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Premier optimistic about Alberta’s future

Premier Jason Kenney spoke to Chamber of Commerce members June 30 at Stronghold Brewery in Fort Macleod.

The premier of Alberta rolled into Fort Macleod last week with a message of hope.

Premier Jason Kenney held court at Stronghold Brewery on June 30 during his tour of southern Alberta in a rented motorhome.

“Thank you for your resilience, which you have demonstrated in this community and all across Alberta during a very tough 3 1/2 months,” Kenney told Chamber of Commerce members. “Strange and unusual times for all.”

Kenney referred to what he called a triple whammy that hit Alberta: the COVID-19 pandemic; the largest global economic contraction since the Great Depression; and the biggest collapse in energy prices in history.

“But apart from that, 2020’s been going great,” Kenney said with a laugh. “You have to have a bit of a sense of humour about it to get through it.”

Kenney cited Fort Macleod as an example of a community that continues to diversify its economy and demonstrate the Alberta entrepreneurial spirit.

The premier said despite the challenges, he remains optimistic about the future.

“It’s because of the way Albertans responded to the pandemic and the economic crisis,” Kenney said.

There was no textbook to follow to get Alberta through the pandemic and the economic crisis so the government focused on saving lives and protecting the economy.

“We had to work our way through it, like everywhere else in the world,” Kenney said. “What we did in Alberta was a little unique. We put more emphasis on personal responsiblity as opposed to massive government micromanagement of things.”

The premier noted that through the height of the pandemic 85 per cent of Alberta businesses were able to continue within safety guidelines. That represented 88 per cent of the province’s workforce and 95 per cent of the provincial economy.

“Generally, we did not have a lockdown or shutdown like most parts of the world did,” Kenney said. “We chose more of a path of personal responsiblity and the results have come back very positive. They validated that approach.”

Livingstone-Macleod MLA Roger Reid listens to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s speech in Fort Macleod.

Alberta has one of the lowest per capita rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and deaths in the western world, with the least stringent COVID-19 restrictions in North America.

Alberta still faces challenges, with an official unemployment rate of 15 per cent, which the premier said is likely as high as 25 per cent.

“Alberta has stepped forward with the biggest package of action to try to support people through the crisis,” Kenney said of about $14-billion in government initiatives in the past four months.

Target areas have included deferrals on business fees, student loans, non-residential property taxes, WCB premiums and billions of dollars of cash infusions for businesses.

There was also a three-month deferral on utility payments, emergency isolation payments for people sent home from their jobs, support for livestock and agriculture, and $200-million for small business relaunch grants.

Added to the measures was half a billion dollars additional to health care and $50-million for mental health.

“We’ve tried to do as much as we can under the circumstances,” Kenney said.

The day before Kenney arrived in Fort Macleod, the government introduced Alberta’s economic relaunch strategy, which a record $10-billion investment in infrastructure and a plan for 50,000 jobs this year.

“It’s a bold and ambitious plan that focuses on immediate job creation,” Kenney said.

Kenney said the investments are also about long-term economic productivity.

Other examples of government action include an investment to make Lethbridge Exhibition an agri-food hub, and twinning of a section of Highway 3 east of Taber.

There will be further half a billion dollar investment in Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding for shovel-ready  infrastructure projects in towns like Fort Macleod.

The government also reduced business tax and launched an Invest Alberta agency.

“I just want to give you confidence there is a recovery plan,” Kenney said. “We’re not going to get out of this overnight but we will get out of it because of the resilience of the people of Alberta.”

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