Driving innovation, diversification and job creation in 2017

By Bruce Hinkley, MLA for Wetaskiwin-Camrose

Best wishes to everyone for a terrific 2017 filled with happiness, good health and prosperity.

On behalf of all my government colleagues in the Alberta Legislature, we look forward to 2017 with optimism and excitement for our future.

It has been a busy and productive fall session as we continue to fulfill our commitment to protect education and health care from drastic cuts. As a result, the teachers and nurses are there to provide the service every Albertan needs. Our Climate Leadership Plan, introduced just over a year ago, has delivered for Albertans; we now have approval for two new pipeline projects to help get Alberta oil to tidewater. There is speculation that a third (Keystone XL) may also help export Alberta bitumen. These pipeline expansions will create investment and good jobs for Albertans, and in the long-term will help our oil and gas industry get better prices for their products. This is great news for Alberta in 2017.

We know that people are worried about the economy and about jobs. We are creating thousands of jobs and diversifying our economy while maintaining and enhancing the services Albertans rely on every day - like education and health care.

As we move forward with new initiatives like the Energy Efficiency Program, the Alberta Investor Tax Credit, the Capital Investment Tax Credit, the Petrochemical Diversification Program and with capital investment in roads, hospitals and schools, you will begin to see the effects in our economy.

Since August of 2016 the province has added 25,000 jobs. Two multi-billion dollar petrochemical plants will start in the Alberta heartland. And some constituency grants on infrastructure were recently approved. Mayor Debnam can tell you about the Bittern Lake investments by our government of $50,000 for solid waste facility upgrades, $55,000 for water main upgrades, $7,800 for public works equipment purchases, $4,655 for community hall flooring and $20,000 for fire hydrant replacements. Likewise, Mayor Elliot of Wetaskiwin can inform you of our government investment in Wetaskiwin’s 51st St. rehabilitation ($225,000), sidewalk replacements ($257,218), Memorial Arts Centre roof upgrade ($142,000), 53rd St. rehabilitation ($335,000) and sidewalk rehabilitation ($200,000).

All of this and more is part of our Capital Plan, which has committed over $34 billion over five years to create jobs, diversify the economy and support municipalities to build strong, safe and resilient communities.

While supporting responsible development we are being good stewards of our environment by protecting air and water quality for the health of our children, and we are creating opportunities for investment in clean energy and industries that are not vulnerable to the price of oil. We are looking out for our parents and seniors by building new housing and care facilities across the province, and are giving our children a strong start with things like more affordable child care spaces, more teachers where they are needed, a freeze on post-secondary tuitions, and a pilot lunch program in schools.

Oil and gas has been a great thing for the Alberta economy, but it is clear that Alberta‘s economy is too dependent on it. When the international price of oil tanked in 2015, the Alberta economy did too. In the past the price of oil has always rebounded after a downturn, and that is what is happening a little bit now but we cannot rely on it. With the growth of alternative energy, worldwide oil may never reach the same price as it did in the years 2010 to 2014. With the world moving away from carbon-based fuels we cannot afford to have all our eggs in the oil and gas basket. We have to develop alternative energy producers and alternative industries and jobs.

Our Alberta Jobs Plan is working; key infrastructure projects created 8,000 jobs in 2016 and continued investment in infrastructure will create 10,000 jobs per year over the next three years. Non-oil and gas investment is expected to reach a record high of $38 billion this year. Capital investment in manufacturing and service sectors is expected to reach a record high as well of just over $21 billion in 2017. Bill 30 introduced two tax credits that will drive innovation, diversification and job creation. These tax credits will support thousands of direct and indirect jobs and encourage hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment. The 33 per cent tax decrease for small business will help small businesses retain more of their earning for sustaining jobs and growth.

We directed ATB Financial to make more capital available to small and medium-sized businesses. They have authorized over 3,000 loans with over $750 million to businesses right here in Alberta.

As mentioned, two new facilities have been approved under the Petrochemical Diversification Program. These plants, for the first time in Alberta, will process propane extracted from natural gas resources into value-added plastic products that people all over the world can use every day. Both plants will operate in the Edmonton area (Sturgeon County and Strathcona County). During construction of the Pembina/PIC petrochemical processing facility, there will be an average of 2,000 to 2,500 workers on site. The second project, by Inter Pipeline, will create 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs over the next three year construction period.

I look forward to bringing to your attention many more progressive projects recently started and planned for 2017. It will be a period of steady economic growth and prosperity.

Article titled "Update from the MLA" first published in the Camrose Canadian on Jan. 5, 2017.