Stelmach goes full steam ahead

By Sara Hanson

Alberta’s booming economy will not be slowing down any time soon.

This was the message Premier Ed Stelmach delivered to the Economics Society of Calgary at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Thur., Feb. 22.

After describing a brief history of Alberta’s economy, Stelmach noted the parallels between Alberta’s post-war economy and the economy of today. However, Stelmach also noted the province’s current growth is unprecedented.

“Alberta is in the midst of the strongest period of economic growth ever recorded by any province in Canada’s history,” he said.

By highlighting the positive effects of Alberta’s prosperity on the country, Stelmach warned that any negative effects would also be felt from coast to coast.

“[Alberta] is the engine that drives the whole Canadian economy,” said Stelmach. “Any imposed slow-down in Alberta would have devastating impacts on the whole Canadian economy.”

Stressing his support for the free market system, Stelmach explained that Alberta’s trade relationship with British Columbia forms the second largest economy in Canada. He also noted the growing importance of trade with the United States.

“Post 9/11, America is hungry for a secure supply of oil and gas,” he said. “And [they are] intensely interested in our oil sands.”

However, before pursuing trade relationships with other countries, Stelmach stressed Alberta must first sustain trade within Canada.

“National policies must respect Alberta’s economy, prosperity and our contribution to our partners in federation,” he said.

Stelmach continued to explore the challenges facing Alberta’s economy by noting the complications added by environmental threats. Although he later noted protecting the environment must be a responsibility, he criticized both the B. C. government and the federal Liberals for setting ambitious and unachievable greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“It is clear that green politics are as much about emotion as they are about size,” he said.

Securing long-term prosperity for the province and managing growth so all Albertans can enjoy a high quality of life including access to education, health care and career opportunities were high on Stelmach’s priority list.

When asked about the affordability of post-secondary education, Stelmach said the government’s 2007 budget, which will be announced on April 19, will include increased support for PSE, though he would not provide details.

“There are so many challenges both on the infrastructure side and literary programs,” he said. “There will be some dollars there.”

Finding a balance between the cost for the student and the cost for the taxpayer is another challenge that must be faced, Stelmach noted.

“Those that have to access dollars for post-secondary may have to take a student loan, that is a cost,” he said. “But if it’s totally paid for by the government, by the taxpayer, it’s an investment.”

In reaction to the premier’s speech, deputy leader for the provincial Liberals Dave Taylor expressed concern about the Conservatives’ economic agenda.

“This is just reckless the way we are going about it now,” he said. “The Conservatives are convincing everyone to get what they can and get it now. We don’t need to be talking in terms of stopping development of the oil patch, but do we really need to be going at the pace we are now?”

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