LAKELAND - Brian Jean is convinced the an estimated $2.4 billion being dished out to Albertans by his provincial UCP government in its latest efforts to offset inflation and cost of living increases will benefit hard-hit communities across the Lakeland. He knows many in the province are hurting financially due to inflation and cost of living increases.
Jean, the MLA for the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, is also the province’s newly appointed minister of Jobs, Economy and Northern Development. He says building back the province’s economy must include building back the overall sense of community for every Albertan. Speaking to Lakeland Today on Friday, Jean says the funding announced by Premier Danielle Smith last week will help build back a sense of community for those hardest hit across the region and the province.
“The most important thing we can do right now is to support Albertans who need it the most … and create economic stimulus,” he said.
The funds — including $600 over the next six months for every Alberta family making less than $180,000 a year with children under 18, the same amount for seniors, and residents using Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, a continuation of the 13 cents a litre gasoline rebate, and sweeping changes to the healthcare system — are especially needed in rural Alberta, Jean says because of an emerging anomaly in economic growth he’s been seeing in Alberta’s smaller communities. Jean says there’s been a noticeable lack of “trickle-down” benefits from the rebounding oil and gas industry to help with spin-off economies in communities.
“I’m getting the sense that the oil sands companies … are doing very well, with the record profits they are making, and their people are making — but that money is not trickling down to the outside communities. It’s something that I haven’t seen before. Right now, I don’t see that money in Lac La Biche, or Fort McMurray, or Cold Lake, Conklin, Janvier … or Medicine Hat or Lloydminster for that matter,” he said.
That missing connection between large corporate success and community success is troubling. He says the gap can begin to be bridged with government assistance, while better economic planning from the provincial government will follow.
This year, he said, thanks to that same turnaround in the resource industry, the provincial government has also seen a good financial result. The government’s role is to distribute some of that wealth.
The funding is needed to kick-start families and communities — to give them the “helping hand” they need, he explains, adding that funding assistance, along with a stronger plan to bring more business to smaller markets is essential for rural survival and growth in all sectors of the economy. Part of his plan is to urge departments throughout the provincial government to look to more towards local companies when awarding contracts.
“I’d like to start with the government. They are big purchasers and we do have a local obligation,” he said.
Once communities get some economic foundation back, new growth can happen.
“We may never build back the boom economic times to where it was, so we need more new investments, he said. “There are so many economic opportunities across Alberta. I believe we have some of the best investment opportunities in the world.”
To get there, he said — switching to his minister’s hat —more “red tape” needs to be removed and more emphasis needs to be placed on education and training. His government is prepared to create that economic environment.
More challenges, more measures
Jean, a veteran of provincial and federal politics, left the public arena for several years before returning last year to make a run for the UCP top seat. He says that despite battling Premier Smith in that leadership race — and even though there were some harsh words said during the campaign, he and the Premier share many common views for Alberta. He said they also share a similar leadership style. Jean has played an active role in the new, multi-pronged approach to get all Albertans back to work. While not going into detail, Jean said the Premier is likely going to make more announcements about rebates, subsidies, and assistance in the coming weeks.
“There’s more to come,” he said, of the struggles — and the assistance, “and any good government is going to be ready for that.”
With his new portfolio, billions being given out to residents and a game-plan underway to get the province back to work, Jean says he’s in the right role to make the needed decisions.
Using his own constituency as a benchmark, and being able to spend more time in the area as the MLA, he’s ready to roll up his own sleeves and get back to business.
“That’s what I’m working on,” he said.