EDMONTON – The premier called strongly on Ottawa Thursday to back Alberta’s bid for an oil pipeline or risk deepening the province’s economic pain.
In a televised address to Albertans just one week before her NDP government delivers its budget, Rachel Notley mapped out a plan to deal with the economic crisis.
She highlighted her government’s efforts to control costs by freezing wages of cabinet ministers and MLAs, and laid out a job-creation strategy and a plan to provide financial relief for low-income parents.
But Notley pointedly placed the responsibility for reviving Alberta’s economy on Ottawa’s shoulders.
“I want to emphasize this point,” the premier said. “Every Canadian benefits from a strong energy sector. 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 dealt with.
Notley also reiterated her government’s plea for the Trudeau government to extend supplemental Employment Insurance benefits to Edmonton, the only Alberta region not to qualify for improved EI access in last month’s federal budget.
“We called on you (federal government) to improve employment insurance, and you made progress. But you also have to do better,” she said. “The decision to exclude Edmonton and surrounding communities from EI improvements needs to be fixed.”
In response to the address, opposition Wildrose leader Brian Jean suggested Notley’s words for the Trudeau government were insufficient.
“Albertans need more than just standing up to Ottawa when we are obviously being treated blatantly unfairly on EI changes,” he said. “On issues of uncertainty surrounding approval on pipelines, on equalization, and on other issues impacting Alberta, the premier truly needs to find her voice.”
The provincial economy has been battered by a cataclysmic decline in the price of oil; in the summer of 2014, prices peaked at over $105 USD per barrel before sliding to $30 USD in January 2016.
Notley acknowledged the upcoming budget will see Alberta run a deficit in excess of $10 billion, a reality she suggested was inescapable.
“As you can see here, our provincial budget has received a serious blow as a result of the low price of oil,” the premier said.
“Two years ago, the province of Alberta collected almost $10 billion from royalties. Next year, we’re projecting that royalty revenues will drop by almost 90 per cent.”
Lower royalty revenues also resulted in reduced tax revenues, she said.
Notley promised the budget will not reduce social spending, “the programs and services that families count on.”
“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,” she added. “But we can afford to make this choice (maintaining social spending) because Alberta has a significantly lower debt-to-GDP ratio than Canada and other provinces.”
Watch below: Premier Rachel Notley delivered a televised address to Albertans one week before her government’s budget is handed down.
David Boushy reports on the Premier’s message and how people are reacting to it.
Jean blasted Notley for spending and borrowing and said, “the NDP refuses to hold the line on spending.”
The Progressive Conservative caucus said Notley keeps showing “she has no clear plan to help Albertans through this economic downturn.”
“A commitment to fiscal responsibility and respecting taxpayer dollars does not equal cuts to the front line, as Premier Notley continuously suggests,” Interim PC Leader Ric McIver said.
“It’s time for the premier to stop using hard-working teachers and nurses as pawns in her political games and find ways to manage their out-of-control deficit.”
With layoffs across Alberta continuing to pile up, Notley also outlined an Alberta Jobs Plan, mostly consisting of previously announced government initiatives, including $34 billion over the next five years to build new schools, hospitals, and roads and improve public transit; the Alberta Child Benefit, which takes effect July 1; and increased capital to the Alberta Treasury Branch to encourage lending.
Notley highlighted steps her government has taken since forming government almost a year ago, including the NDP’s climate leadership plan, which she said will create new jobs; a more equitable tax system; and reductions to the amount of money corporations and unions can spend on political campaigns.
In his response to the address, Jean suggested the NDP’s tax reforms and climate plan are taking a toll on Albertans and the province’s economy
“I was hoping the premier would be honest with Albertans about the full cost of her new $3-billion carbon tax on Alberta’s families,” he said.
The premier ended her address on an optimistic note, suggesting Albertans’ reputation for flexibility and resiliency in a boom-bust economy will get them through a turbulent period.
“Albertans can do it,” Notley said. “We have done it before, and we will again.”
WATCH: Following Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s address, veteran journalist Sheila Pratt, 630 CHED host Ryan Jespersen and Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Scott Hennig weigh in on what she said.
The NDP government is allowing and paying for an eight-minute response from the Wildrose, the official opposition, on Tuesday, April 12. The response will air at 6:50 p.m. on Global Edmonton, Global Calgary and Global Lethbridge.