As we step into the new year, many of us will be making resolutions and looking optimistically to the months ahead. Our resolutions will be carefully crafted in our minds after thoughtful reflection on our successes and failures of the year past. We’ve all endured a significant amount of negativity throughout 2021 – from our conversations with others in coffee shops, to the conversations with ourselves in our own heads as we watched the nightly news. Fear and dismay dominated our airwaves and living in a state of gloom became the norm for too many. As we embark into 2022, I want to start us off with some positive reflection on the positive developments from the past year that barely received any attention. The quickest way to change the world around you is to shift your perception and the way you view it, so let’s reflect on the good news stories of the past year. Our government has worked hard throughout the year to pass legislation that will ensure our province’s economy emerges from COVID 19 stronger and more diversified than ever; that our children are protected and supported in their early development; that our justice system is fair and accessible; that our beautiful environment can be enjoyed for generations to come, and so much more. I’d like to highlight some of that work and the results we have already achieved.
The Geothermal Resource Development Act and the Mineral Resource Development Act created regulatory framework that will enable the development and extraction of geothermal and rare earth minerals in our province such as cobalt, iron, magnesium, titanium and zirconium, which Alberta has significant deposits of. Our province has always had an abundance of natural resources that serve as the bedrock of our economy, and we just had our best year of oil production on record. Investors such as Eavor technologies and E3 Metals have already invested millions of dollars into the Alberta economy over the past year into geothermal and lithium projects, and these pieces of legislation will help to expand and diversify our province’s natural resource sectors even further. The Growing Alberta’s Forest Sector Act supported the longevity and competitiveness of our forest sector by ensuring reliable and sustainable access to timber, security for capital investments, and streamlined processes for tenure agreements. On the agricultural side of things, in addition to legalizing direct farm-to-kitchen table sales and launching financial supports and insurance price reductions for those struggling with drought conditions over the past year, we also passed the Irrigation Districts Amendment Act. This Act enabled irrigation districts to borrow funds for large-scale expansion and increase the confidence of their financial lenders. To couple this legislation, we also partnered with the Canadian Infrastructure Bank and local irrigation districts to expand Alberta’s irrigated acres, which see an average return on investment of 300%, by 200,000 acres across the province.
The Business Corporations Amendment Act supplemented work already done to reduce our corporate tax rate to one of the lowest in North America and reduce over 116,000 regulations to conducting business. This Act streamlined processes for changing corporate names, registering records, filing annual returns, and changing directors. Its passage made Alberta the most flexible jurisdiction in Canada for director voting allowances, and the first to introduce corporate opportunity waivers. Our government’s corporate tax rate reduction from 2019 already increased corporate activity in Alberta enough to raise corporate tax revenues by 52% this year, and that increase is projected to continue rising by 20% year-over-year. After extensive consultations with our business community, the changes in the Business Corporations Amendment Act will complete our efforts to make Alberta the destination of choice for continued corporate investment. The Early Learning and Child Care Act made the first changes in over a decade to child care licensing requirements, so that childhood educators can spend less time on government paperwork and more time with kids. This work was supplemented by the signing of a historic agreement with the federal government to decrease licensed childcare fees by 50% to $10 a day and create over 42,000 new spaces. Knowing that access to affordable childcare is key for young parents to enter Alberta’s workforce and support our economy, we ensured that our plan was the only in Canada to allow for all forms of public and private licensed childcare to be included, including pre-schools, so that all parents could benefit from the program regardless of whether they live in urban or rural Alberta, or work regular hours or shift work. We also passed the Students First Act which shockingly, for the very first time, will require all teachers and educational assistants to undergo routine criminal record checks. It also created an expedited cancellation process for teaching certificates of those convicted of serious offenses under the Criminal Code, and an online registry for educators that will show disciplinary details of all who have been suspended or had their certificates canceled. In recent years only one individual has ever been suspended from our educational system despite countless claims of serious offenses of sexual predation and exploitation being filed, and while the vast majority of teachers and educators do love their children and treat them with care, every student deserves to be safe in their classroom and this Act ensures they will be. The Vital Statistics Amendment Act barred convicted sex offenders and perpetrators of severe violent crimes from being able to legally change their names to hide in public from their heinous past. For more vulnerable Albertans, the Local Measures Statutes Amendment Act transformed 911 into a textable service so that those in dangerous domestic disputes, or those in areas with minimal cellular service, can quietly text in a plea for help without needing to make a phone call. And for the first time in history, we eliminated all user fees from public addictions treatment facilities and created 8,000 new treatment, detox, and recovery spaces so that all Albertans, regardless of their socio-economic position, can access the help they need to regain their lives back.
The final piece of legislation I’d like to highlight, for all us outdoor enthusiasts, is the Trails Act. For years there has been unintended conflicts between recreational trail users and other users of public land. Our trail networks were built with hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours and support vibrant recreational economies, but they have never been fairly recognized through public policy. With the passage of this Act, trails for hiking, biking skiing, and all other recreational uses will be designated as “assets of the Crown” meaning that other users of the land have a duty to protect them or relocate them if protection cannot be guaranteed. Recreational tourism has the potential to be a key economic driver for our province just as it is in British Columbia, and this legislation is a leap in the right direction. Reflecting back, a lot of positive changes have occurred in our province despite their lack of recognition from mainstream media. Despite all we’ve been through, we still have much to be grateful for and I am confident that Alberta’s best days are surely yet to come.