Alberta Premier Jason Kenney recently held a teleconference with Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association editors where he outlined several provincial initiatives during the COVID-19 crisis including new infrastructure funding in the province and how the agricultural and the agrifood sector is being affected by the pandemic.
Kenney focused heavily on the recently announced provincial plan to double their capital maintenance and renewal funding from $937 million to $1.9 billion.
“This will allow us to act quickly to work with companies so they can keep workers employed during these challenging times,” Kenney said.
Part of that finding will go towards $410 million for transportation programs and an additional $60 million for operating which includes pothole replacement on provincial roads across the province.
These funds are in addition to the $6.9 billion capital plan promised in this year’s provincial budget. There are currently 114 projects in the planning and design phase, including maintenance at schools and improvement of local roads.
Kenney said these funds will help keep construction going in the province, which has been deemed an essential service by both the government and provincial health authorities.
“As long as our construction operators closely follow the public health orders on hygiene and so forth — they can safely operate. We would recommend it be necessary they use face masks and observe all of the rules around handwashing, hygiene etc,” he said. “We want to do this now because construction season begins now. We don’t want to lose a day of construction season.”
Kenney said maintenance and renewal allows the province to invest money in jobs quickly because they do not require extensive tendering and procurement phases.
“We are doing some of that as well, but this allows us to surge some money out the door very quickly and we estimate it will create several thousand jobs,” he said.
Alberta agricultural section
Kenney said he and the Minister of Agriculture Devin Dreeshen have been working closely with Alberta farmers and agrifood operators during the COVID-19 crisis.
Agriculture has been included as an essential service by the province, which has excluded them from several public health orders.
“We have done this because obviously we need to continue to feed people and food security is an essential part of this,” he said.
Secure supply chains have become critical during the pandemic and Kenney said he felt the importance of food producers has become more obvious to urban Albertans.
He added they are working closely with producers to ensure their safety and the generals public as well, including a recent COVID-19 case at Harmony Meats near Calgary.
“There was one worker on the line who contracted coronavirus. Obviously he was removed from the worksite and put in quarantine. They did immediate testing of the other workers, everyone was cleared and there was a deep clean done of the facility,” he said.
The Minister of Agriculture and Forestry’s office has been working with the CFIA to ensure that provincial inspectors are available to step in if needed. A statement sent to the Lacombe Express said the Government values their partnership with the CFIA and look they forward to working together to avoid a situation like this in the future.
Kenney said agriculture is key part of the provinces recovery plan and the province has included an ag representative on the Economic Recovery Council. He said the ag industry could play a huge role in employing Albertans during the recovery from the pandemic.
“In the United Kingdom, because of the coronavirus, they no longer could bring in 10s of thousands of guest workers from places like Romania and Bulgaria, so they did a a call for a land army and putting 10s of thousands of Brits — for the first time in generations — back on the farm helping farmers operate,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to reimagine the labour market for many ag businesses.”