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Alberta leads Western Canada in using Ottawa's financial help, federal minister says

Minister Melanie Joly says uptake in federal aid programs shows decimation wreaked by COVID-19

Posted: June 09, 2020
Last Updated: June 09, 2020

Minister Melanie Joly says Alberta's needs during COVID-19 have been quite high, and she doesn't expect them to go away anytime soon. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

A compounding pile of economic issues has Alberta leading all of Western Canada in utilizing Ottawa's financial help during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Melanie Joly, the federal minister of economic development, said that while there has been use across the Prairies and British Columbia, "demand is higher from Alberta." 

The minister says the province has been lapping up funding provided through federal initiatives like wage subsidies, business loans, industry-specific help and Western Economic Diversification Canada's budget. 

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"There's a clear uptake in the assets coming directly from Alberta for these new funds," Joly said. "Definitely we're seeing that Alberta is very hard hit."

Oil prices and COVID-19 have decimated the province's economic prospects. Estimates show that Alberta's deficit could hit $20 billion in this fiscal year and the debt-to-GDP ratio could double to 20 per cent. Premier Jason Kenney has warned of a "great fiscal reckoning" on the horizon.

Western Economic Diversification Canada recently threw a small $3.45-million life preserver to tourism sectors in Alberta and other western provinces. Travel Alberta will get about $1.5 million of that. 

The federal government expects 500 businesses in the province will benefit from the funding. That's barely two per cent of Alberta's 22,000 tourism-related enterprises. 

'This is not a one-time solve'

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Travel Alberta is excited at the prospect of more capital, but says Ottawa's approach could need tweaking. 

"This is not a one-time solve. This is the rebuilding of our industry," Shelley Grollmuss, a vice-president, said. 

Alberta welcomes millions of tourists each year. Those visitors contribute just under $9 billion to the provincial economy every year and support more than 125,000 jobs. 

Things are different this year — and the money Ottawa has made available so far is only a fraction of what the industry will need to bounce back. 

A Calgary man died in a skiing accident near Moraine Lake on Saturday. (Corey Myke)

"It's a long-term commitment," Grollmuss said.

Tourism will be a big focus of federal help and dollars in Alberta as the country slowly emerges from the pandemic. This latest infusion won't be the end of help for Alberta, Joly said. 

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"Certainly there is more money coming." 

She also acknowledged the wage subsidies, tourism funding and other federal help programs aren't perfect but said they are being adjusted as needed. 

The road ahead

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce has been coordinating with the federal government since the start of the pandemic. 

Sandip Lalli, the president, said the aid programs have been helpful but were "just a little bit late to arrive." 

Now the chamber wants Ottawa to look ahead to a post-pandemic plan for Calgary. 

"This is where we want that long-term growth," Lalli said. "We need federal help to be able to actually expedite the growth of the ecosystem."

Economic development will be a busy portfolio for Joly as the need shifts to a post-pandemic rebuild.