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Unpacking the 2017 Speech from the Throne
Last week the 2017 Speech from the Throne was delivered at the kick off of the Alberta Government's spring session. Read our Policy Team's analysis of the Speech to find out what the government’s policy priorities are for the upcoming year, and how they may impact your business.
Thursday, March 2, 2017 saw the opening of the spring session of Alberta’s legislature with Lieutenant Governor (and former Calgary Chamber Board Chair) Lois Mitchell. The session kicked off with the Speech from the Throne, which detailed the government's accomplishments since the 2015 election, and priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.
We at the Chamber have outlined some of the announcements that are likely to have the biggest impact on businesses in Calgary.
Energy and the environment
It’s no surprise that the Throne Speech included some impactful items regarding energy and the environment. Perhaps the biggest announcement was the government’s willingness to intervene in court challenges regarding the Trans Mountain pipeline. Although the federal cabinet approved the project back in November, the pipeline still faces legal challenges from environmental groups and Indigenous communities.
The Speech also confirmed the government’s plan to transition Alberta’s electricity market from a deregulated structure into a capacity market. Legislation will be passed to cap consumer electricity prices.
While light on details, there was a commitment to work with Ottawa to create oilfield service jobs through the reclamation of orphaned wells.
The Throne Speech restated many of the new programs being introduced and paid for through the carbon levy, including residential and commercial energy efficiency rebates, the transition to more renewable electricity and rebate cheques for lower income families.
Our need to reduce dependence on oil and the American market was a big theme of the speech. The Premier just returned from Washington, and the provincial government will be leading trade missions to Japan, China, and India in an effort to create more opportunities for businesses. The government also promised more support for the agribusiness community.
The speech included a promise to introduce a Consumer Bill of Rights. While details are not yet available, the Minister responsible indicated this would be a set of guiding principles, as well as possibly include amendments to the Fair Trading Act, the provinces' main consumer protection legislation. The Calgary Chamber will monitor this initiative.
The provincial government will continue to finalize amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) in 2017 through legislative amendments and regulations on the amendments made in 2015 and 2016. The MGA provides the governance model for city governments, laying the foundation for how municipalities operate.
The province is working with the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary to create City Charters. City Charters may potentially give Alberta's biggest cities more autonomy to expand taxes and other revenue-generating mechanisms.
The Speech confirmed the government’s commitment to increasing the minimum wage. The minimum wage is currently set at $12.20 per hour, and will rise to $13.60 October 2017 before reaching $15/hour in 2018.
The Speech also alluded to the government’s intentions to review Alberta’s labour code, which governs workers’ and employees’ rights and responsibilities. The labour code also sets the balance between management and trade unions.
What it all means
When it comes to new government policies, the devil is in the details. As such, we will have to wait for new legislation to weigh the merits of each proposal. However, there are a few take-a-ways from last week’s speech.
First, we applaud the provincial government’s work to increase market access for Alberta businesses. It’s good to hear that in a time where protectionism is setting its routes across the globe, our policy leaders are continuing to look for new partnerships and markets for Alberta’s businesses.
Second, we urge the provincial government to improve their fiscal discipline. The Speech promised many different programs including: eliminating school fees, freezing postsecondary tuition, increasing the supply of affordable housing, providing $25 per day childcare, capping consumer’s electricity payments, and continuing to build new hospitals, schools, roads, and transit infrastructure.
These programs all have merit. However, we must also remember that there is no free lunch. All public programs are paid for by Albertans.