The Alberta government has appointed a Premier’s Economic Recovery Council (PERC).
The council will advise Premier Jason Kenney on getting the province through the current economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of energy prices.
PERC is composed of 12 Albertans who are well known for their work in academics, business, politics and labour. The group includes former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper,
The chairman of the council is economist Jack Mintz, the president’s fellow of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.
“We speak weekly with the premier, because our main role is to provide strategic advice to the premier’s office,” said Mintz. “We don’t get into proposal details. We leave that to the government.”
Alberta is in a deep recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and low oil prices.
“It is a double whammy,” said Mintz. “The health challenge is being very well handled by the Alberta government. Our council is all about the economy. After getting back to some sort of economic normalcy in the future, the issue is how best to get people back to work.”
The council’s mandate does not include writing and presenting reports, Mintz says.
“We act as a sounding board, with each person in the group providing input on what is happening within their area of expertise,” he said. “In addition, we have asked the Business Council of Alberta (BCA) to prepare for us economic data on different sectors of the provincial economy, including smaller businesses.”
Since the council was formed in late March, it has been keeping itself busy with weekly get-togethers.
“Our meetings so far have all been on the telephone,” Mintz said. “There will be no face-to-face meetings at least until the physical distancing restrictions end.”
In addition, council members have been in touch with their respective constituencies to find out what is happening on the ground and decide what issues need to be addressed.
The council has its work cut out for it.
The BCA has estimated that the province’s actual unemployment rate is more than three times the reported rate in April 2020 – 27 per cent versus 8.7 per cent.
The BCA estimates that close to half a million Albertans are out of work.
In addition to former prime minister Harper, the PERC includes such high-profile business leaders as WestJet co-founder Clive Beddoe, ATCO chief executive Nancy Southern and Mac Van Wielingen, founder of ARC Financial.
Other members of the group include Brent Blezberg, the founder of TorQuest Partners; Chris Fowler, CEO of Canadian Western Bank; Kevin Uebelein, CEO of Alberta Investment Management Corp.; and Bob Blakely, a labour and employment lawyer and former COO of Canada’s Building Trades Unions.
Also on the council are Zainul Mawji, president of Telus Home Solutions; Peter Kiss, president and chief executive officer of Morgan Construction and Environmental; and Bob Dhillon, CEO of Mainstreet Equity.
Alberta is not the only Canadian jurisdiction that is trying to find its way back to something resembling economic normalcy.
The Ontario government recently launched the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee, whose mandate is getting businesses up and running and people back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Unlike its Alberta counterpart, whose role is to provide Kenney with strategic advice, the Ontario committee is charged with developing a plan to stimulate economic growth and job creation in the weeks and months ahead.
The Ontario group is also different from Alberta’s in that its 13 members are all provincial government ministers.
At about the same time as the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee was being formed, Senator Doug Black wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a letter in which he called for a Canadian Economic Recovery Council.
Acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic, Black wrote, “Now is also the time for us to plan for Canada’s eventual economic recovery.
“I recommend that you appoint a group of… qualified Canadians to a task force whose mandate is to consider potential opportunities as well as challenges that need to be addressed.
“This group could be called the Canadian Economic Recovery Council. It would report to you, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Science, Innovation and Industry. The [group] would be tasked with developing a series of forward-looking insights and proposals.”