Job numbers disappointing, but oil and gas growth expected in 2020: Kenney

Image: Government of Alberta

EDMONTON — The latest job numbers from Statistics Canada are disappointing, said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, but he's expecting the situation will soon turn around.

The agency reported that Canada lost 71,200 jobs last month and the unemployment rate rose four-tenths of a percentage point to 5.9 per cent.

In Alberta, the unemployment rate rose to 7.2 per cent from 6.7 per cent. Jobs fell by 18,000, led by wholesale and retail trade.

In Edmonton, unemployment went up to 7.7 per cent from 7.1. In Calgary, it fell slightly from 7.2 per cent to 6.9.

“We're always disturbed to hear about any job losses in the economy,” Kenney told reporters Friday.

“We took over an economy in Alberta here that I think was basically in recession and had gone through a four-year job crisis, and I always knew we were not going to be able to turn that around overnight.”

The United Conservative premier, elected in April, said the critical problem is bottlenecks in getting Alberta oil to market via pipeline or rail, forcing the province to dictate curtailment on production to keep the price from plummeting.

He expects that will soon be changing, that more oil will be getting out the door in 2020, which he said will lift not only the industry, but also the broader economy.

“I believe we are going to reach a turning point in 2020.”

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the British Columbia coast is underway, and Kenney noted there's progress on the Enbridge Line 3 project from Alberta to Wisconsin.

Industry incentives will also see more oil shipped by rail, he said.

“I’m confident that we will be up several hundred thousand barrels of egress, so we should not need curtailment any longer (by) this time next year…We should be producing and shipping more oil than ever, and that should help incent additional investment.”

Opposition NDP trade critic Deron Bilous said the numbers show Kenney is taking the economy in the wrong direction by cutting public sector jobs and services to balance the budget, while reducing corporate income tax with no obvious benefit to jobs numbers.

“Their plan is failing,” Bilous said. “It's more clear than ever that Premier Kenney and the UCP's risky experiment to hand over billions of dollars to corporations has failed Albertans.”

It was the second sobering economic announcement for Alberta this week.

On Tuesday, Moody's Investors Service downgraded the province's rating to Aa2 stable from Aa1 negative, citing concerns over its reliance on non-renewable resources — mainly oil.

It also warned that Alberta has a high “environmental risk,” with its carbon intensive oil and gas sector leaving it susceptible to costly wildfires and floods.

Kenney said Friday he doesn't believe analysts are giving Alberta due credit for progress reducing its environmental footprint.

In a radio interview on Calgary's CHQR on Wednesday, Kenney also said the Moody's report is symptomatic of a broader politicized fight.

“Increasingly, financial institutions — and this includes apparently Moody's — are buying into the political agenda emanating from Europe, which is trying to stigmatize development of hydrocarbon energy,” Kenney said.

“And I just think they are completely, factually wrong.”

Bilous urged Kenney to use the Moody's report to take off ideological blinders, diversify the economy and stop trafficking in “environmentalist conspiracy.”

In Ottawa

Kenney and eight of his cabinet ministers will be in Ottawa today as part of a trip to meet their federal counterparts.

Kenney will speak at the Canadian Club this afternoon and later host a reception.

He is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday to discuss issues ranging from pipelines to equalization.

Kenney has said he will bring up with Trudeau a resolution passed unanimously at the recent meeting of provincial leaders to consider changes to the fiscal stabilization fund.

The fund helps provinces facing year-over-year declines in non-resource revenues, but Alberta says it is being shortchanged due to caps tied to the size of its population.

Kenney says Alberta should receive about $2.4 billion going back to 2014, and that the federal government is open to discussing the proposal.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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