Premier Rachel Notley delivered her annual State of the Province address in Calgary earlier today.
Her speech focused on the diversification of the province’s energy economy and continued investment in health care and education.
Notley started her speech on a sombre note, addressing the sudden passing of former premier Jim Prentice last week.
“My family knows the pain the Prentice family and the families of other crash victims are going through,” Notley said, in an apparent reference to her father, who also died in a plane crash.
Notley also spoke highly about advice and support Prentice provided in her transition to becoming premier following the last provincial election, his relationship with indigenous people across the country, and his expansion of Canada’s national parks system.
Notley spoke at length about the impact the price of oil has had on Albertans and a need to diversify the economy and the types of energy the province produces.
“Being so heavily dependent on one product, sold at one price, to one market – – leaves us far too vulnerable to the ups and downs of an international oil market over which we have exactly zero control.”
Last February the province announced a $500-million incentives program for would-be petrochemical facilities in Alberta’s industrial heartland. The idea was to offset Alberta’s high construction costs by offering royalty credits for petrochemical plant operators.
She stood by her decision to introduce provincial carbon taxes, a move which takes effect Jan. 1, only days after a federal decision on pricing carbon is expected.
She said her government would be “spelling out a framework” for a conversion from a coal-dependant system to a cleaner power production model this fall.
Notley also spoke of the importance of securing new overseas trading partners for Alberta and getting access to tidewater. She suggested she is waiting on decisions around pipelines from the federal government.
Notley said her government is managing the province’s economic losses without cutbacks to public services like health care and education.
She spoke highly about the government’s agreement last week with the Alberta Medical Association to hold spending increases to about two per cent through 2018.
She also suggested that Albertans’ access to good education “is arguably the single most important investment the government of Alberta cane make in the cause of building a better, more diversified, more value-added and more resilient economy.”
Earlier Wednesday, the NDP announced an extension to Alberta’s tuition freeze until the fall of 2018. The freeze started in 2015.
Notley said provincial revenues have dropped by almost 15 per cent.
While she suggested the government could act as a “shock absorber” for a time, she also noted that the provincial budget would have to eventually come back into balance.
Notley also suggested her government’s increases to borrowing limits will support employment and growth.
She promised legislation would be coming soon to support tax credits that would help entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses get access to capital.
She stood by her decision to increase Alberta’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, “so that better times will be widely shared, and no one will be left behind.” The move has been highly criticized by some Alberta business owners. (with files from Global News/bw)