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Schow talks ministry role and $80M infrastructure fund

Posted on March 14, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance

By Cal Braid
Vauxhall Advance
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Alberta’s Minister of Tourism and Sport, Joseph Schow is almost ten months into his new role with the provincial government. He was first elected as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Cardston-Siksika in April of 2019 and re-elected in late May of 2023. Less than two weeks after his re-election, Premier Danielle Smith hand picked him as the province’s minister of tourism and sport and he has already made numerous appearances throughout the province to announce support and investment in the sectors he oversees.

During a phone conversation in which he pinpointed his location as “somewhere between Cardston (his home) and Calgary,” he skillfully fielded a variety of questions about the specifics of his role and the mandate that the premier has given him.

For starters, he cleared up a matter of curiosity, namely, how does an MLA go about applying for the position of provincial minister? The answer was simple: “You don’t.” He said the tradition is that “all ministers are MLAs, but not all MLAs are ministers. Ministers are chosen by the premier from the government caucus. You don’t apply to be a minister, you’re chosen. The premier will make the decision based upon whatever criteria she thinks is important to hold the position,” he said. Being a minister doesn’t negate his role as an MLA though; he’s both.

“It’s a balancing act for sure managing constituency work and ministerial work, but we make it work,” he said. Within the ministry, he has a team he works with. “I have a deputy minister, assistant deputy minister, a number of people in the communications department, and in the policy side of things. I wouldn’t be able to say exactly how many people, but I have a strong department supporting me.”    

Last year when the premier sent him the mandate letter, it included an assignment to allocate an infrastructure fund of $80 million over four years to a variety of small and mid-sized projects like indoor and outdoor hockey arenas and rinks, community pools, indoor turf centres, pickleball courts, sports fields and courts, and other recreational facilities. He explained, “This infrastructure fund is set up to support the development of recreation infrastructure around the province. I was happy to see that we were approved for $30 million for the first portion of it. What will happen is we will develop the infrastructure fund program and grant criteria and then we will open it up for applications at which time the department and myself will look at the applications and determine them based on merit. The award recipients will be informed that they’ve been selected.”

His tourism agenda starts with an eye on the sky, and is mandated to improve air access options from high-value markets. “Through Travel Alberta, we have invested $10 million per year since 2022,” Schow said. “That’s to increase the frequency of direct flights to Alberta from international and transporter markets like the US, Europe, and Asia. According to my mandate letter, we’re going to continue to invest at least $10 million a year to ensure that travellers are able to access the province.”

“It’s important to note that Alberta is a fly-in destination,” he pointed out. “There is not a lot of tire traffic that comes in from major US cities south of the Alberta border. People kind of fly here or they don’t come at all, so to that point, making sure we have more direct flights from European and American destinations is important. We’ve seen the expansion of routes into Alberta and as a result we’ve generated more than 590,000 additional seats on flights into Alberta since 2021.”

In 2022 Alberta saw a record $10.7 billion in tourism spending, with an increase of $600 million from 2019 levels. Premier Smith has defined ambitions for the sector and in February said the province wants to see that figure grow to $25 billion by 2035. The cost-benefit weighs out on the plus side by a wide margin, and Schow is the point man who signs off on each initiative.

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