Alberta construction industry leaders are praising the provincial government’s new map to get out of multiples crises.
Premier Jason Kenney’s recent announcement of a recovery plan for the province after the economy was devastated by both the COVID-19 pandemic and plunging oil and gas prices is being lauded for both its emphasis on infrastructure and commitment to economic diversification.
“We’ve reviewed the plan and we applaud the government. It’s a massive infrastructure investment and it’s very important not just for construction employers and workers, but also for the entire economy,” said Progressive Contractors Association of Canada president Paul de Jong.
“It’s been a pretty ragged few months for everyone. There was pressure on the economy for Alberta going into the pandemic, and COVID-19 brought another chapter into that equation,” said Calgary Construction Association president Bill Black.
Construction companies came together and collaborated with each other to cope with COVID-19, Black said, and the government’s emphasis on infrastructure and other projects is a vote of confidence in the sector.
The Alberta government is putting $10 billion into new infrastructure, with $612 million earmarked for large-scale projects scheduled for the summer months including gas line extensions for northern residents and highway twinning.
“The industry shared information between competitors and employed an open-source approach and received recognition for rallying. To have this announcement come now of added investment and opportunities with what sounds like a range of large and small projects is pretty exciting news,” he said.
Funding will also increase for municipal programs. In addition to $50 million already announced for bridge improvements, upgrades to roads and community airports, and $150 million for water infrastructure grants, the government has also identified $500 million in additional municipal funding expected to be matched by the federal government.
De Jong said he’s looking forward to details regarding support for the oil and gas sector.
“Oil and gas is very important, not just as an economic driver for Alberta for decades, but for Canada. The surrounding benefits of oil and gas affect not just those who work in the sector but also sectors attached to it. Oil and gas being strengthened by the Alberta government is not just good for Alberta but also for Canada,” de Jong said.
An Alberta government release stated the recovery plan builds on investment in the Keystone XL project and $1 billion in capital maintenance and renewal but also moves towards diversification of the provincial economy with an Innovation Employment Grant for smaller companies and firms in the technology sector.
“Historically, Alberta only talked about diversification when oil prices were down. I don’t think the boom scenario will happen again, certainly not in a short time frame, and I think the concept of diversification is here to stay,” Black said.
Diversification can also mean new initiatives from within the oil and gas sector, he added.
“The climate, no pun intended, is changing. Oil and gas have, at the end of the day, the most significant research and development reserves, have tremendous resources and if they turn their attention on these things change will be significant and rapid,” Black said.
“Altogether, this plan represents a bold statement of confidence in the future of Alberta. It is based on common sense, not ideology. It balances targeted government spending in areas like job-creating infrastructure with strong incentives for private sector growth, like the accelerated Job Creation Tax Cut and the expanded Red Tape Reduction initiative. It ensures a future for our largest industry – oil and gas – while boosting diversification in key growth sectors, like tech and innovation through the new Innovation Employment Grant, and the Alberta Enterprise Corporation,” Kenney said in a media statement.
“Everything we’ve read of this plan is a good start that’s well thought out, focused on investor confidence while also focusing on workers who are unemployed or underemployed by COVID-19 and the downturn of the oil and gas sectors. The Alberta government has shown resoluteness and responsibility,” de Jong said.
“It’s all positive news, as is reducing business taxes,” Black said. “It’s the kind of thing that energizes people and paints a picture of what we can look forward to even though there are a lot of unknowns. It’s uplifting for an industry that has worked through two to three years of tough times and had resiliency in its response to COVID-19. I think it will be received positively across the board.”