Economic recovery is Alberta’s “next big challenge,” says the province’s premier.
“It’s not just recovering from the COVID pandemic recession, but also the energy price collapse last year and, to be honest, four or five tough years in our province we all know about,” said Jason Kenney during the AUMA Spring Municipal Leaders’ Caucus online on Friday.
But Kenney said he believes the table is set for an economic “renaissance” for Alberta.
“In the past few weeks, we’ve had six major banks and think tanks project that Alberta will lead Canada in economic growth this year – their projections range from a six per cent to an eight per cent expansion of our economy,” he said.
There have been “some pretty bleak moments” in the past year due to COVID-19, but Albertans have risen to the challenge, said Kenney.
“It’s not been easy, but we have come through this and we’re almost at the end. We’re at the 10-yard line. We just have a few more yards to go.”
Kenney said Alberta is “stuck” in a race between the province’s vaccination program and the rising number of variant of concern cases.
“These variants are nothing to trifle with. They are significantly more contagious than the standard variety of COVID that we contended with for most of the past year,” he said.
These variants attack younger people and they’re more lethal,” said Kenney.
“That is a profound concern to us. The great frustration of all of this is we just started to get a decent supply of vaccine doses … so we’ve finally been able to ramp up our vaccination program.”
Within a couple of weeks, about 30 per cent of Alberta’s population will have some protection from COVID, either through their first dose or through natural infection, said Kenney.
“We have tried to take a measured, targeted, balanced approach in our COVID policy. I know it’s criticized because some people say, ‘Well why can’t we just have consistency?’ The answer is because the virus isn’t consistent.
“The virus comes and goes in waves. The variants are a new element of it that we have to contend with. We’ve been consistent in our goals, but have had to be flexible in our means.”
Kenney asked municipalities attending AUMA’s virtual conference to help the province pull through the “last few weeks,” so Alberta can reach a level of immunological protection to bend the curve down.
“We can move towards outdoor summer events, we can move towards significantly relaxing the public health measures – not all of them, we’ll have to continue to be careful of course. But we are just that close.”