Edmonton Chamber of Commerce - October 2, 2018
Before I start I want to applaud all of you for your efforts with Prosperity Edmonton. Edmonton, Alberta, and Canada must stay competitive now more than ever if we want to stay economically relevant
Thank you for the invitation to speak. It has been a while since I had the opportunity to speak to the Chamber. I hope that what I have to say will resonate with each of you.
People wonder why the hell I’m doing this.
It’s not just I’m cause bored in retirement. Though I will say, like many of you I’m sure, you don’t want to spend your older years sitting around the house playing Yahtzee. That’s not who I am. Most people aren’t. Even after they finish their current full time career, they want to keep living their lives and doing things and giving back.
And frankly, I worked too damn hard in my life – as a father, as an entrepreneur, and almost a decade as Mayor of Edmonton – to watch it all be threatened or ripped apart by gross incompetence and naivety from a government that simply doesn’t get how the real world works.
I can’t stand by and watch that happen.
And I know I’m not alone.
Because I know from travelling around and talking to people, lots of Albertans feel the same way.
They’ve worked hard to build up their families, their businesses, their quality of life….
And now what do we have….
And they see it all at risk.
This was a place that you could come from anywhere and be anything.
And what have we got now…
First of all, I want to say that my 9 years as Mayor were exciting and a period of great change for Edmonton. When I first ran for Mayor in 2004, I saw how Edmonton had become a community that accepted mediocrity. I used to say that we were a community that was controlled by the “good enough” people. They were the most vocal and as a result, the silent majority stayed home.
I made it my mission to create a voice for those who saw Edmonton as a place for the future. I knew we could do better and I believe we did. Tough decisions had to be made and our team made them. We re-built this city, not just an arena district, but a myriad of arts, culture, rec centers, bridges and neighborhoods.
We launched a campaign to end homelessness, initiated the Mayor’s Pride Breakfast to support our LGBTQ2+ youth, sparked a new era of relationships with the Indigenous communities and much more.
Furthermore as a former health minister, I became familiar with the structure and challenges of our provincial government and how to navigate it effectively. But let’s not forget one very important attribute, I am an entrepreneur of 45 years.
I believe in the free enterprise model and deeply value our entrepreneurial spirit. As I see it, I am the only party leader in this upcoming provincial election who has any kind of business experience.
Even more important and much more exciting is the team that we’re building. We, the Alberta party, are building a team that is ready to govern in 2019. Our strength comes from a common goal to look beyond political labels and bring forward practical and creative solutions that suit the appetite of Albertans.
We are building a team with rich diversity, bringing together knowledge and expertise from different genders, cultures, and industries. We have entrepreneurs, lawyers, engineers, consultants, economic development specialists, former mayors, and educators. We have former NDP, Liberal andPC candidates, but mostly new individuals who are passionate about Alberta and its future. We are Alberta today.
We have around 50 out of 87 candidates either officially nominated or identified, and will have a full slate of candidates for the election.
Unfortunately, our government has taken that for granted, and we are now dealing with a business climate that discourages investment, negatively impacts small business and above all, we are now a province without economic direction.
Many have given the current government the benefit of the doubt as they inherited a difficult economy, but at some point in time we all have to take responsibility for our actions.
They have mishandled the pipeline project and refuse to take any responsibility.
They’ve thrown veiled threats at BC with no wine, no power contracts, no oil and we still have no agreement. They chose to fight time and time again rather than find some common ground.
With the Federal government, yes the same government that they made the deal with, they recently threatened not to join the Federal Climate Change Plan. Such action means little, and really is immature when Climate Change is a serious issue our world is facing.
Their irresponsibility does not stop there.
A $2 billion plus financial mismanagement of the PPA system, loaded new costs on small business without blinking an eye and you all know it is not just the minimum wage increases, plus they can not even control their own budget as they have spent about $150 million over their own budget in their first 90 days, let alone a debt that we and our children will be burdened with for decades to come.
Our challenges are just as difficult federally. We are a part of a country that currently fails to see the true value of our province. We send over $21 Billion annually to help run the country but surely something is lost in translation.
Recent Bills like C48 – The Oil Moratorium Act, banning tankers over 12,500 tonnes access to northern BC ports and Bill C69 – The Impact Assessment Act – setting out heightened and unclear consultation requirements.
These are very onerous Bills that will severely impact Alberta’s potential.
Ottawa can no longer ask us to bear a disproportionate share of our national budget while introducing barrier after barrier to slow down our growth.
