Alberta must become a world leader in environmental stewardship or risk being left behind, Premier Jim Prentice said Saturday in Banff.
In a speech to Progressive Conservative Party members at the annual general meeting, Prentice highlighted the need to get Alberta's energy, forestry and agricultural resources to market as one of the PC Party's five priorities heading forward and said that finding a market for those products will be the biggest obstacle to the province's future prosperity.
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"We will either be leaders here at home and around the world or we will be left behind to market our energy solely into an increasingly congested North American marketplace," he said. "Simply put, our future prosperity is tied to the demands of a growing and changing world."
Prentice vowed to work with the province's partners — including British Columbia and First Nations — to define Alberta as an environmental leader and develop opportunities to get Alberta's natural resources to global markets.
As well, Prentice said his government will introduce changes to the province's accountability rules next week that aim to crack down on bad behaviour.
The new rules will govern the actions and behaviour of public officials but Prentice did not go into detail about how far they would go.
"Every member of my government will be held to the standard of being a servant of Alberta," he said. "It isn't just about rules and directives and laws. It is about entrenching the values that Albertans want to see in their Premier: frugality, common sense, humility, decency and respect for the taxpayers of this province."
Byelections 'not an affirmation' of past
Prentice said the party is focused on living up to the expectations of Albertans who voted to give them a second chance in four recent byelections and cautioned members about taking anything for granted ahead of the provincial election in 2016.
"Let's be clear about what the people of our province were saying on Oct. 27th. This was not an affirmation of the past two years. Anything but," he said. "This was not a sweeping mandate. This was a second chance."
Prentice said in preparation for the next provincial election, he wants all candidates in non-Tory held ridings in place by June 1, 2015 and all other candidates in place by the end of the year.
"So we need potential nominees and their associations to get organized, get ready and get working, sooner rather than later," Prentice said.
"We want these candidates to have ample time to knock on doors, to meet and listen to the people in their communities."
The executive director of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party, Kelley Charlebois, said he expects there will be a turnover of 25 to 30 per cent of incumbent MLAs, which is about a normal amount each election.
Prentice said Friday night that the party's fundraising team was in its best shape since the 1970s.
Charlebois said many of the fundraisers are business leaders and know how to attract money, and numbers are up substantially since Prentice became premier.
Oil price drop not 'business as usual'
Prentice warned that the falling price of oil will prove a challenge to the province economically and it will not be "business as usual."
"We will make good on our promise to balance the budget in 2014. And we will adhere to the principles of sound, common-sense financial planning as we strive to serve a fast-growing province in a time when oil has fallen to $75 a barrel," Prentice said.
"This new reality represents a challenge. This is not business as usual but Albertans are tough and resilient and we are up for a challenge."
Prentice said for every drop of $1 on the price of oil it costs the province $200 million. He said despite the drop he intends to see a balanced budget.
"We have every intention of balancing the budget in 2015. If we are in a low price environment for an extended period of time there will be implications arising from that. There will be consequences," Prentice told reporters.
"But Albertans have been very clear that they expect the government of Alberta to be operated in the black ink on a day-to-day basis and I think that's wise."
Prentice wouldn't say what areas would have to be cut in order to guarantee a balanced budget with lower prices.
Alberta's speech from the throne will be heard Monday.
Follow along with our reporter's tweets below for all the latest news from the meeting.