Alberta throne speech optimism not shared by business owners

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said that her throne speech would be optimistic, but that's not the reaction from the business community.

Taxes going up, wages too, as Alberta's NDP government delivers its first speech from the throne

The tone of the throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell, was positive, with an emphasis on co-operation and working together. 12:13

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said her throne speech would focus on people coming together, on shared responsibility and opportunity, and obligations to future generations.

But above all, she said to expect her speech to be optimistic.

Premier Rachel Notley gave a thumbs up to the crowd at the Alberta legislature before the speech from the throne on Monday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

However, this has not been a year for optimism in Alberta's business community, and the throne speech from the new government did little to allay that.

"It's not one item," said Ken Kobly, president of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce. 

"It's a layering effect, it's the layering of minimum wage on top of corporate tax increases, on top of the royalty review, on top of the attending costs that come out of the climate change policy."

Minimum wage

We need to make sure all Albertans are paid fairly at work, including those on the minimum wage.— Alberta speech from the throne

About 10 per cent of Albertans make between $10 and $15 per hour. Those workers are set to see their wages increase in the coming year.

Consultations between the province and the small business community began this month. The province has promised more detail on the increase by July 1.

This continues to be a burr in the side of the small business community.

"We continue to hope that the government takes all the information into consideration before doing anything too drastic or too rash," said Amber Ruddy, policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Corporate tax rate

Corporate taxes on the largest and most profitable  corporations in Alberta will be increased from 10 per cent to 12 per cent.— Alberta speech from the throne

​The increase in the corporate tax rate was a hot button issue in the election campaign, but popular enough with voters that there was little chance it wouldn't be a priority.

Kobly is relieved the small business tax remains unchanged at three per cent, but said small businesses depend on the large corporations.

"We're in a bit of a sluggish economy right now," said Kobly. "We'll wait to see what the details are, including the royalty review, and whether that has a further downward effect on the economy — because if the economy goes down, small businesses are affected as well."

Royalty review

We need to review how the people of Alberta ... will be rewarded for the development of their own energy resources.— Alberta speech from the throne

Notley also nodded to her campaign promise of a royalty review.

Before the throne speech, Notley said she expects to announce more details on the review by the end of summer. As well, she indicated that if the review suggests that it's not the right time to proceed with higher royalties, she is willing to listen.

"From our industry's point of view, we want to ensure that we can be a competitive jurisdiction," said Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. "That we can create the jobs and the economic growth that we have historically. And certainty is an important part of the ability to move forward."

Carbon policy

The province needs to demonstrate real leadership on the environment and climate change.— Alberta speech from the throne

McMillan said that he was reassured that the throne speech included a reference to market access. 

That reference was connected to carbon policy.

Specifically, that Alberta must demonstrate real leadership on the environment and climate change and forge a much stronger partnership with other provinces and with the federal government in order to build a Canadian energy strategy that ensures market access.

That nod to market access is a relief to an industry that was recently spooked by the naming of an anti-pipeline lobbyist to the position of chief of staff to Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd.

"This was one of the first public statements [in favour of market access]," said McMillan. "And we thought it was quite important to acknowledge the importance to our economy to have it in the throne speech." 

As for climate policy, the energy industry itself has been beating the drum for a carbon tax. 

"I think Alberta has a history of leadership on this file," said McMillan. 'While we were the first, I think other provinces now have moved on this file.... For us, we want to ensure we can be competitive." 


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