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May 5 2020

Joint Letter to Premier's Economic Recovery Council

Dear Council Members:

The COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact all Canadians, and its economic and health challenges are significant to say the least. As we always do in Alberta, we’ve faced this challenge with grit and resiliency, but now have the added burden of severely depressed oil prices fuelled by over-supply with which to contend.

To that end, we know you have been tasked with providing the Premier with recommendations and insights about how to protect jobs during this crisis, and focus on strategies for long-term recovery, including efforts to accelerate the diversification of our economy.

As you, Dr. Mintz, have highlighted, we need to be bold in our actions to position Alberta for the future. We need to harness the entrepreneurial spirit that has defined Alberta for generations in order to recover and emerge stronger and more united to take on the defining issues of our time.

As the voice of the Calgary and Edmonton business communities, we have taken the time to formulate the following recommendations to create long-term sustainable jobs for all Albertans.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank you in advance for the consideration of our recommendations.

Our recommendations to create long-term sustainable jobs for all Albertans:

Place innovation at the heart of everything we do:

Alberta’s recovery from COVID-19 and long-term future depends on investment that allows for innovation. At every turn, we must consider how we can create a climate for businesses to develop new models, take on new problems, and be involved in the economy of the future. We believe several initiatives can be pursued simultaneously to make this investment and business climate a reality. Together, we can:

Enable our base industries to adapt and thrive. Our energy sector, agriculture, geology, mining, and forestry have powered Alberta for decades and provided the livelihoods of many of our friends and family. We believe these industries should be funded at greater levels than even Budget 2020 outlined. Sectors such as hospitality and tourism, supply chain management, and the health sciences are equally important to Alberta’s prosperity as well.

One potential mechanism to innovate broadly across these industries is to provide government funding to bring together key stakeholders in collaborative networks. To that end, we urge the government to provide funding opportunities to establish a Natural Resources Innovation Fund to enable investment and ecosystem establishment for mid-size technology companies in Alberta. Further, special economic zones can be created to further spur growth of the ecosystem.

Develop the innovation superclusters of the future. In addition to allowing our critical base industries to thrive, increasing focus should be placed on emerging industries. Broad-based investment in technology and innovation would encourage significant, sustainable economic growth in all sectors that contribute to diversification while positioning Alberta for the future. We are researching multiple options that the government could explore.

Reimagine and diversify our revenue mix. Approximately ten percent of Alberta’s revenue comes from resource revenues. The dramatic decline in the price of oil puts a considerable amount of our revenue in jeopardy. We need more stable, predictable, and reliant sources of revenue to fund these initiatives, and ensure that our public services such as healthcare and education remain world class. The diversification of Alberta’s revenue mix would provide a path that will lead to long-term sustainable employment and subsequent revenue for the government.

Enhance and further support to post-secondary institutions. Alberta’s colleges, universities, and technical schools are among the best in the country. We support continuing to provide these institutions with the funding and supports so that they can produce the next generation of leaders as we transition to a knowledge based automated innovation economy. Continued focus on programs and areas of study that develop skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and logic reasoning will be critical to our future success. Developing these skills will help Albertans secure jobs that will be part of the future, and ensure Alberta is a player on the national and global stage.

Strengthen domestic supply chains through internal trade:

Alberta has led the charge in dismantling internal trade barriers that prevent our people, goods and services from flowing efficiently across the country. As the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major supply chain disruptions across the globe, it has never been more important to strengthen trade across Canada so businesses can access the materials and talent they need to thrive:

Continue to aggressively dismantle internal trade barriers. This should include a focus on harmonizing rules in transport, liquor, and skills recognition. We support the Government of Alberta continuing to urge provinces to join the New West Partnership Trade Agreement.

To allow for our recovery and a brighter future, re-imagine the municipal-provincial relationship:

This crisis has made clear the considerable responsibility that our municipalities have to deliver the services that citizens rely on, while at the same time further exposing the already clear fiscal problems they face. While scholars note that the constraints placed on municipalities may be a “blessing in disguise,” it is also noted that legislative and regulatory changes are needed to allow for cities to pursue local innovation and improve their overall well-being.

With this in mind, we believe it is time to reimagine the municipal-provincial relationship in Alberta.

Create a joint task force to support the City of Calgary’s appetite to investigate overhaul of the property tax assessment system. Property taxes represent the main source of revenue for the City, and it’s time we followed through on structural reform that sees equality for businesses and residents, and ensures that the City has the revenue it needs.

Alberta, and Canada, can develop our natural resources AND solve climate change simultaneously:

In order for our province and our country to thrive, we can and we must be able to lead in natural resource development AND solve climate change through innovation. Canadian businesses know this, and increasingly, the global marketplace is demanding it.

The Calgary and Edmonton Chambers are part of a coalition of eight large city chambers and boards of trade across the country that launched the Canadians for Natural Resources initiative as part of our Canadian Global Cities Council. At its core, this initiative has one simple, clear message: Canada can be a leader in natural resource development AND fight global climate change at the same time.

Alberta is uniquely poised to show the world how to combat climate change while maintaining robust resource extraction industries. The Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Implementation (TIER) is a strong step forward, and further investments, such as in innovation superclusters (mentioned above) will help us position Alberta as the global leader in this space.

It is going to take many voices pushing for the same outcome.

To realize this goal, we recommend the government establish a provincial task force to provide recommendations to promote the responsible and sustainable development of Alberta’s natural resources while contributing to the global fight against climate change.

Our rationale:

A holistic approach for the future of all Albertans:

These proposals and recommendations look to the future and reflect what we’ve heard from our business community – the job creators who nourish, power, and inspire Calgary and Edmonton. Our recovery will only be successful if we create long term sustainable jobs. In Calgary, in Edmonton, and across Alberta, the “way things were” is not a solid foundation to build our recovery on. It includes years of anemic economic growth, limited access to global markets for oil and gas, one-quarter of downtown office space vacant and, particularly painful, unacceptably high levels of unemployment.

Rather, we have the chance to pursue a wide-ranging approach that places innovation at the heart of what we do, strengthens internal trade, tackles climate change, and reimagines the municipal-provincial relationship. These initiatives are complex and nuanced, but they will position us for a more vibrant future.

No part of our economy will be left untouched by COVID-19. Our long-term recovery and a future with opportunities for our children will depend on the creativity, grit and determination of entrepreneurial Calgarians, Edmontonians and Albertans, and the innovative thinkers in our economy.

Charting our path forward will require a new level of alignment, leadership and trust to resolve the simultaneous challenges. This Council, and the initiatives our elected representatives pursue, can begin that work.

We have never believed more in the grit and resiliency of Albertans and in our ability to manage this outbreak. We will get through this together, and with consideration of the recommendations we have outlined, we can do so while supporting Alberta businesses in the months and years to come.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Sandip Lalli

President & CEO

Calgary Chamber of Commerce

Janet Riopel

President & CEO

Edmonton Chamber of Commerce

ABOUT THE CALGARY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

The Calgary Chamber is a non-partisan organization, founded and funded by business. This year we celebrate our 129th year and are proud to be the voice and podium of record of the Calgary business community. We represent almost 400,000 citizens, and work to build a community that is not only vibrant, but is also one that nourishes, powers, and inspires the world.

ABOUT THE EDMONTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce is the official voice of business in the Edmonton Region. With more than 1,900 member companies who employ nearly 100,000 people in our Region, we are one of the largest Chambers in Canada and among the most influential business organizations in the country.