EDMONTON — Alberta is promising a government-wide strategy to attract investment to the province, and sector-specific investments to help the economy recover as Canada emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to be able to keep up with a very fast economy that is ever-changing,” said Doug Schweitzer, the minister of jobs, economy and innovation, in an interview with the National Post on Thursday. “We have to make sure that we’re there to complement and keep up with the speed of the private sector.”
On Thursday, Schweitzer announced the “Investment and Growth Strategy,” a $75-million program aimed at bringing investment and creating jobs. The program is not just aimed at Alberta’s traditional sectors such as agriculture and energy, but also technology, aviation and other sectors, seeking fast-growing companies and ideas to bolster the economy.
“This is the beginning of a whole bunch of other announcements,” said Schweitzer.
Alberta, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, was floundering under the pressures of decreasing oil prices and challenges transporting the province’s main export because of the lack of pipeline capacity. Billions of dollars in investment have left the province in recent years, and Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives were elected on promises to turn the economy around.
Since the pandemic started, things have gotten worse.
Alberta sits at 12 per cent unemployment, and there have been staggering drops in economic activity that are putting pressure on government budgets. Last month’s fiscal update showed an $11.5 billion decrease in revenue flowing into government coffers, attributable mainly to the effects of the pandemic.
The investment strategy aims to sell Alberta abroad, pitching it as an attractive jurisdiction for companies, with low taxes and spending on infrastructure.
“We are showing the world that Alberta’s entrepreneurial spirit will endure with determination and confidence,” says a document outlining the strategy.
The strategy encompasses many of the things the government has already done during its time in its time in power, including dropping the corporate tax to eight per cent on July 1 — a year and a half ahead of schedule — and creating a new investment corporation to seek out money abroad.
It also highlights Alberta’s workforce, one of the youngest in the country, with a median age of 36.9 years, and with 71 per cent of those over the age of 25 having some form of post-secondary education.
“Coming into this pandemic, it’s forced us in Alberta to rethink how we move forward,” said Schweitzer.
In July, the United Conservative government outlined a new Crown corporation to attract investment, citing aggressive competition for new investment as justification for the organization. The $6 million annually for Invest Alberta is part of the $75 million bill for the innovation plan.
“We did launch that earlier on as a concept,” Schweitzer said. “Now it’s being refined and turned into action on our end.”
The province has promised several measures, such as aligning the investment strategies of Alberta’s international offices, more proactively going after potential investors, and offering “concierge” service for those who decide to spend in Alberta.
Schweitzer said there will be sector-specific announcements in the coming weeks covering multiple sectors of the economy. This includes reform of intellectual property laws, so that ideas and research can be turned into businesses and jobs.
“We’re not going to have all the answers today … but we’re going to set and put a marker in the ground that we’re going to do this faster than all the other jurisdictions in Canada right now that are looking at the exact same issue,” said Schweitzer. “Game on, we’re making sure Alberta’s here to play.”