Furthermore when first the taking office they killed any opportunity to revitalize the Northern Gateway Pipeline and then Energy East disappeared into the Ottawa abyss.
Lets not forget the unilateral decision on equalization payments. We are running massive deficits and debts while Quebec is running surpluses.
Our system is failing us.
Our team has committed to running a positive, respectful campaign, but we mustalso be honest about the current state of affairs and hold all of us in public office to account.
I know criticizing is the easy part, let’s get to what we would do.
The time has come to meet with the Prime Minister to understand where we fit into a vision for Canada. We then need to have him assemble a First Minister’s discussion on our Country’s energy economic future. The time has come to get a clear understanding. We cannot be deprived of an important part of our economic future – the energy industry.
From the outside, Ottawa’s is saying” Yes we support you, as will buy and build a pipeline, but then legislatively “no you will not grow” which is it, where do we fit!
From the Alberta Party point of view, we have a wonderful opportunity to develop a vision for a National Energy Strategy.
A vision that is not just about our own provincial interests, but one that envisions a brighter future for all Canadians.
There is no question that we as a country are missing an opportunity to create a Canada wide industry that can sustain our country for decades.
I know many Albertans are frustrated with the way we are being isolated and treated. I am too.
This is absolutely unacceptable.
I realize that this kind of effort has been tried before and failed. However, I do believe that we are at a critical juncture and we must try once again. Alberta and Canada are worth the effort.
We need to recognize the risk if we don’t commit to clarifying our role in this confederation.
Let’s dedicate the time we have left today to share part of the Alberta Party’s economic vision. We have a policy book, about 60 pages long, that deals with a wide array of issues, but if you want to learn more, or contribute, our Policy Convention is on Oct 19-20 in Edmonton.
We realize that Alberta is facing some very difficult economic times, especially with the massive deficit and debt that the current government has created. We must, as a government, prioritize economic development. The Alberta Party deeply believes that the time has come for us to make the necessary financial investments to catalyze a new economy for Alberta.
This is going to take government investment and support. We have talked too long about economic diversification and it is now time to act. Yes, we need to be a good steward of your tax dollars, and we will be. Please understand that the time is now to invest in Alberta and create jobs for our citizens. That is the Alberta Party promise.
Our economic vision is just as much a social policy as it is a fiscal policy. Yes, we need to build a sustainable economy to strengthen our tax base and balance the books, but more importantly, we need a sustainable economy to ensure that there is opportunity for all.
Each and every Albertanno matter where in the province you live, no matter what abilities you’re born with, or whether you’re indigenous, an Albertan of multiple generations, or a new immigrant.
We will build an economy that is diversified and sustainable, and one that innovates and competes at the global scale.
We believe that government can play a significant role in helping to expand business opportunity, not just through grants and programs, but also by being more entrepreneurial.
We must, encourage public servants across all government departments to recognize the role they play in facilitating our new Alberta. When I was first elected Mayor, I recognized that administrators, once challenged and empowered with the appropriate tools and authorities, could be incredibly successful. There is nothing worse for a bureaucrat than a lack of direction.
An Alberta Party government would encourage public servants to view their departments as testing grounds for Alberta technologies and innovation, and build a culture of supportive and collaborative growth.
Policies that drive the Provincial vision should be created with stakeholders at the table. They must be clearly communicated to industries and consistencywill give businesses the necessary confidence to invest. Government must streamline processes to shorten wait times by modernizing policies and empowering our bureaucrats to make decisions in an expeditious manner.
With the current state of our province’s finances, you can trust the Alberta Party to be strategic with our spending. We will invest into key infrastructure to unleash the potential of our province and make focussed, practical investments to address bottlenecks that industries face.
The Alberta party will develop a Regional Economic Infrastructure Fund whose sole purpose is to grow regional economies, create jobs, and allow communities across the province to reach their fullest potential.
In my travels, I have been told of many such projects. A few simple examples are a spur line in Southern Alberta to help move their products, a solar farm in a community that lost their coal fired plant, a bridge to access massive oil reserves and a highway that is causing a bottleneck to energy growth. Through consulting with Chambers of Commerce across the province, we are confident that we will find the best regional investments.
For years, Albertans have faced cyclical challenges by being so dependent on the energy industry. I for one, believe that all economies have ebbs and flows and that our energy industry is obviously no different. The energy sector has been the foundation and the backbone of Alberta’s prosperity. Despite the uncertainty with the future of the industry, the talent and resources we have in this sector is second to none. The energy sector remains as our inherent strength and we must ensure that its future is strong, vibrant and profitable.
