Canada’s finance minister offered few specifics following pre-budget consultations in Calgary on Friday, but stressed he is listening to the concerns of Albertans.
Bill Morneau met with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, oil and gas representatives and university students before taking questions from the media, which ranged from infrastructure, equalization payments, employment insurance and budget timelines.
“It was frank and people expressed real concerns about the current state of the economy in Alberta. There is clearly a worry among people in this sector, that they do need to find a way to get access to tidewater, and I stated our government’s support for initiatives to find a way to do that,” he said, speaking of the talks with energy representatives.
The government has pledged $5 billion in infrastructure payments for the next two years and while Morneau didn’t get specific, he said his party recognizes that there are projects that can be started in the short-term.
“Projects that can not only improve the economy over the long run, but that can stimulate the economy in the shorter run,” he said. “Our aspiration is to get going on some projects as rapidly as possible.”
Morneau said despite the urgency some may have of knowing what the government is going to do, he wouldn’t want to rush delivering the budget.
He was also asked about the frustration some Albertans feel regarding equalization payments, as much money has been given away by Alberta to other provinces and during the downturn it isn’t coming back.
“It’s not a surprise, but I want to remind you that we’re focused on growing the economy and our best way of dealing with a challenging situation is to make investments that can improve our economy, so that we can grow the size of the pie for all Canadians,” he said.
With Alberta dealing with thousands of layoffs, Morneau was asked if the government is considering extending EI benefits.
“The employment insurance system is of course an important buffer for people out of work and we will be thinking about all sorts of policy measures that we can take in order to improve the situation for Albertans,” he said.