The Vermilion Voice was asked to join a conference call with Premier Jason Kenney on April 9, for an update on the pandemic and multiple crises that the province is facing. According to Premier Kenney, at that time there were nearly 1,450 confirmed cases in Alberta. Of those, 44 had been hospitalized (16 in the ICU), and 29 had passed away. “We are early in the curve and expect it to get significantly worse. We expect the viral peak in Alberta to be mid-May, and the peak of hospitalizations to be in late May. I believe we are in as good of place as we reasonably can be in addressing the public health threat, and I think we are well prepared. What really keeps me awake most at night is the combined economic impact of the global Coronavirus recession with the shutdown of much of our own economy, and on top of that the total collapse in oil prices and on top of that, five years of economic fragility. Unemployment has shot up by 30,000 people. This massively understates the reality. Many will show up in April and beyond. I am not trying to be a pessimist; I am trying to prepare people. We are headed for some very challenging times,” said Premier Kenney. He went on to say that the Alberta Government has committed $12 billion in a variety of economic responses to the pandemic. This includes $500 million to AHS, and billions in deferrals (for example non-residential property tax, business taxes, student loan payments, utility bills for three months, emergency isolation payments, and assistance to charities including homeless shelters and food banks). “We need to continue to feed people. The importance of our farmers and food producers is now more obvious than it has been to many urban Albertans than it has been in a long time. We see agriculture as a key part of our economic recovery strategy and we are very hopeful,” said Kenney. He said that part of the plan is to diversify, and noted that one agricultural group, is working on developing poppy crops to produce opioids in order for the health union to not have to rely on China. With energy as the nation’s highest export, he has been urging the Federal Government to fund oil well reclamation and completion. He went on to say that he feels that Saudi Arabia and Russia are effectively trying to permanently damage the price for U.S. shale and Canadian oil sands. Premier Kenney has been speaking with United States senators, congressmen and the U.S. Secretary of Energy about the need for coordinated North American efforts to defend our energy sector. Due to the oil price collapse, he expects that Alberta’s downturn following the pandemic will be deeper and longer than other parts of the world. As for his pandemic response, there will be a $1 billion increase to Alberta’s capital and maintenance budget to fill potholes and maintain provincial roads, upgrade infrastructure including schools. Kenny does not want to lose a day in construction season and said, “This is a quick way of surging money into the economy, and without having to wait for an extensive procurement process it will create thousands of jobs. This is one lifeline for people currently facing unemployment.” He went on to say that the Alberta Government plans to implement stricter border screening at ports of entry, more aggressive quarantine of people coming in, more aggressive tracing and tracking efforts. The Alberta Government plans to take additional fiscal measures this summer following the peak of the pandemic. “I truly appreciate the resolve and stoicism of Albertans during this very challenging time. I know people will grow increasingly impatient about public health orders and physical distancing measures, but we ask people to understand that this is the only responsible course of action. If we let up on our efforts to contain the virus, it would spread through Alberta enforcing and even more stringent lockdown that would do even more damage to our economy. We want to be able to reopen the economy as quickly as possible without risking a second outbreak,” said Kenney.
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