Alberta is leading the nation in population growth and job creation and is poised for a “turnaround year,” said Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday.
The growth in population is “amazing” considering how hard the provincial economy has been hit, Kenney told members of rural municipalities attending a virtual spring conference for Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA).
“That tells me that people across Canada continue to see this province as a place of hope and opportunity.”
Economic analysts are also bullish on Alberta, with the Bank of Montreal, the Conference Board of Canada and National Bank of Canada predicting strong economic growth in 2021. On average, the provincial economy and employment were expected to grow by 6.4 per cent.
Agriculture, one of the province’s economic pillars, is coming off a strong year with grain and oilseed yields the third highest in history, he said. Commodity prices are high and expected to remain positive for the next couple of years, which is spurring exports, which are among the highest levels recorded.
As well, forestry is coming off its best year in history and more B.C. forestry companies are shifting operations to Alberta, attracted by an advantageous regulatory environment and the province’s better handling of the pine beetle threat.
The energy industry, which was hammered in 2020 by historically low oil prices, is also heading in the right direction. The benchmark West Texas Intermediate price is US$65 a barrel. The price differential — the discount at which Alberta crude oil is sold — for Alberta’s Western Canada Select is the lowest in years at $10.50, he said.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is predicting capital spending in the province will increase to just over $27 billion, a $3 billion increase over last year.
Kenney said he has spoke with Montana’s governor and will talk to influential U.S. Senator Joe Manching later this week to try to revive the Keystone XL Pipeline project stopped by President Joe Biden.
He has not given up on getting the project, which would create a 1,900-km pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska, back on track, he said.
“We will certainly defend our interests, in court if necessary.”
Given the improving fortunes, it is time for energy companies that have not paid their property taxes to municipalities to settle their debts.
The RMA has been lobbying strongly for government help in getting oil and gas companies to pay their taxes. Municipalities are owed $245 million at last count, a number that has increased sharply each of the past three years.
“As these prices come back we have to insist that these companies honour their tax liabilities so that you can provide the services that you need to,” Kenny told municipal representatives.
“This is certainly a priority for us and we look forward to working with the RMA on that.”
On Tuesday, Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood said energy companies should not be able to get new well licences until they have paid any taxes owed municipalities.
Kenney cautioned that Alberta’s recovery will take time.
“We’re not out of this yet. There are some challenging months ahead of us.
“We’ll still have to deal with the fiscal hangover, if you will, of all of the challenges of the recent past.”