By Trevor Busch
With last month’s cabinet shuffle repositioning Doug Schweitzer as the new Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, the former justice minister has now been tasked by Premier Kenney with implementing Alberta’s Recovery Plan.
“The premier asked me to take on this new ministry, building on the foundation of the old Economic Development ministry, but now it’s taking on further responsibility and taking over management of the recovery plan and getting Albertans back to work,” said Schweitzer in a recent interview with the Advance. “We’re focused right now on implementing our various sector strategies, from agriculture to petrochemicals, technology, tourism, and labour as well, to make sure that Alberta is able to compete as we come out of this pandemic and get Albertans back to work at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Schweitzer said he will be drawing on his past experience in the legal profession to help him develop strategies that will benefit all Albertans as the province transitions toward recovery.
“Getting Albertans back to work was the main reason I decided to get into politics. Before I was an elected official, I was a restructuring lawyer that helped companies that were in financial difficulty and faced with closing down operations, and helping them turn around their operations so they could keep employees and have a viable company going forward. That’s really what motivated me to get into politics, and this new portfolio focusing on jobs and getting people back to work is really in line with what motivates me every single day, and it’s what I did in my career beforehand.”
With the harvest season still well underway in southern Alberta for sugar beet and potato growers, Schweitzer hinted at upcoming announcements for the agriculture sector and asked local producers to stay tuned.
“The one that I think would really be of interest to people in Taber would be the agricultural strategy that we’re going to be rolling out this fall. You’re going to see a series of announcements come — a lot of them are going to be focused on the future of the agricultural sector, investing in infrastructure to make sure that we can continue to grow the high value products that we have here in the province, building on irrigation infrastructure, building in other areas to make sure that Alberta continues to be a world leader in agriculture. Minister Dreeshen and Minister Nixon are working closely together on finalizing that plan, so we’re looking forward to quarterback that one to the goal line with our colleagues.”
The impact of pandemic restrictions and a period of lockdown in 2020 have suggested that going forward many employees may desire a modified relationship with their employers that may not always require them to be physically present in an office.
“The other one that would probably be of big interest to people in southern Alberta would be the labour and talent strategy that we’re going to be developing to make sure that we have the right talent and skill sets for those jobs of the future, because one of the things that we’ve seen is that with the pandemic, there’s a change in how people have thought of the office,” said Schweitzer. “You don’t have to necessarily work in downtown Lethbridge, downtown Edmonton and downtown Calgary to have a corporate job anymore. A lot of this work is being done from kitchen tables today. So there’s an opportunity (to) work with the Minister of Service Alberta (Nate Glubish) to expand rural broadband to give people that flexibility to choose to where they live, choose the community where they live, to make sure they have that life balance that they want for themselves and their family, but at the same time having access to jobs across the country.”
“So we’re making sure that we keep our eyes on the ball in that shifting labour market and the opportunities that are there for Albertans,” continued Schweitzer.
Schweitzer highlighted the efforts of local MLA and associate minister of Red Tape Reduction, Grant Hunter, as part of his viewpoint on how the UCP government is handling the promotion of investment in Alberta industries.
“We just created Invest Alberta. This new Crown corporation, their mandate is to go out there and find ways that we can gain investment for Alberta. How do we grow existing companies and get them the capital that they need to continue to grow? How do we connect them to further markets and trade opportunities internationally? How do we convince international markets that they want to invest in Alberta because we have the lowest corporate taxes, the best regulatory environment? I know Grant Hunter, the local MLA and cabinet minister, is working on our Red Tape Reduction initiative, and making sure that we go out there and sell what Alberta has to offer.”
Innovation is one area of his portfolio that Schweitzer hopes to see major inroads for Alberta industries, and especially the technology sector.
“We just recently recapitalized the Alberta Enterprise Corporation with $175 million. They work with venture capital investment funds to find tech companies and help them grow, and give them that seed money. So we’re expecting that will lead actually to about a half billion dollars worth of investments into those start-up growth companies here in Alberta. And that’s just one piece of the puzzle. There will be more details coming out later on this year around how do we harness intellectual property? How do we make sure that Alberta has the best legislated framework to make sure that we can have these start-up companies wanting to come to Alberta? So we’re looking at all different areas. How do we work with our universities? How do we work with tech companies to foster that for the future?”
Schweitzer pooh-poohed Canadian and international perceptions of Alberta as an economic dinosaur, and threw down the gauntlet with a prediction for rapid fiscal recovery.
“A lot of people across Canada, and a lot of people internationally, they want to write off Alberta as an economy of the past. And I think people are going to start seeing here shortly, just watch us, just watch how fast Albertans move to recover, and how fast this government can move to make sure that Albertans have those job opportunities, and to set this economy up to continue being the economic engine of Canada.”