An Alberta Party would ensure that our energy industry continues to compete with the best in the world in an environmentally friendly and cost competitive manner. Let me share our six point plan.
First, Policy and Regulations. We must streamline regulations by clearly defining requirements, especially time frames, while upholding environmental standards.
Secondly, the Alberta party understands that a single pipeline does not provide the capacity needed to attract new exploration and development. We need to start working on multiple modes and routes to access tidewater.
Thirdly, sharing of opportunity. We must share this opportunity not only with indigenous communities in Alberta, but we must also look at how we can share the opportunity of resource development across provincial borders.
Fourth, a Value-Addition Strategy will be created in cooperation with industry and all impacted parties with the public interest kept in mind.
Fifth, research and application of world-class clean technologies.
And sixth, we must begin to articulate the Alberta Story to the rest of Canada and the world, outlining how and what we’ve accomplished.
All of these actions will be implemented through consultation with the impacted parties.
Moving forward, the Alberta Party recognizes that we really do have a diversified economy already, but that most industries besides the energy industry have not been given enough attention needed to grow.
Five focus-areas for us moving forward are:
- Our agri-food industry;
- Medical Research; and
Alberta’s agriculture industry has always been a mainstay of the Alberta economy. But like so many industries in Canada, we are hewers of wood and drawers of water. The time has come for us to put a plan in place that will once and for all make Alberta a world leader in value-added agricultural products. This will entail an investment by the provincial government in tax incentives, low-cost loans, increased access to new markets, accelerated depreciation, and other incentives to ensure success. We will set-up an independent agency with industry participation and industry control to oversee this initiative. Under our leadership, Alberta will become the bread-basket of the world.
Our growing tech sector in Alberta is a real exciting one. AI is the new electricity, and will add-value and augment all that we currently do. University of Alberta is a world leader in Artificial Intelligence and Calgary has had substantial growth in the tech ecosystem. Both cities are powerhouses, and need investment of both talent and dollars to grow.
Alberta’s manufacturing industry is a vital part of our economy that has been ignored. We will, in cooperation with their association, work out a plan for modernization in collaboration with our research institutions. We would encourage the creation of a province wide industry collaboration because collectively, they can and will revolutionize Alberta’s manufacturing sector.
Alberta has always been proud centre of excellence in medical research. The Alberta Party sees this as an opportunity to expand and continue to build upon the great tradition. This is also an opportunity to vertically integrate our healthcare system. We will reinstitute the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research with adequate funding to become a world leader.
Our tourism industry is key to how the world sees Alberta. First, I would introduce a Minister of Tourism to the Alberta government. Secondly, we would allocate 100% of the current hotel tax promote the industry rather than put it into provincial general revenue. Third, we also understand that certain communities which are stronger centres for tourism might need extra infrastructure support like for water sewer upgrades. We would set up a program to help with those added costs. Alberta has all the ingredients to be a major international tourist destination, and by being a priority, can also be a catalyst to opening doors to international markets.
While we strengthen diversity in our industries, we must also ensure access to international markets. An Alberta Party government sees this as an essential part of any diversification strategy. Furthermore, we should leverage our ethnic diversity to give us greater access to international markets.
I would be remiss if I didn’t raise how we would address the challenges that small businesses are facing. With yesterday’s increase of minimum wage, and the many other regulations and costs that small business has absorbed under the current government, action needs to be taken. Our Bill 1 will be the Free Enterprise & Employment Bill to ensure viability of small and medium sized business. We look forward to you, among others, as we finalize the details.
To compete over the next number of decades, Albertans must be prepared for that new and exciting world. The pace of change and innovation is exponentially increasing, and I believe our new Alberta Advantage will be education - to have the most dynamic and adaptable workforce. Our vision for education starts in those very formidable pre kindergarten years and runs through post secondary to a life long period of learning. As we are talking about economic development, I will leave this discussion on education to a different time. I will however say that our post secondary institutions play a significant role in creating the talent for the new economy. We must invest to ensure that we can compete. Things like curriculum evaluation, distance learning and research are imperative.
Alberta is at a crossroads. We believe that Albertans are looking for balanced approach to governing, one that that has an understanding of fiscal responsibility, but realizes that our community must have the supports necessary for a modern progressive society. We believe that Albertans are worried about the direction, or lack thereof, in our province right now, and the Alberta Party will provide the bold vision we need to move forward. We have had almost four years of failed leadership, increased taxation, lack of vision and a government unable to implement a cost effective social agenda.
The time has come to look at another option - the Alberta Party is that option.