Good evening and thanks for joining me tonight.
These are challenging times for our province, and I want to share what your government is doing to address those challenges and to achieve the goals we share as Albertans: A world-class quality of life, opportunities for the future, and core public services—like education, health and seniors' benefits—things that we can all be proud of.
Aiming high is never easy, particularly during the worst global recession in half a century. Economies around the world are going through major changes and readjustments. In the U.S. we've seen bank failures, the collapse of the real estate market, and in the U.S. and Canada, massive bailouts to the auto sector.
Here in Alberta, businesses are hurting. Our natural gas producers in particular, have been hit hard by a double-whammy of falling demand and over-supply—and that's also meant a serious hit to government revenue.
There's no question these are difficult times, and I know many Albertans are concerned about their jobs, paying their bills, saving for their kids' education, and planning for their retirement and old age.
But I also know that Albertans remain confident in the future … and with good reason. Alberta is blessed with the energy, food and forestry resources the world will need to power a return to economic growth. So our goals for the immediate future are clear. We'll tighten government spending. We'll protect seniors and low income Albertans. And we'll position our province for a strong recovery. Alberta will be ready when growth returns.
There are four points to our economic recovery plan:
First, we'll take firm action to deal with the fiscal challenges we face. We'll limit government spending and live within our means. And we will have Alberta back into a surplus position—saving for the future—in three years.
To help accomplish this, salaries for Civil Service Managers will be frozen for two years. And we will be asking the entire public sector to share in this effort. For a short while, we must all share in the goal of putting jobs before raises.
Second, we'll use our cash reserves—the Sustainability Fund—to cover our revenue shortfall. Our savings during the good years were substantial. We socked away 17 billion dollars to help us with times like these. We'll use it to protect key programs now … and in three years we will once again begin replenishing that account.
Third, we'll continue to invest in public infrastructure—to get value for the taxpayer, to support jobs and to prepare for a return to economic growth. And in a few minutes I'll explain how individual Albertans can participate in building Alberta's future.
Fourth, we'll make sure that our energy and other industries are competitive and attract the investment we need to develop Alberta's resources.
At the core of this four-point plan is a deep faith in Albertans' community spirit and in the values we share. We will tackle these problems together. And as I've said before… this plan will not increase taxes. You cannot tax your way out of recession. That would only hurt the fragile recovery that's starting to emerge.
Projects like this one—all over Alberta—are keeping tens of thousands of Albertans in work and underlining our commitment to a strong recovery.
I believe in planning and building for the future—that's how I was raised, and I believe it's the right approach for governing this great province. That's why we're not going to give up on our long-term goals. One recession, no matter how serious, isn't going to derail Albertans' hopes and dreams.
The economy will recover, people will continue to move to our province … and as we emerge from this recession we'll face increased demand for everything from schools, to hospitals, to roads and public transit. So we must continue to make the necessary investments in the public infrastructure we know Albertans will need when growth returns. Taking these steps today will help grow our economy tomorrow.
And now that construction is less expensive—up to 40 per cent in some cases—we're getting more for each taxpayer dollar. It's just common sense to take advantage of that.
We're able to do this because we were well prepared going into this recession. We paid off the provincial debt—23 billion dollars—and we saved money during the good years. Since 2003, we've saved 25 billion dollars. Most of that—17 billion—went into a Sustainability Fund—Alberta's cash reserves. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of Albertans—even though we're predicting several difficult years, we have substantial reserves to help see us through.
We've also kept taxes low. Alberta has the most competitive tax rates in Canada, and the lowest taxes on families.
There's no question our past actions have positioned Alberta well. And that's good news.
We also know that Alberta is not immune from this recession. We all know families and businesses have been hurt. Natural gas, agriculture and our forestry sector are all having a tough time. We've also taken a big hit to the government revenues that pay for public services.
And we know that even after the recovery arrives, it will take a while for those revenues to catch up.
So it's important that government does what many families are doing in these difficult times—making adjustments and living within our means. That's why in the Budget earlier this year, we launched a solid plan to return our province to sustained growth and balanced budgets. It's a practical response to the recession that tightens spending while at the same time continues to build for the future.
We will meet the commitments we've made—when we're able to afford it.
In the meantime, we'll balance the province's operating budget—the dollars we spend on public services. And we'll focus on helping the vulnerable … supporting the programs and services Albertans need most, like health care, education and support for seniors.
Albertans are optimistic about the province's future - and with good reason. We have the resources the world will need to make a strong recovery.
This is a good time to bring back Alberta Capital Bonds—so you can invest directly in our future and help build Alberta communities.
