08 Jul Interview with Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta, Canada
As recently as mid December, you travelled to London to promote Alberta’s energy to international markets. What results were achieved? What is your analysis of the current situation of the energy sector in Alberta?
KENNEY: It was a productive visit focused on the leaders of major financial institutions. I had breakfast with the governor of the Bank of England, who is coming back to Canada, and also with the heads of major banks, hedge funds and other key players in the global financial industry. I did this because Alberta has the world’s third largest oil reserves. We believe that as long as the world requires hydrocarbon energy it is preferable that Canada be a primary source. We have huge oil and natural gas reserves and we’re also an economy driven by innovation and technology and we have some of the most beautiful tourism destinations on earth. We have so much to offer the world and the UK in particular. I was there to address concerns about the environmental performance of our energy industry, which has led some European financial institutions to diminish support for the Canadian energy industry based on outdated data. Canada is a global leader in the environment. We are one of the most respected liberal democracies with the highest labor standards and human and civil rights standards. Increasingly we are producing energy with a lower carbon footprint. We have reduced carbon intensity from our energy by 30 percent in the last twenty years. With technology, we are on track to reduce it by another 20 percent. I was there to tell that story. Energy is necessary, and people can go to OPEC or Russia, Canada or the US. Of all of those options I think we have the highest standards. And I think that message I was conveying was received.
Q: Brexit will now be a reality in the coming months, reorganizing Britain’s foreign strategy and trade arrangements. What is your opinion of the overall consequences, particularly for Alberta?
KENNEY: I’ve long been a supporter of Brexit, because I believe Canada, Australia and New Zealand were unintentionally neglected with Britain’s accession to the EU. Britain became overwhelmingly focused EU relations and in a sense closed itself in the EU trading zone and neglected at a political level the historical relationship with its daughter countries like Canada. When William Hague, the foreign secretary, visited Canada he was the first foreign secretary to visit here in 14 years. We have deep historic ties and we are culturally and inextricably tied to the United Kingdom, and yet the focus in Brussels meant attention on Canada was minimized. Post-Brexit I think Britain will emphasize some of those historical trading relationships that have been neglected, and I hope that a Canada/UK trade agreement will be at the top of the post-Brexit agenda. Work is being done towards that. We hope Alberta will be a key part of that.
Q: What is the role of the high commission of Canada in London?
KENNEY: It’s a very prominent diplomatic presence. After Washington I believe it is Canada’s most important diplomatic presence. It is the most prominent foreign mission in London, it is right there on Trafalgar Square. Historically Canada has been represented there by our very top diplomats. We have a huge investment in trade promotion staff there. We service many other countries, including the Gulf states, for immigration and other functions out of London, so it’s a key global hub for us. Alberta also has an office within Canada House. High commissioners are basically ambassadors exchanged between Commonwealth countries, because we have the same head of state, so we don’t send an ambassador.
Q: Tell us about your background and the policies you support.
KENNEY: I grew up in western Canada and as a young man I helped found the Taxpayer’s Federation that fought for fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and efficient government. In 1997 I ran for the Federal Parliament where I served for nearly 20 years, including ten years in Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet. I served as Minister for Immigration, Employment and Social Development and Minister of National Defense. I left parliament three years ago to reunite two divided center-right parties in Alberta. Their division allowed a left wing party to get elected, atypical in this province. We felt that damaged our economy. We were elected with a large majority last April with a bold and detailed agenda. We’ve delivered on well over half of our commitments, the central one of which is an economic growth strategy to make Alberta the most competitive jurisdiction in North America. Historically we have been the most prosperous region in Canada and one of the most prosperous on earth. We have high per capita income, we lead Canada in growth, but we had some challenges because of the decline of commodity prices in 2014-15 and some negative policies. Our mandate is to undue those negative policies and unleash the private sector to make Alberta a magnet for investment. The heart of our agenda is a 1/3 reduction in the business tax rate. We already have the lowest business tax in Canada, we will soon have by far the lowest taxes in Canada. Our business tax rate will be lower than in 44 of the 50 United States. We are the only part of Canada with no sales tax, we have the lowest income taxes and we have launched a plan to cut regulations by 1/3. We want to have the freest and fastest moving economy in North America. Energy will be the largest industry for the foreseeable future and we are seeing significant investments in information technology. We have the world’s fifth most highly rated artificial intelligence lab. We have the most highly educated population in Canada and one of the strongest primary education systems in the OECD, and we are working to improve even more by modernizing our curriculum to meet labor demands. We have the second highest number of corporate headquarters in Canada. We have a lot of vacant space for companies that want to pay lower overhead costs than in London, for example.
Q: Can you expand on attracting business in sectors like aerospace and aviation and artificial intelligence?
