As Teck Mines and other private sector investors rush away from oil and gas investment in Alberta and the price of oil collapses, the Alberta Legislature resumed on February 24, with a Budget and a new economic plan: A Blueprint for Jobs: Getting Alberta Back to Work . The Blueprint is built on five pillars: “Supporting businesses; Freeing job creators from senseless red tape; Building infrastructure; Developing skills; Selling Alberta to the world.” Announced in a March 2 press release as the first step in the Blueprint: a $100 million loan to the Orphan Well Association, promising to generate up to 500 direct and indirect jobs by financing reclamation of abandoned mining sites. The press release also promises a future “suite” of announcements “covering the entire lifecycle of wells from start to finish”. As The Narwhal reports in “Alberta loans industry-funded association $100 million to ‘increase the pace’ oftes orphan well cleanup“ (March 2), this latest loan follows a 2017 loan of $235 million , as the industry-levies which fund the Orphan Wells Association fail to keep pace with the environmental mess left behind by bankrupt mining companies.
The Alberta Federation of Labour released a statement in response to the Alberta Budget , “Kenney’s Budget breaks promises, delivers opposite of what Albertans voted for last year” . The AFL charges that the budget will result in more than 1,400 job cuts, especially in education (244 jobs lost), agriculture (277 jobs lost), and community and social services (136 jobs lost). Further, “Today’s budget increases the deficit by $1 billion because of this government’s short-sighted overreliance on resource revenues, while cutting billions in revenue from corporations.” A similar sentiment appeared from an opposite corner: an Opinion piece in the mainstream Toronto Globe and Mail states: “The cost of Mr. Kenney’s inaction on economic diversification will be high. Alberta has the advantage of being home to many skilled clean-tech and renewable-energy workers already, but the speed at which the world is innovating in that area means that a lagging Alberta will result in the emigration of some of our best and brightest entrepreneurs.”
The Alberta Federation of Labour released another statement on March 16 , condemning the Budget proposal as an “ ideological budget that does not fit the times”. Further, it is “no longer worth the paper it’s written on. The revenue side of the budget is in tatters because oil is now trading nearly $30 per barrel less than projected” , and because of the Covid-19 crisis, the planned cuts to health care “will hurt, not help our province.” The AFL is demanding that the Budget be scrapped, but the CBC reported on March 16, “Alberta government plans to accelerate budget process, add $500M to health spending” , reporting that the government dramatically curtailed study and debate , and on March 17, CBC reported “Alberta legislature approves $57-billion budget in race against COVID-19 spread”.
For those concerned about the erosion of the democratic process under the threat of the pandemic, this is a worrying sign.
And not the first worrisome sign in Alberta: the first order of business in the new Session was Bill 1, The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act , introduced by Premier Kenney. As described in a National Observer article here , the Bill proposes to discourage citizen protest by making it easier for police to intervene in blockades, and proposes individual fines for protesters of up to $10,000 for a first offence, and up to $25,000 for each subsequent day a blockade or protest remained in place. The Alberta Federation of Labour released a statement on March 6 calling on the government to withdraw the Bill immediately, stating that the justification (ie protection of rail lines) is misleading, and “The legislation is clearly designed to stop or discourage all collective action that goes against the UCP agenda, including potential labour or worker action.”