ATB Financial’s chief economist believes Alberta has to fight the urge on getting the economy back to way it used to be and focus on adapting as it recovers post-COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we need to do is forge new tracks in the province, building on what we’ve already built in this province, which is a tremendous foundation, but not trying to get back to 2013 or 2007,” Todd Hirsch said.
Despite oil prices climbing 90 per cent over the past year, Alberta’s oil and gas industry continues to face challenges — most notably the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. Diversifying the economy has been a hot-button issue even before the pandemic, but Hirsch said the focus should be on stability, resilience and prosperity.
“Diversity might be one step to get us to that stability and prosperity, but we shouldn’t just make diversifying the economy the end game,” he said.
The economic expert said supporting essential workers in a real way will help the province achieve its economic goals post-pandemic.
“We talk about essential workers and we all grew to appreciate essential workers, but a lot of those essential workers we kind of realized were maybe underpaid,” Hirsch said.
“This gives us an opportunity to step back and say, ‘How are we treating people in our economy before and can we do it in a different way?’ But to be intentional about doing that, not just sort of hope for the best, but to actually take some intentional measures.”
While Hirsh is hopeful the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind Alberta, he said it would be “foolish” for businesses to not plan for a resurgence of the virus and a return of restrictions.
“If there’s one thing that this COVID-19 has taught us is that it’s unpredictable. Over the last 18 months, it’s thrown us a lot of curveballs and there might still be some curveballs ahead,” he said.
“That’s not my forecast, I’m not being a pessimist in saying this is going to happen, but I think we have to respect the virus, we have to respect the pandemic as we move into a reopening, understanding that this isn’t entirely over yet. We have to respect it, but we have to do it with some optimism.”
Alberta’s deficit was $16.9 billion for 2020 and the province’s debt stands at $93 billion.
The Alberta government said it hopes to create a path towards a balanced budget soon.