Varcoe: Fair deal fight as Kenney and Nenshi clash over investment attraction
|calgaryherald.com 14 Dec 2019 at 07:56|
Premier Jason Kenney rejects the notion that talk about Wexit and western alienation is making it more difficult to attract businesses and investment to the province.
During a year-end interview, the premier also dismissed concerns from Mayor Naheed Nenshi that focusing on Alberta’s problems within Canada and getting a “fair deal” are distracting from the job of bringing investment and employment here — or that it’s making the economic situation worse.
“I think that the Wexit talk is a consequence of economic stagnation, not the cause of it,” he said.
“I spend a lot of my time pitching Alberta for new investment — Bay Street, Wall Street, Houston, — on the phone, constantly meeting with outside investors.
“I have yet to meet one who has raised Wexit as an issue. I grant that perceived political instability is unhelpful to investment, which is why I have underscored to Albertans who feel frustrated, that Wexit talk is not helpful.
“But I don’t think it’s something that is affecting investment decisions in any meaningful way.”
The issue about how support for Alberta separatism is impacting the economy erupted this week with news Toronto-based technology firm Wattpad chose Halifax over Calgary to host its second corporate headquarters .
In a letter to the city’s economic development agency, Wattpad cited concerns about western separatism and the recent elimination of provincial investor tax credits, according to The Logic.
And or his company, noting the Brexit debate has triggered “three years of total economic paralysis” in the United Kingdom.
From outside the province, Business Council of Canada president Goldy Hyder said he doesn’t think discussions about Wexit are hurting the ability to attract new companies or employees — yet.
“I don’t think so, but I think there’s a risk that it will, if it continues to grow,” Hyder said Friday from Ottawa.
“The focus should be how to put that back into the corner and ensure that the message for Canada, and for Alberta, is (we’re) open for business.”
At this stage, one incident isn’t a trend.
But it’s undeniable that creating more uncertainty in the province will not help the broader situation when it comes to talent and investment attraction.
“When you are trying to entice investment or a person to relocate, we often know perception becomes reality,” said Adam Legge, president of the Business Council of Alberta.
In an interview, Nenshi said the city is still bringing in new business, but over the last few months, the task has become more challenging.
The provincial budget eliminated some tax credit programs, making it more difficult to lure technology companies and startups that aren’t able to benefit from the Kenney government’s corporate income tax cuts.
Nenshi doesn’t know if Wexit played a role in Wattpad’s decision, but he agrees with Sims’s assessment about the impact of separatism talk, calling it both unrealistic and problematic.
“Frankly, it’s a huge distraction from the very serious issues that we have in rebuilding this economy,” he said earlier this week.
“The premier has been extremely clear in saying that he is not interested in talk of western separation. But I think it’s fair to ask, are you spending your time on (a) fair deal for Alberta and fighting foreign enemies when we really ought to be spending our time on figuring out how to get companies to invest here?”
You don’t have to read between the lines to see the criticism is directed squarely at the premier and his Fair Deal panel, which is examining ideas to give the province “a bigger voice within the federation,” such as such creating a provincial police force or an Alberta pension plan.
Kenney isn’t backing down from his assertion the province is obsessed with job creation and attracting investment, by taking steps such as reducing corporate income taxes and cutting red tape.
He is headed to London next week to promote Alberta’s energy sector to international business leaders and financial institutions.
“With respect to his worship, it’s not about the time you spend thinking about it, it’s about what you do. This is the same mayor who criticized our government for bringing in the lowest tax rate in Canada,” said Kenney.
The premier said his government didn’t create feelings of western alienation, but to ignore them would be the worst option.
Kenney also took a few shots at the mayor and the city’s fiscal record.
“What is Calgary’s strategy, giving $4 million to Parkland Fuels to move from Red Deer to Calgary … that is not an Alberta growth strategy,” Kenney said, referencing a civic grant to the company to consolidate and create about 270 jobs in the city’s downtown.
“Constantly raising property taxes is not an investment promotion strategy. When I’m sitting across from investors … and I explain to them they can immediately save by moving operations to this province on their business tax rate, that is compelling.”
The debate takes place against a backdrop where the economy continues to sputter heading into 2020. Key issues such as building new pipelines remain unresolved and federal legislation, such as Bill C-69, is creating barriers for increased energy sector investment.
ATB Financial said this week Alberta’s economy will only grow by a tepid 0.9 per cent in 2020. Many Albertans are unemployed and facing economic anxiety, but the premier is hopeful stronger growth will return next year.
“I think we have seen some real signs of hope and I believe 2020 will be an inflection point,” he added.