Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark’s speech to the Alberta Chambers of Commerce
Posted on September 22, 2015 by Meagan Wade
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Thank you to the Alberta Chambers of Commerce and in particular to Ken Kobly for the invitation to speak with you today.
Who here is an entrepreneur? Okay, that's an easy one. And if you're an entrepreneur you understand what it means to take a risk, to not know if your venture is going to work out but you dive in anyway. And many you have probably experienced failure, dusted yourself off and tried again. And again. Until you succeed. And when you do, you give back to your community with your time, with your staff's time and of course with your money.
This is what small business, and big business, does in Alberta every single day.
I am one of you. I am an entrepreneur who quit my job and took a risk because I saw an unmet need. And because of that our firm created over 50 jobs, and we volunteered in our communities and we donated to charity. That story of Alberta entrepreneurship isn't uncommon. In fact, Alberta consistently ranks as a global leader in entrepreneurship. The Conference Board of Canada reports that nearly one in five working-age Albertans is engaged as early-stage entrepreneurs.
And even here in this room full of entrepreneurs and business leaders, even here perhaps we don't always fully appreciate how truly fortunate we are to live in a province where it doesn't matter where you come from. It doesn't matter where you went to school or who your parents were. If you have a good idea, if you're honest and if you work hard, you will succeed in Alberta. That isn't always true in other parts of our country or other parts of the world. But it is in Alberta, and that's one of the many things that makes our province special.
It is that spirit I believe we need in our provincial government. But I worry it's missing in the NDs. If our provincial government continues to punish those who take risks by raising taxes to unsustainable levels and provincial spending balloons out of control, Alberta will no longer be an attractive place to do business and we will find ourselves in a spiral of lower levels of entrepreneurship and less prosperity for all.
In the words of one of my constituents: "There is such a strong entrepreneurial spirit in Alberta. We must treasure and nurture it; if we kill it, it may never come back." So let's talk about minimum wage. I believe in poverty reduction. I believe we need to help those who really, truly need help and I believe Alberta needs a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy. But such a strategy needs to address the many causes of poverty, from housing to education to mental health, abuse and addictions. Income security is also part of the equation, but income security and a minimum wage are different things.
The NDs have imported the US-based "Fight for 15" campaign and dropped it, out of context, into Alberta. I worry this policy will end up hurting the very people it's intended to help, by forcing small business and not-for-profits to reduce hours, hike prices and in many cases go out of business entirely. This hurts Alberta's economy and Alberta's society.
Reflecting back on the Conference Board of Canada report I referenced a moment ago. Although Alberta is the #1 jurisdiction when compared to the rest of Canada and 16 peer countries for entrepreneurial ambition, we're middle-of the pack when it comes to innovation, and rank 25th of 26 jurisdictions in public R&D.
And it is in this context I want to talk about Alberta's energy industry and economic diversification. I am proud of Alberta's energy industry and its contribution to not only our province but our country. Our energy industry has taken steps to address their impact on our environment, to reduce carbon emissions, water use and to improve land reclamation. And there is still work to do. But the work done to date through industry collaboration in the Canadian Oilsands Innovation Alliance or COSIA and by individual companies is the start of a tremendous opportunity for our province.
The royalty review and climate change panels have created uncertainty and both have likely resulted in investors parking capital until there is clarity about the investment landscape in Alberta. I will reserve judgement on both until I see their final reports, but any proposed changes must not be a proxy for moving Alberta away from energy production at the cost of jobs. As I’ve said, Alberta can be a leader in addressing climate change, but we shouldn’t short-change ourselves and try to fix the world’s problems single-handedly.
I see climate change not as something to be ignored or fearful of, but as one of the greatest market opportunities in human history. The transition to a lower-carbon future does not need to jeopardize Alberta's economic wellbeing, rather it can be the catalyst for sustained prosperity for many generations to come. The market, the world, is sending us a signal that we need to innovate. Just like many of you asked "why not me?" when you started your business, I ask "why not us?". Why can't made-in-Alberta companies and technologies be at the forefront of addressing climate change?
And when we do that, the purpose is not to short-change energy production or accelerate the end of oil and gas in Alberta. It's the opposite. It is to say that we can, we must, continue to develop the remarkable energy assets Alberta is blessed with AND find ways to purposefully diversify our economy by leveraging what we already do very well, and providing the products and the services the world needs tomorrow. This diversification must be market-driven. Government should be a partner and should set policy that will enable innovation, but government should not be involved in choosing winners and losers. We know from painful experience that does not work.
There are several ways to enable purposeful diversification. The first is to address the capital investment shortfall identified by the Conference Board. Remarkably, Alberta is the only province in Canada that does not have an investor tax credit program. These programs increase private investment in businesses, for both established firms and startups, and allow entrepreneurs to determine the most effective allocation of capital. This is much more effective than over-narrow job creation tax credits, which tend to benefit companies that are already successful and could lead to the unfortunate situation of companies firing and re-hiring staff just to take advantage of the tax credit. Businesses know best how and where their capital can best be deployed, and growing businesses are job-creating businesses.
The second is Alberta's tax rate for small business. It is a myth that Alberta has the lowest business taxes in Canada. In fact our western Canadian neighbours all have lower small business tax rates than Alberta. The Alberta Party would immediately lower small business taxes by 1%, and look at tools like investor tax credits to support businesses as they transition to mid-sized and ultimately large businesses.
Finally, we must increase investment in post-secondary education and R&D. Alberta needs targeted research for near market-ready innovations, and primary, discovery-based research, which forms the building blocks for the breakthroughs of the future. My vision for Alberta is a province that we can continue to be proud to call home. Home is a place with a strong economy, an open, welcoming and entrepreneurial culture, a thriving arts scene, great schools, safe and healthy communities and opportunity for all.
That's the Alberta I want to build, and I hope you'll join me.