Calgary·Analysis

Alberta's budget: 5 things the business sector is seeking

CBC News spoke with Alberta business groups about what they want to see in Thursday’s provincial budget — here are five items from the wish list.

With Albertans hoping better times are around the corner, businesses looking for a little positive momentum

Finance Minister Joe Ceci, shown here with Premier Rachel Notley, will deliver Thursday's provincial budget. (Terry Reith/CB)

The past few years have been a struggle for many Alberta business owners who've had to weather a dreadful fiscal slump that started with the oil price crash in 2014.

There's now hope Alberta is turning the corner, with the government reporting in February's third-quarter update that it is forecasting a return to pre-recession economic levels by 2019.

But with Canadian crude oil selling at a severe discount and office vacancies persisting in downtown Calgary, trepidation continues amid signs of economic recovery.

On Thursday, businesses will be looking to see if Finance Minister Joe Ceci can encourage a little positive momentum with the release of his fiscal plan for the coming year.

CBC News spoke with a cross-section of Alberta business groups this week about what they want to see in this year's provincial budget. Here are five items from the wish list.
Business will be hoping for some positive news when the NDP government reveals details of their new fiscal blueprint at the Alberta Legislature. (CBC)

Balance the books — quickly

When Ceci releases his budget on Thursday, it's expected it will include a plan for returning to balanced budgets by 2023.
Amber Ruddy is the Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. (CBC )

But on Tuesday, Ceci cautioned that the path to balanced budgets lies in the completion of two major pipeline projects, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Enbridge's Line 3.

Business leaders will want to see further details on how Alberta will balance the books, especially as the province forecast in February that Alberta expects a year-end deficit of $9.1 billion.

"Today's deficits are tomorrow's taxes," said Amber Ruddy, Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Reduce costs on business

Zoe Addington of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce says business could use a break after absorbing new costs in recent years, including additional corporate tax, labour regulation and the carbon levy.

"We've certainly seen, in the last three years, legislation and regulation that have added to the cost for business, especially small business," said Addington. "We can debate the merits of each of these policies but ... overall we're seeing additional costs on business."

Some business owners may still hope that the province will hold off on plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from $13.60, on October 1. But the NDP has stood by their wage pledge, with supporters of the policy arguing the impact has been overblown by critics.
The wind and solar sector is looking for the budget to reveal further details about how the government will roll out the second and third round of bids to build renewable energy projects in the province. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

'Put some meat on the bone'

Alberta's renewable energy sector is looking to Thursday's budget to provide more details about the second and third round of bids to build renewable energy projects in the province.

Last month, the province said its second round of projects — aimed at producing 300 megawatts (MW) of electricity — would also be designed to boost the economy and training of Indigenous people. A third round will follow the same rules as the first in targeting 400 MW of output.

The sector is looking for the government to "put some meat on the bone" on Thursday, said Evan Wilson of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. 

"Even something like mentioning the date of when these projects are going to be in service," said Wilson. "That has an impact on what the competition can look like."

Rev up innovation

Perry Kinkaide, founder of the Alberta Council of Technologies in Edmonton and advocate of economic diversification, would like to hear the government begin talking about reallocating spending to support emerging technologies that will benefit the province into the future.

"I don't think we need new money, I think we need to start thinking about the reallocation of money," said Kinkaide.

"Programs that have been built to support industries that are now established need to be reallocated to make sure that we can make the transitions that these new technologies are bringing."

He said emerging technologies will lead to a major shake-up in jobs, meaning the government must also anticipate the requirements for advanced education and retraining. The province must encourage innovation, he said.
"At the very least, don't put something into the budget that's going to make us less competitive," Tom Whalen, president and CEO of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

Help oilpatch in battle for capital

The big issue facing Alberta's energy sector right now is competitiveness, says Tom Whalen, president and CEO of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada.

With cuts to taxes and regulation pouring more fuel on the U.S. energy boom, Whalen said capital dollars are fleeing Alberta, and Canada, for more lucrative opportunities south of the border.

"At the very least, don't put something into the budget that's going to make us less competitive," said Whalen, adding it's critical government and industry find ways to entice investment.

That includes removing the pipeline bottlenecks that are contributing to a costly discount on Canadian oil, he said. 

While he's encouraged that Alberta's energy regulator is removing some of the red tape around the permit process, which should produce some cost savings, he said "it can't happen fast enough."

With files from Canadian Press

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