ROADMAP TO RECOVERY: CHAMBER WORKS TO ALIGN BUDGET PRIORITIES WITH THE NEEDS OF BUSINESS
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ROADMAP TO RECOVERY: CHAMBER WORKS TO ALIGN BUDGET PRIORITIES WITH THE NEEDS OF BUSINESS
Leading up to this year's provincial budget release, the Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce established its budget priorities based on conversations with the business community and the Chamber's policy priorities.
(Medicine Hat) – Leading up to this year's provincial budget release, the Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce established its budget priorities based on conversations with the business community and the Chamber's policy priorities. The local Chamber was specifically looking for the following:
- More robust and targeted supports for businesses and sectors most heavily impacted by COVID;
- Additional grant funding in addition to loan programs for businesses, so that businesses don't have to rely on taking on additional debt;
- A detailed transition plan so that businesses can plan for when financial supports will be ended or are phased out;
- Enhanced supports for workforce development and skills training so that workforce labour needs can be better matched through funding and support for Work Integrated Learning opportunities delivered through post-secondary institutions like the Medicine Hat College;
- Ensuring that our agricultural sector has access to appropriate risk management solutions;
- Sustainable and equitable funding for air ambulance services across the province;
- Supports and funding for access to workplace mental health supports;
- Targeted measures to diversify the economy and a plan to attract and retain investment in Alberta.
The Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC) provided a pre-budget submission in advance of this Thursday's provincial budget address asking for the government to maintain essential services while reducing service delivery costs and pursuing a principled approach to public sector wage negotiations. The ACC also asked for reduced regulatory burdens while improving tax competitiveness, transparency, and fairness and focus on skill development and filling gaps in the workforce by promoting K to 12 education models that develop entrepreneurial competencies and prepare students to succeed in a 21st-century economy.
In the 2021 Budget speech, Minister Travis Toews committed to keeping Alberta's net debt to GDP ratio below 30%. Further commenting, "GDP is a measure of economic output and has a strong correlation to a jurisdiction's own ability to generate revenues. The ratio indicates a government's ability to repay its current debt and reflects its balance sheet strength. The higher the ratio, the greater the burden on government to repay."
Marcus Campbell, President of the Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce, stated, "debt is always a concern with uncertainty over the long-term impacts and future costs; however, this commitment of keeping a reasonable debt to GDP ratio falls in line with our recommendations to streamline the Size of Government. We would further ask for a long-term strategy to set and maintain a target of total government spending as a share of GDP at 26 to 30 percent".
The Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce had an opportunity to analyze the budget and business plans and was encouraged to see these some of their key priorities reflected:
- There has $5.9 billion in financial relief and supports to businesses in Alberta so far. Budget 2021 includes a COVID-19 contingency provision of $1.25 billion in the next fiscal year.
- The Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation will be looking to deliver programs and tools to support Alberta's economic recovery and diversification, including targeted assistance for those businesses most impacted by public health measures. They commit to implementing immediate recovery supports for Alberta's tourism sector and developing and implementing a 10-year Tourism Strategy with Travel Alberta to position the sector for growth. The Stabilize Program will provide one-time funding to reignite Alberta's live experience sports, arts, and cultural organizations and empower them to reimagine their events and operating models. The Budget also had allocated funding for the Small Medium Enterprise Recovery Targeted Support (SMERT) Program. Included in the ministry's total budget to support Alberta's Recovery Plan is $166 million over three years for the Innovation Employment Grant, a grant to incentivize job creation by small and medium-sized businesses investing in research and development. The Labour and Talent Strategy will increase work-integrated learning opportunities, expand apprenticeships, and enhance connections between post-secondary institutions and industry. This includes an additional $5 million to create internship opportunities for Alberta students through Mitacs International and $2 million to help young Albertans explore futures in the trades and other in-demand sectors for CAREERS: The Next Generation. The Government committed $180 million for the Alberta Jobs Now program to provide a grant to eligible employers to train and hire new employees and provide Albertans opportunities to enhance their skills.
- There is also $2.4 million allocated to Corporate Planning and Red Tape Reduction (CPRTR), which sets the direction and provides tools and guidance to ministries to eliminate red tape to meet reduction targets.
- The Investment and Growth Strategy aims to increase Alberta's competitive advantage, improve Alberta's investment and attraction ecosystem, and raise Alberta's reputation as an investment destination. Invest Alberta will promote Alberta's attractive business environment and identify and pursue new high-value or high-impact investments. The $10 million Enterprise Fund will enable this work.
