Justin Trudeau will meet with Premier Rachel Notley in Edmonton on Wednesday for his first official visit to Alberta as Prime Minister, but he's expected to wait until the federal budget before unveiling how Ottawa will help the province's struggling economy.
The Liberal government has hinted that the budget, expected to be released in March, will include specific measures in response to the decline in the natural-resources sector, but few details have been provided beyond triggering a rarely used fiscal stability program.
Pipeline approvals and reforming Employment Insurance are expected to be high on the list of issues Mr. Trudeau will hear about during his two days in the province. After meeting with Ms. Notley late in the afternoon at the legislature in Edmonton, Mr. Trudeau is scheduled to tour an electrical-workers training facility and then meet with members of the Building Trades of Alberta. His visit will also include a stop in Calgary.
Provincial fortunes have turned upside down as a result of the slide in commodity prices. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador – formerly sources of economic strength in Canada – are poised to trail all other provinces this year in terms of growth, according to a report from Laurentian Bank Securities. Meanwhile, Ontario is on track to lead the country in growth.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he expects Alberta will apply for federal funding under a fiscal stabilization program that could make up to $250-million available. "We're pleased to hear that Alberta's working towards making an application around the stabilization fund. And when they do, we'll move forward expeditiously," he said following a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill.
Mr. Morneau said he was not able to say whether or not Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador would meet the criteria for funding under that program. The Minister also declined to say whether he is contemplating any other measures that would be specific to Alberta.
"I think what we're going to continue to see is that people in Alberta, people in Saskatchewan, people in Newfoundland, are going to be challenged with the change in oil price," he said. "We're going to see that organizations that make their living because of the oil sector are going to face enormous challenges. So our job will be to respond, to work together with those provinces to find ways to try and improve the situation."
Alex Ferguson, vice-president at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said capital spending in the industry is expected to fall again this year, and will have dropped from $81-billion in 2014 to a forecasted $42-billion this year.
"There isn't a lot of light at the end of the tunnel in the short term in the commodity price," he said.
The industry spokesman said it is critical that Canadian governments boost investor confidence by moving expeditiously to approve new pipelines.
"Hopefully, we won't go another 10 years without a pipeline to tidewater," Mr. Ferguson said on the sidelines of an Energy Council of Canada conference in Ottawa.
Japan's ambassador to Canada, Kenjiro Monji, warned Canada could lose out to foreign competitors if it imposes further delays on project decisions. Mr. Monji said major Japanese companies are backing natural-gas export projects in Canada, but are also looking to the United States, Africa and Australia for supply.
"They are so slow," he said of government reviews processes.
He said new rules to assess the projects' climate impacts and additional consultations with First Nations could result in delays.
The Liberal government recently imposed additional measures on resource projects currently being reviewed. While deadlines on pipeline assessments will be extended several months, Liberal ministers said natural gas projects should not be delayed.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, has written a letter to Mr. Morneau and the Prime Minister asking for budget measures that will make EI more accessible.
"There is no doubt that Alberta is in a deep recession and needs a stimulus plan, which should include fundamental EI reform," he wrote.
It is harder to qualify for EI in Alberta because it has historically had a below-average unemployment rate. Mr. McGowan said the Liberals should revise the rules so that the program is available to the large number of Albertans losing their jobs.
"The Employment Insurance system is supposed to be there for Canadians when they need it," he said. "The system is just not there for Canadians. Unemployed people here in Alberta are really feeling that deficiency right now."