Jason Kenney is praying for an Alberta Renaissance. There are obstacles
It will likely be a couple of weeks before we know whether staging the just-concluded Calgary Stampede was an irresponsible health care gamble that caused a deadly spike in COVID-19 cases or a brilliant move that gave a province starved for something to cheer about something to finally cheer about.
It will be longer, however, before we know whether the Stampede sparked the “Alberta Renaissance” that Premier Jason Kenney is predicting.
And oh, how Mr. Kenney is praying for that.
Depending on who you talk to, Mr. Kenney could either get his wish or be a premier who ends up incessantly talking about a bold, long-lasting economic recovery that never arrives. At the very least, high oil prices have put people in a good mood, even if the rebound doesn’t do much beyond enrich energy companies and help fill the provincial government’s royalty coffers.
There is little question the government could use the cash.
The Conference Board of Canada is among several institutions predicting Alberta will lead the country in economic growth this year and next. This is good. But as University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe told me over coffee, high forecasted growth rates don’t necessarily mean things will get a whole lot better.
“You have to keep in mind that we’re coming from a much, much lower base than other provinces,” said Mr. Tombe.
In other words, the Board’s forecasted growth rate of 7.2 per cent this year, and 5.6 per cent next year, might mean returning the economy to its pre-pandemic footing – which wasn’t all that great to begin with. In March of this year, for example, the number of jobs in Alberta was seven per cent below its pre-COVID level – the worst of any province in the country.
But let’s try and look on the bright side. The largest sources of job losses are just now beginning to recover. That would be hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreational activities. Once they are fully functioning, the bigger challenge may be finding workers to fill all the available positions.
Still, there are obstacles facing Alberta, and especially Calgary.