April 14, 2020

Alberta’s top businesses propose key actions and offer support to provincial government in COVID-19 response in letter

Last week, the Business Council of Alberta sent a letter to the provincial government to outline key policy ideas for consideration and to offer the support of the business community as the government continues to respond to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Since we sent this letter, several of the policies recommended have been implemented.

Honourable Jason Kenney
Premier of Alberta
#307, 10800 97 Ave NW
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6

Dear Premier Kenney,

We applaud your leadership and the work of the Government of Alberta in implementing actions during the COVID-19 and oil crises, particularly in keeping Albertans healthy, achieving the best testing metrics in the developed world, reducing the expense burdens on Alberta businesses and your bold investment in the Keystone XL project to bring Canadian product to market. The steps you have taken to enable businesses to keep costs down, remain active and to increase liquidity have made strides in keeping our economy functioning – we have heard clearly from our membership that your bold and decisive moves have made a difference. We are grateful for your leadership in protecting people, business and the economy. You have our support to continue moving with speed and scale commensurate with the challenges we face to ensure that individuals and companies can survive.

We recognize, as you do, this is not an Alberta problem, it is a Canadian problem. We have been advocating to the federal government to respond with assistance to all Canadians, especially in providing income support to individuals; financial assistance to affected industries; and by taking fiscal pressure off the provinces.

Below we offer ideas on further steps in protecting people, business and the economy, as well as a further offer to support the government as may be required.

Proposed Actions

1. Protecting People

  • Priority Proposal: Amendment to Labour Standards for Employee Terminations – The Alberta Labour Standards Code requires that workers laid off for more than 60 days are deemed terminated and entitled to severance. Based on the programs offered by the federal government, we recommend following Manitoba’s example and amending the Code to ensure that any period of temporary layoff after March 1st does not count towards the 60 days. This will keep Albertans connected to their jobs longer and allow employers to recall workers quickly when business resumes.
  • Landlord protections – We encourage your government to work with ATB and other financial institutions to protect landlords at this time. The provincial government has taken the appropriate step of protecting Alberta renters from eviction during the crisis period. However, this could potentially leave landlords at risk of not being able to make their mortgage payments.
  • Additional mental health supports – We recommend the government expand the Text4Hope program to include connecting Albertans with online programs and mental health workers willing to meet remotely; and creating opportunities to collaborate or volunteer remotely. Mental health and social connection are vital and vulnerable in times of isolation. Maintaining a sense of purpose and community is critical to minimizing the collateral damage to mental health from this crisis. This is particularly important for those in remote and Indigenous communities and those in work camps.

2. Protecting Business

  • Priority Proposal: Property tax deferral – Working with the federal government, we encourage the provincial government to enable local and regional governments to suspend residential and non-residential property tax collection for 90 days by providing financial backstop/revenue streams to facilitate continued delivery of essential public services by the local and regional governments.
  • TIER – We encourage the government to consider suspending the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction System (TIER) revenue collection for a period of 90-180 days to assist oil and gas companies struggling with record-low prices.
  • Innovation – Consider re-instating the provincial portion of the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SRED) tax credit. Government can limit the reinstatement to companies with revenues not exceeding $15-25 million annually.
  • Definitions of essential and critical business – The government has recently published a list of all business activity deemed to be essential. We ask the government to ensure that any definition of essential services or critical infrastructure also include associated supply chain activity needed to keep core services functioning.
  • Operation protocols – For essential businesses which are customer-facing and in high demand, we encourage the provincial government to assist in procuring and accessing personal protective equipment (PPE), medical testing when necessary, clear protocols, and security at entry points to ensure the health and safety of customers and to ensure that physical distancing and other regulations are followed by businesses and customers.

Offer of Support

Alberta’s companies are determined to remain strong and safely operational during the crisis and are actively working under very difficult and challenging circumstances. We offer our willingness to work with government and health officials to identify any strategies and protocols that would enable currently closed businesses to re-open as quickly as possible. We know you have your eye also set to the future and recovery. The Council and its members are here to assist you in any process that would work on restoring jobs and businesses, enabling trade infrastructure, creating greater national consensus and improved regulation, improving federal support for our resource sector, and rebuilding back stronger than before. We believe this process could also address key social, health and governance factors in addition to economic. This could be a chance to create a more resilient, more capable, more competitive and more prosperous Alberta.

Premier, we recognize the challenges we face now and that lay ahead. The Council, and its member companies, offer our willingness and ability to support the Government of Alberta in any way that we can. We are grateful for the chance to support your priorities via leading sector tables which will provide input into the Economic Recovery Council chaired by Jack Mintz. We are also able to support in additional ways. Whether it be assistance with economic projects, providing materials and services, input on recovery strategies, procurement or skills and expertise, Alberta’s companies remain prepared to assist in ways that will help keep Albertans healthy and prosperous.

Yours truly,

Adam Legge
Business Council of Alberta

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