This fall we'll announce a list of public projects to be financed by Capital Bonds. Backed by the province's Triple-A credit rating, these bonds will offer a competitive rate of return—but most importantly you will know which hospitals, schools and other public projects you are helping to build. This will be a real way of showing your support for our communities and our faith in the future.
It seems not a day goes by without health care being a lead story in the news. Second only to Newfoundland—which has a smaller population—Alberta spends the most per capita on health care. Yet by many measures we get only average results.
Albertans expect value for their tax dollars, so we must raise performance, improve access, and shorten waiting lists. We've been talking about these issues for years … yet we've failed to act on the improvements we know are needed to a health care system that was designed in the 1960s.
The foundations of our publicly-funded system are good … but there are things we must improve … or the system will not meet the needs of a growing and aging population.
I understand that people fear change. But what we should fear more are the consequences of not changing. Because if we don't make improvements … the results will be longer wait times, constant shortages of staff, and a system that fails to meet our needs. We cannot let that happen.
I believe our province will lead the way in improving access and delivery of public health care in Canada. Through innovation and the leadership of our health care professionals, we will make the difficult but necessary improvements to the system … and get full value for the very significant taxpayer dollars we spend.
I know that seniors want to be assured that our health care system will be there for them. Our plan shows the way forward by ensuring we all receive medical care when we need it. And I believe Albertans have the courage to create the health care system we all want … one that will be there for us in the future.
In the 21st century, countries that have clean, dependable energy will have prosperity and security—and those that don't will be at a huge disadvantage.
Canada is rated as the most energy-secure nation in the world!—largely because of Alberta's oil sands, the second-largest proven oil reserve on earth, enough to meet Canada's energy needs for hundreds of years.
The oil sands are a game-changer—for Alberta, and for Canada. They represent the future prosperity of our province and our country. It's an advantage we'd be foolish to give up.
We know the potential of the oil sands comes with a great responsibility—one Albertans willingly accept—to manage oil sands development wisely over the long-term. That's why Alberta has led the way in setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions by large industry. And we're still the only jurisdiction in North America to put a price on carbon. Industries that fail to meet their emissions reduction targets pay into a fund to develop technologies to lower emissions even further.
It's why Alberta is leading the way in developing Carbon Capture and Storage technology—CCS—which offers the best option for making a dramatic reduction in emissions. If we don't demonstrate leadership on these issues, our ability to export our oil and maintain our prosperity could be seriously harmed.
We also need to invest in new power transmission—to support a growing population and expanding economy. I know you're hearing conflicting messages about whether we need additional transmission. The fact is no major new lines have been built since the 1980s, while our population and demand for power has grown substantially. From 2001 to 2008, the growth in demand has been the equivalent of adding a city twice the size of Red Deer—each year!
Our system is aging, congested and inefficient. We wouldn't tolerate that situation with Alberta's highways … and we cannot accept a second-rate transmission system.
Education and science will lie at the heart of our future prosperity. And institutions like our new Mount Royal and Grant MacEwan universities will play a key role in developing Alberta's greatest natural resource—our people.
Albertans are hard working and highly motivated; they want to succeed. That's why we will continue to strengthen education and workforce training—investing in the skills Alberta will need to compete in the 21st century, and sustain our prosperity in an increasingly competitive world.
In today's global economy, improving our competitiveness is just as important as managing our finances. The Competitiveness Review that government will complete by the end of the year will focus on our upstream oil and gas industry—making sure there's a level playing field for our exploration industry and exporters. It will point the way in reducing the cost of doing business in our province, and remove barriers to prosperity.
Alberta went into this recession as an economic leader, and I'm determined that we'll come out of it as an economic leader. Together we'll work to attract investment, create thousands of new jobs … and exert our influence on the national agenda to reflect our contribution as the engine of the Canadian economy.
Like so many Albertans, I'm deeply proud of our province—its unique heritage and landscape.
This is the land my grandparents first homesteaded when they came to Canada, and where Marie and I have raised our family. My grandparents came here for the very same reason many choose Alberta—they see it as a land of opportunity, a place where you can achieve your dreams.
Those dreams weren't so different from what Albertans dream of today: a place where you can set your own path … where hard work is rewarded … where you can be a part of a safe community and raise a family.
These are not easy times—but Alberta is still that land of opportunity, and its potential is undiminished.
There will be some difficult decisions to make in the coming months, as we work on next year's provincial budget. But Albertans can rely on their government to make those decisions—with an eye on our future prosperity and quality of life. We'll be guided by common sense, and listen to good ideas. We'll protect seniors and low income Albertans. And we'll make the most of the opportunities Alberta provides … building for the future … without leaving the tab for future generations.
That's the Alberta I believe in—The Alberta this government will defend.
Thanks for joining me tonight.