycee Madu to the Ministry of Justice. But the biggest message of his address was his reference to the Summer 2020 report by the Conference Board of Canada that signaled that Alberta’s economy will be the most heavily hit economy in Canada this year with an 11% contraction and that tomorrow’s Alberta fiscal update will show the largest deterioration in the province’s finances since the 1930s.
“This is going to be the biggest deficit in the history of Alberta by a country mile. It is going to be well north of a $20B deficit in large part due to the collapse of revenues emanating from the coronavirus recession. Other governments all around the world are seeing extraordinary deficits this year and likely will again next year. But what has made it especially tough in Alberta was the total collapse of energy prices. ” according to Kenney.
With this dose of reality as a backdrop, Kenney then outlined Alberta’s response with “greater fiscal ambition than any Canadian province to help preserve both lives and livelihoods.” He referenced Alberta’s Recovery Plan in which Alberta will be making its largest-ever investment in the province’s infrastructure. It initially identified $10 billion to be spent on projects throughout the province, creating 50,000 jobs but according to Kenney that has expanded to include “14 billion dollars of actions that we have taken through the COVID pandemic to strengthen our health care system, our public health response but also to try to preserve livelihoods and to limit the damage of the coronavirus recession.” He highlighted the urgency of swift and effective government action.
“I’ve made it no secret that for several weeks into March and April, we were having a hard time selling our Government bonds. We were not the only government (having trouble). There was a freeze on credit markets for a period of time. There is a great fiscal reckoning on the horizon. We are not going to allow that to get in the way of urgent action today to protect both lives and livelihoods.”
One highlight of the announcement was Doug Schweitzer named as the head of a new Jobs, Economy, and Innovation ministry where he will help to coordinate the implementation of Albert’s Economic Recovery Plan and will focus on strategies for diversifying the economy in energy, agriculture, technology, tourism, and other high-opportunity areas.
“This is a broadened and expanded ministry built on the base of what was until today known as economic development trade in tourism “ explains Jason Kenney “additional functions will be added to the ministry over the weeks and months to come.”
According to Doug Schweitzer, his work as Minister of Justice laid important groundwork for his new role.
“A lot of the efforts that we were doing in the justice department were to get a fair deal for Alberta and a lot of that was economic driven, from the carbon tax to challenging the “no more pipelines” Bill (C-69) from the federal government. So, it is just building on that foundation and building on the Premier’s vision of how we are going to get this recovery going in the province of Alberta. I am proud to take on this initiative. It’s humbling to be asked to take on this role with this new ministry and I’m looking forward to helping get Albertans back to work.”
Since Schweitzer is tasked with putting Alberta’s Recovery Plan into action, it is a very high-profile new role. In the post-announcement media scrum, Jason Kenney also expressed optimism for Erin O’Toole’s impact as new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and praised O’Toole’s dedication to fairness for Alberta and dedication to a strong future for our resource industries. Kenney pointed out that after becoming opposition leader, in O’Toole’s very first conversation with the Prime Minister, the first issue he raised was western alienation and the need for the federal government to respond.
Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry.