On a sleepy Tuesday in August, Premier Kenney announced a significant change to his Cabinet. Minister Doug Schweitzer moved from Justice and Solicitor General to the newly-named Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, marking a significant shift in emphasis for the department. Kaycee Madu was bumped from Municipal Affairs to replace Schweitzer and Grande Prairie’s Tracy Allard stepped in to Madu’s role.
Schweitzer, a Calgary lawyer, will be charged with overseeing Alberta’s economic recovery from the twin disasters of collapsed energy prices and the pandemic. It’s still early, but it appears Schweitzer will be a major player in developing economic policy for the foreseeable future.
This is a welcome change. Traditionally in Alberta, economic matters are led by the Finance Minister, but Finance Minister Toews has been fairly low-key on pandemic recovery and other issues. We imagine he has his hands full trying to get the province’s finances under control. Alberta has been lacking a dedicated lead on the economy since the 2019 UCP election win. With Schweitzer heading a reconfigured economy ministry, there’s now a singular entity charged with guiding job growth. With unemployment hovering around 12 per cent and economic growth lagging in the rest of country, Schweitzer has his work cut out for him.
According to Premier Kenney, Schweitzer will lead work on labour market reforms and training programs as well as kicking off the Invest Alberta Agency – a group dedicated to attracting investment to Alberta. The ministry has also promised sector-specific recovery strategies this fall – in areas like tourism, agriculture and manufacturing.
What would a manufacturing strategy look like for Alberta? First, we need to understand the manufacturing scene in Alberta, which includes petrochemicals, food processing, metal fabrication and forestry. While Alberta’s manufacturing sector is an important part of the energy industry – it has some unique challenges and opportunities that set it apart from oil and gas.
Manufacturers face similar challenges. Alberta manufacturers lag behind competing jurisdictions in investment in equipment and technology – which is the lifeblood of manufacturing growth. If manufacturers don’t invest and evolve, they will not compete. Over the years manufacturing investment has lagged in other countries and we see the results – Canada is sliding down global rankings in manufacturing output. Reversing this trend is an overwhelming challenge (especially with this government’s budget challenges) but worth the effort.
We need to assess how we tax investment in Canada and explore whether the right incentives are in place to make Alberta a manufacturing powerhouse. Minister Schweitzer should also take a close look at how investment attraction is working in the US, where some states and municipalities trip over themselves to attract Canadian investment and talent. Every dollar that leaves Alberta for greener pastures in the US will likely never come back, so we should be honest with ourselves about what we are up against.
Minister Schweitzer has an important and difficult job ahead of him, but the renewed emphasis on economic recovery and having a dedicated voice at the Cabinet table for economic growth and diversification is a welcome change.
Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is the voice of Canadian manufacturing. CME represents more than 2,500 companies who account for an estimated 82 per cent of manufacturing output and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports.