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Alberta Chambers of Commerce pushing focus on economy prior to 2019 election

Economy in focus ahead of spring election in Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: The chamber of commerce in the province wants Albertans to think about the economy as we head towards next spring's provincial election campaign.

The Alberta Chambers of Commerce want Albertans to think about the economy leading up to the 2019 provincial election.

The organization has launched the Vote Prosperity campaign, which calls on all political parties to strengthen business competitiveness, grow interprovincial trade and balance the budget.

The business lobby said rising costs over the past four years have harmed Alberta’s prosperity.

“When you get things like carbon tax, when you get things like minimum wage increase, statutory holiday pay change — and then you’ve got the things that come forward from the government of Canada — those small changes layered one on top of the other tend to have a big effect on small business and medium business,” Alberta Chambers of Commerce CEO Ken Kobly said.

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READ MORE: Examining what the new minimum wage means for Albertans

Minimum wage increased to $15 an hour on Oct. 1 in Alberta, climbing $4.80 an hour over the past four years and making it the highest minimum wage in the country. Kobly said that’s put a strain on businesses.

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“You’ve seen with the minimum wage a 40 per cent increase in the last four years; it’s very hard to quantify that because different businesses have different effects.”

The CFIB released a report in August suggesting 55 per cent of businesses polled expected to reduce or eliminate plans to hire young workers due to the wage increase. The study was made up of 1,040 responses from small and medium-sized business owners in Alberta, according to the group.

The minimum wage increase was an NDP campaign promise. The government said it would help Albertans pay for day-to-day living expenses, adding the money would be re-invested into the economy.

“No one working a full-time job should have to stop at the Food Bank on their way home or have to choose from paying for rent and buying groceries to provide for their family,” Labour Minister Christina Gray said in October.

READ MORE: Report suggests number of unemployed Albertans living without EI benefits remains high

A TD Bank report released in September suggested Alberta’s economy was heading in the right directions, predicting economic growth between two and two-and-a-half per cent for Alberta in the next year which follows an increase of nearly 4.9 per cent in 2017.

“It was a nice bounce back last year, but growth is settling down this year and we’re of the mind that you’re going to get a continued moderate growth run over the next couple of years as the economy kinds of settles down,” TD’s deputy chief economist Derek Burleton said.

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“I don’t think many were anticipating a heroic recovery despite the fact that the recession was quite deep.

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“Oil production should grow despite some of the challenges in terms of pipelines. That’ll get us two per cent, which is not heroic.”

Burleton said Alberta’s economy is within a year of returning “home” — a term used to characterize full recovery from a recession. However, he said it could be another two years before the job market fully recovers.

READ MORE: Economists say economic challenges will continue to weigh on Alberta and Calgary in 2019

Calgary Economic Development, in partnership with ATB Financial, released its 2019 economic outlook in October, which suggested although the recession is officially over, Alberta still faces some significant headwinds — including job creation, energy investment, pipeline approval and international trade.

ATB chief economist Todd Hirsch said Alberta is seeing fewer jobs in the energy sector — jobs which traditionally pay more.

“Oil is our backbone in this province,” Hirsch said.

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“We can’t ignore it, it’s not going away and we don’t want it to go away. We need to nurture it, but I think we need to expect the growth in this province to come from other sectors.”

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The Alberta Chambers of Commerce campaign won’t run commercials, but will instead focus on holding conversations with candidates in all 87 constituencies across the province.

— With files from Tomasia DaSilva and The Canadian Press