KENNEY: We have a world class AI lab at the University of Alberta, it’s the third highest rated in North America and fifth in the world. They partner with 20 major companies in AI and machine learning. The government of Alberta owns enormous sets of data, for example geological data derived from the energy industry that can be the source of machine learning. In the aviation industry we are going to make a big push to make Alberta a hub, and will likely start an aviation maintenance program so we become a hub for that. We have an emerging local airline, West Jet, that just bought a small fleet and will be making nonstop flights from Alberta.
Q: Travel Alberta, in partnership with the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, is in the process of developing a 10-Year Tourism Strategy (10YTS) for the province. What are the competitive advantages of Alberta as a travel destination? What is the expected contribution of the sector to Alberta’s GDP and job creation?
KENNEY: We have the most magnificent scenery on earth in the Canadian Rockies, which are mainly in Alberta. We have spectacular mountain resorts like Banff and Lake Louise, with first-class luxury hotels. many British tourists come here. They may fly to Vancouver and take a luxury tourist train to Banff, others fly to Calgary and then rent campers and cars to travel through the mountains. We are looking at major investments in tourism infrastructure. One investor is serious about a prospective railway to take people from the Calgary airport to Banff. We have more and more air service coming in. We also have a more diverse geography than any other province. We have a history of ranching and cowboy culture in southern Alberta, we have the biggest rodeo on earth that attracts hundreds of thousands of people. We have a dynamic native population that is offering more and more tourism experiences. We find Europeans love to see the traditional culture of the First Nations. We have the largest concentration of dinosaur fossils on earth and the world’s leading dinosaur museum. We have the Badlands, which look like a scene out of a spaghetti western and we also have lively urban cultures with dynamic arts and culture scenes. Our population is diverse as well, you can find first class Asian restaurants. We have world cuisine because of the high levels of immigration. We have a world-class tourism experience so we are developing a ten year tourism policy to tell that story to visitors in Europe and the UK.
Q: Your government has recently gotten the approval of the legislature for the creation of Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Creation to facilitate Aboriginal financial participation in major resources projects. What is the background of the project and its expected results?
KENNEY: Canada has become increasingly conscious about the need for reconciliation with our Indigenous people. In Alberta we have a large and diverse Indigenous population that speaks several languages and has retained their historic culture. There has been a sad history of poverty and social exclusion amongst many of these Indigenous people. One of my government’s priorities is economic and social inclusion and opportunity for Indigenous people. We see a new generation of Indigenous leadership who want to partner with business, the private sector and government for responsible resource development. Many of our First Nations live on or near land that has generated enormous wealth through oil and gas reserves. Some of them have become wealthy and successful with high employment because they have partnered with the government and oil and gas companies. But some have been excluded. We created a state-owned enterprise called the Indigenous Opportunities Corporation that offers a billion dollars in backstop to facilitate Indigenous co-ownership or financial participation in major resource projects. Many of these communities don’t have much equity or business experience but they are willing to partner with industry. This corporation is there to provide financial expertise and advice to these communities and help them get access to capital so they can buy or participate in building pipelines, energy infrastructure, wind and solar farms and green technologies. We think this will be a game changer in economic advancement for the Indigenous population.
Q: What is your message to the British public on Alberta’s present and future opportunities?
KENNEY: If you think about Canada you should think about Alberta first. In recent decades it has been the most dynamic economy in North America. It has enormous investment opportunities. It is the newest part of the New World and the last part of the Western Frontier to be settled. With that comes a frontier spirit and entrepreneurial culture. There is a deep belief in free markets and free enterprise, Alberta is famous for those values. That is why we are a natural home for business and have a culture of innovation. We are a meritocracy, we judge people not by where they come from or how they pray or who their father was, but based on their work ethic and how they treat others. This is a place of new beginnings. The sons and daughters of many great British families came here in the late nineteenth century driven by that frontier spirit. They settled ranches in the Rocky Mountains. They took risks and were entrepreneurial English men and women and Scots who established Alberta and the first partnerships with our aboriginal people. That is our history and identity. We have enormous resources and the best-educated population in Canada, the youngest population in Canada and one of the most diverse populations in North America with the fastest population growth in North America in the last twenty years. We have world-class universities and Calgary has been voted by the Economist intelligence unit for the last three years as the having the highest quality of life in North America. The only downside is if you don’t like winter, but people learn to embrace it and enjoy it. Prosperity, opportunity and resources can be found here. For the British this is such a familiar place because our institutions and language and culture and traditions are derived from Britain. It’s a place for fresh starts and new beginnings but it’s still familiar. We had a small wave of British migration ten or fifteen years ago, primarily from the police services so you are very likely to find a Calgary police officer who was in the Metropolitan Police or Scotland Yard or the police service of Northern Ireland, and they love this place. We have the world’s largest British Army Base in Alberta. It is a training station for the armored divisions, so we have thousands of British soldiers here. A lot of the officers who finish their careers here decide to stay on. There’s a special human connection between Alberta and Britain.