Alberta can no longer fuel the growth of Canada's economy without the federal government's help building a new pipeline, Premier Rachel Notley warned in a televised address on Thursday.
A week before her NDP government's first full budget, Ms. Notley cautioned Albertans that the province is facing a $10-billion deficit and won't see a balanced budget for years to come. To help Alberta's economy recover, she vowed to get a pipeline approved from the province's oil sands to one of Canada's coasts.
"We can't continue to support Canada's economy unless Canada supports us," she said. "That means one thing: building a modern and carefully regulated pipeline."
Alberta's premiers have taken to the airwaves in the past when all is not well in their province and growing disapproval numbers can no longer be ignored: Ralph Klein did it to announce deep cuts; Alison Redford tried to explain why deficits were growing; and Jim Prentice opened the door to tax increases.
On Thursday, it was Ms. Notley's turn, warning that her province's stark economic situation requires more help from Ottawa.
"You need to give us the tools necessary to get through this tough economy ourselves. That means getting Canadian energy to new markets," she said, directing her comments at the federal government.
At a news conference earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he supported bringing Alberta's oil to new markets. However, he has said that the federal government needs to be backed up by a pipeline review that Canadians can trust.
Seated at her kitchen table beside a bowl of oranges and apples, Ms. Notley spoke for 15 minutes on Thursday evening, warning Alberta families that the province's economy is "dangerously dependent on the price of oil."
Finance Minister Joe Ceci will table a budget next Thursday that comes three weeks before Ms. Notley's government marks its first year in office. With oil prices down two-thirds from where they were in the summer of 2014, the province is suffering through its second consecutive year of recession.
According to Ms. Notley, the royalties Alberta collects from oil and gas producers this year will be down 90 per cent from the $10-billion collected two years ago, accounting for much of the province's revenue shortfall. Pledging not to cut social programs, she said her government is not eyeing any major spending increases – a clear message to public-sector unions preparing for negotiations in the coming months.
Airing on two major television networks, the address cost $85,000, according to Ms. Notley's office, with a further $55,000 set aside for a response from the province's opposition leader to be broadcast early next week.
Whether it was Mr. Klein speaking from a fireside or now Ms. Notley at her kitchen table, Alberta premiers turn to televised addresses when they want to sidestep reporters and speak directly to the public, said Chaldeans Mensah, a political scientist at Edmonton's MacEwan University. "It's a mechanism where they use the bully pulpit of the premier's office to reach out to the ordinary voter without a filter," Dr. Mensah said. "And the NDP hasn't been getting any positive vibes from the public lately."
Ms. Notley's message was too little, too late from a premier who has "let other provinces and governments demonize our industry," responded the Leader of Alberta's Wildrose opposition on Thursday. "Albertans need more than just standing up to Ottawa when we are obviously being treated blatantly unfairly," Brian Jean said.
The televised message will help Albertans better understand the Premier's plans, responding to a common complaint from a recent budget tour, Cheryl Oates, her communications director, said in an interview. "People want to hear from us more, they don't know exactly what we're doing, they haven't heard what our plan is and they want to hear more from the Premier."
Ms. Notley's approval rating fell to 33 per cent in February from 53 per cent after her election, according to the Angus Reid Institute.
"Her numbers have dropped precipitously," said Shachi Kurl, the institute's executive director. "When you've got the usual progression of falling numbers [after an election] … and the catastrophic factors facing Alberta, both help explain Rachel Notley's slide."