- The capital budget plans highlight the Government's commitment for the twinning of Highway 3 between Taber to Burdett with $10 million committed in 2021-2022, $28 million in 2022-23 and $47 in 2023-2024. There is an additional pool of $593.7 over the next three years for twinning, widening and expansion projects in the province.
- Within Agriculture and Forestry, some key objectives include delivering agricultural insurance products to give producers tools to reduce agricultural production risks and expanded irrigation infrastructure to increase crop production to support Alberta's economic recovery plan. The budget included increases in primary agriculture expenses and rural programming and ag societies but decreases in insurance and lending.
- Budget 2021 supports the Site Rehabilitation Program, the Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program, the Natural Gas Vision and Strategy, and Carbon Capture and Utilization Technology. More specifically, within Environment and Parks, they are enhancing provincial policy to increase the use of industrial zones, economic corridors/nodes, development credits and conservation offsets, as well as a key objective to mitigate climate change through the collaborative implementation of the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) system and effective and innovative program delivery through the $449 million in stimulus funding allocated through the (TIER) system.
- Within Municipal Affairs, there is a large focus on reducing red tape and streamlining regulatory requirements, working with municipalities to reduce municipal red tape and impediments to economic growth. There is a focus on supporting economic recovery, providing oversight to the property tax and assessment system, and preparing assessments for designated industrial properties.
- Within Service Alberta, there has been $10.7 million allocated in 2021-22 toward registry modernization to expand access to information and services through MyAlberta eServices.
Some of the concerns noted during the analysis of the budget and business plan documents included reducing funding for advanced education and how that translates into service delivery and student costs at post-secondary institutions across the province. There was also no mention of government-funded Helicopter Emergency Medical Services, a concern for the region.
"Many of the elements that we found in the government's business plans aligned well with some of our key requests of Government, including elements such as more hands-on learning experiences in apprenticeship, trades and vocational education in our K-12 system, which we hope will translate more specifically into opportunities for agriculture education; an increased focus on skills development and work-integrated learning; funding for irrigation and risk management programs, along with the funding for the twinning of Highway 3. We were also pleased to see some continued sector supports and investment in our economic recovery, along with a commitment to increased use of industrial zones - all of which could provide benefits to our region, pending the effective implementation and consideration of the government's business plans" commented Campbell.
The release of the budget allows the Chamber to ascertain alignment between government and Chamber priorities while also providing an opportunity to discuss those items absent from the fiscal plan.
"While not seeing a rebound in our economic recovery to pre-COVID level until 2022 will be challenging for our businesses to endure, we are pleased that the Government will be making strides to mitigate any prolonged recovery. We hope the $375 million investment in economic recovery capital for 2022-2023 and the same for 2023-24 will assist our businesses and province to get back on track, but that can't be done without supports in other areas, such as a recognition of the impacts the pandemic has had on mental health within our business community" stated Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce President, Marcus Campbell. "We look forward to working with the Government on this key priority and expanding the access to addiction and mental health services and supports, particularly as it relates to the delivery of workplace wellness supports."
"Our focus continues to be on serving the needs of our business community. Part of that commitment is working with the Government to further remove barriers for entrepreneurs and small businesses, including reducing red tape in all ministries and promoting an economic environment and recovery where our people and our businesses can thrive through their ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit."
The Canadian Chamber also presented its pre-budget submission to the federal government at a critical juncture for the Canadian economy as the country continues to grapple with the pandemic. The Federal 2021 Budget must present a fiscal framework that reinforces our immediate needs and response to the pandemic while also laying the groundwork for longer-term economic recovery. These recommendations focus on the key measures that will enhance the competitiveness of Canadian businesses, which will provide well-paying jobs for Canadians and strengthen the economy. Read the submission.
Currently, the Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce has over fifty policies that are used to advocate to all levels of Government and can be viewed online here: https://www.medicinehatchamber.com/our-voice/
Please direct all media inquiries to:
Marcus Campbell, President
c/o Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce
(403) 527-5214 ext.225
The Chamber of Commerce is a member-driven, volunteer-led organization, proudly representing the interests of businesses in our region and working diligently to stimulate a strengthened and vibrant economy through our connections, support and influence. For more than 115 years, the Chamber has stood to promote business, monitor government, and champion managed growth in the local economy. The Chamber represents over 800 businesses in our region and is aligned with both the Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC), representing over 25,000 businesses and the Canadian Chambers of Commerce (CCC), which represents over 200,000 businesses. With the largest and most influential business organizations locally, provincially and federally, the Chamber network is the most unified, valued and influential business network in Canada and works together to shape policy and programs that will make a difference to businesses in our region.