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Smith to Chamber: Lots of cabinet representation for Calgary now, supports possible in future

Premier Danielle Smith, in her first speaking engagement with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce post-election on June 29, touted what she said was the shared values of her government and that of Calgary’s business community.

The Premier opened her speech by addressing the significant loss of seats in Calgary by the UCP in the last election, saying that she was thankful to be able to address the Chamber and the concerns of Calgarians.

“I’m looking forward to getting to get your feedback. I also know every time I address a Calgary room that only 48 per cent of you were likely to vote for me, so I’ll try not to be very partisan,” she joked.

“I always appreciate the opportunity for discussion on growing our economy that comes from an understanding that private enterprise fuels that growth. And that’s one of the main reasons why I respect the Chamber’s contributions to Calgary’s business community.”

Premier Smith touted the number of members of cabinet who are serving from Calgary constituencies.

“Calgary is strongly represented at the cabinet table because this city’s interests are front and center and what government’s plans. As is our dedication to pro-growth, low-tax, free market policies that continue to ensure that Calgary is a magnet for investment from around the world.”

“My promise to you is that over the next four years, we will do everything we can to build on Calgary’s strengths. And you’ll see this, where some of the support will be, will be announced our ministers mandates that will be coming up in the coming weeks.”

She addressed the recent fiscal update by the province by saying that the province was in a strong position with an $11.6 billion surplus.

Premier Smith eschewed committing to the elimination of the small business tax in the province, a proposal that had been made by the NDP during the election.

She said that president of the School of Public Policy Jack Mintz had advised the government against that, saying that it would lead to perverse incentives about companies creating lots of small companies under an umbrella instead of operating as a larger entity.

“So I won’t commit to that yet. I will commit to doing more research on it.”

Calgary Chamber CEO Deborah Yedlin said that as an advocacy organization, they would continue to push for the elimination of that tax, but at the same time, praised the low corporate tax rate in the province.

“I think what we see from a corporate standpoint is the lower corporate income tax rate has borne fruit in terms of what the revenues look like,” Yedlin said.

“Because they’re growing, that means that consumer individual taxes have also gone up because of the employment rolls. So I think that this is something that’s actually proven to be a winning strategy for Alberta.”

Re-announcement of existing supports, and parity with Edmonton

Premier Smith spoke about some of the financial support that her government had pledged over the months leading up to the election.

On the top of those re-announcements was $300 million dollars over three years to support infrastructure and a community arena for the proposed Calgary Event Centre, to be run by the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation.

“The things that we’re going to be investing in are the major infrastructure costs that go into covering the costs of roads and bridges, LRT connections and other infrastructure work, such as the 6 Street SE underpass and upgrades to 15, 17, and 25th Avenue SE,” Premier Smith said.

“These critical infrastructure improvements will not only rejuvenate downtown, some of Calgary’s most visible landmarks, but also create jobs that lead to billions of dollars in economic activity and contribute to the fabric and spirit of the city.”

She also spoke about the province’s work on Deerfoot Trail as another major investment into the city, before that road is handed over to the City of Calgary for ownership.

“We’ve got to make sure that we hand it over in a better condition than it’s in right now,” she said.

Premier Smith also spoke about the province’s investment into the Glenbow Museum renovation as one of the ways that the province is supporting the downtown.

She closed her remarks about investments in Calgary by saying that the province was prepared to listen to the requests of the City of Calgary for support, but that there was a need to have parity in how Calgary and Edmonton are treated.

Sherriffs promoted as interim solution to public safety issues in downtown

The province’s previous announcement earlier this year of 50 new police officers in Calgary and 50 in Edmonton was also brought up by the Premier in response to a question posed by Yedlin.

The timeline for that, said Premier Smith, would be at least 18 months away, backing away from the more aggressive plan from then Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis for officers within 18 months.

In the interim, she suggested a continuation of the use of Alberta Sheriffs to complement downtown safety enforcement.

“We had what I thought was a very successful pilot project. Calgary is doing more assessment and we stand ready if they want us to come in and continue to have partnership with our sheriffs. We’d be happy to do that.”

Last week, Ward 13 Calgary city councillor Dan McLean asked city admin why Calgary wasn’t continuing with the sheriff pilot program, given that the province wanted to continue. McLean was told that the CPS was evaluating the efficacy of the initial pilot program. That’s something that was reiterated by CPS Deputy Chief Chad Tawfik the week prior.

Premier Smith also touted the government’s recovery-oriented care system in addressing the danger of illegal street drugs, acknowledging that the pace of implementation for that system will not be immediate.

“We want to make sure that (for) every person there’s a pathway to get onto that. So we’ve got a few more years to work on this strategy,” she said.

The government’s plans for care have come under criticism, following the latest data released on opioid deaths in the province, which reached a record high in April of this year.

Smith said that the issue was brought up at the recent meeting of the Western Premiers, where she said that all of the provinces are seeing a different type of drug leading to issues.

Private solutions for health care and education promoted

Yedlin, during the Chamber Q and A, asked Premier Smith what the plans were to address the shortfall of 3,400 available post-secondary education spots by 2030.

In response, Smith said that the province would be looking at providing a pathway for private training institutes to become academic institutions in Alberta.

“We want to make sure that there are as many academic institutions as possible able to have new programming added on,” she said.

“We want to make sure that we’re using our existing community colleges in partnership so that they can start programs, perhaps in one of our more rural or remote communities, and then finish them in Calgary or Edmonton.”

Among the private and vocational colleges Smith mentioned to the Chamber as being interested in that pathway were Columbia College and Red Crow College.

Increased accountability and affordability from private colleges is one of the issues that education advocates have asked for from the Government of Alberta. A report released by Momentum in 2022 asked for greater protections for students who are often female, and from poor and minority backgrounds.

Premier Smith said that the province would also be expanding memorandums of understanding to foreign institutions, such as those in the Philippines, for addressing critical job shortages in the province.

Additionally, Smith said that they would be looking at ensuring that credentials from other provinces, such as those in health care, would be readily transferable to Alberta.

“The best successes that I put out there as an example is nursing college. Since April, when we made this change, they’ve already accredited 4,000 additional nurses,” she said.

“So having that free mobility of labour is one aspect, being able to bring people overseas another aspect and creating multiple avenues for people to get a post-secondary education. We think it’s a whole government approach.”