It’s not every week a government minister speaks to a small town chamber of commerce. In this case it was Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Deron Bilous, who attended the Slave Lake & District Chamber of Commerce’s regular luncheon meeting on March 26. He was able to make the visit as part of a trip to High Prairie’s Tolko OSB mill, which recently re-opened with some government assistance in the form of tax credits.
Bilous spoke to a fair-sized crowd of Chamber members on the government perspective on the recent budget and the prospects for the economy. The news, he said, is pretty good.
“Exports are up almost 30 per cent,” he said. “Manufacturing is up, housing starts grew by 20 per cent, and we’re expecting to be near the top of economic growth in Canada again in 2018 at 2.7 per cent.”
Bilous acknowledged that not every business has experienced the benefits of the recovery. However, he stressed that the overall picture is good, after “the worst recession felt in generations.”
Speaking of the 2018 Budget, Bilous said it focuses on three different things: diversifying the economy, expanding market access and support for new industries, and protecting public services that are vital to communities. He said financial experts indicate the province’s “historic infrastructure build” as one of the key reasons for that growth. Currently, there are 2.3 million jobs in the province, which he said is the most ever.
Further reasons for optimism, according to the minister: Budget 2018 encourages the construction of new extraction facilities on major pipelines with $500 million in loan guarantees and grants for the new Petrochemical Feedstock Infrastructure Program. This would support building new straddle plants that recover natural gas liquids like ethane and propane that can then be used to manufacture a wide range of products.
“We want every person and business to feel the positive effects of this recovery,” he said. “A recovery built to last.”
It isn’t all about spending. Bilous made a point of mentioning ways in which the government has cut back.
“One of them is through agencies, boards and commissions. There are over 400 of these in Alberta and we brought in salary caps for executives.”
Bilous made a point of stressing the government’s commitment to getting more pipelines built. On the other hand, he said the government is also pushing its economic diversification agenda, so as not to have ‘too many eggs in one basket.’
He spoke of the “wildly successful,” Petrochemical Diversification Program,” which sees another $500 million in royalty credits in the 2018 budget.
“Through this program, for the first time in Canada, we will process propane extracted from natural gas resources into value-added plastic products that people all over the world use every day. The projects mean a 700 per cent value-add to feedstock and supports thousands of jobs.”
Bilous went on to talk about the government’s commitment to stable funding for public services, such as health care and education. One of the highlights was more money for more $25 per day daycare spaces. His final point was about the plan to have a balanced budget by 2023.
“To sum up, I think Budget 2018 contains a lot of good news for the folks in this room, both as business leaders and as ordinary Albertans.”
Deron Bilous, Minister of Economic Development and Trade