By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local MP Glen Motz says a thorough review and potentially a Royal Commission into the pandemic response should be launched, but the result shouldn’t necessarily be more power for Ottawa to guide future response.
During a year-end press event on Monday, Motz described Ottawa’s efforts to control the public health crisis and stabilize the economy disjointed and costly.
“I don’t think history will be kind to the federal Liberals,” he told reporters, citing high
unemployment numbers and the need for more health spending and the need for better
co-ordination of pandemic health and economic efforts.
“We know that 2020 will be remembered as a tough year around the globe and certainly here in Canada,” he said. “It’s hard on everyone; on workers, employers, everyone’s had a difficult time. And Albertans, specifically, it’s another blow to the economy and our hopes.”
COVID-19 has been the overriding theme of much of 2020, and that will turn in 2021 to vaccine distribution, a hopeful ebbing of the health crisis and economic recovery.
“I see an opportunity to get back to good government – whenever you have a situation like this it’s an opportunity to look at what could be,” Motz said.
In terms of health management, it is a provincial responsibility, but since Ottawa provides federal transfers, it has some power to set conditions and levels of care, as well as overseeing health matters in First Nations and the military. Motz says provinces have done a generally
good job, but without support from Ottawa.
In economics, he said he was disappointed with what he called a lack of specifics in a fall economic update and Speech from the Throne, where the Liberals promised billions in spending past the end of the pandemic to help stabilize and restore economic conditions.
Motz said 2021 should include deep analysis of impact of new environmental regulations, the effect of rising national debt from COVID spending, and the stress on the health system during the crisis.
“We’ve learned that it’s possible to spend hundreds of billions of dollars and still leave millions of Canadians behind,” said Motz.
“Regions of this country have felt more and more separated and more things dividing,” he said, adding that Canadians have rallied during the pandemic “despite” the federal response.
“People are stepping in to help their community, and that’s great to see,” he said. “Local companies have stepped up to keep workers on the payroll … Conservatives and other opposition parties have fought to improve wage subsidies benefits, small business loans and rent relief.”
Unemployment in Alberta peaked in June with 382,000 Albertans out of work. In November that figure had fallen to 277,000, about 95,000 more than late 2019. Nationwide, unemployment nearly tripled by May to 13.7 per cent, but has since fallen back by almost half to sit at 8.5 per cent in December.
Ottawa has paid out $54 billion in a wage subsidy program meant to keep people off unemployment and businesses operating during a pandemic-related drop in revenue.
Cumulative spending, plus an expected drop in revenue like taxes, has ballooned deficit projections to above $300 billion.
That’s not sustainable, says Motz, who said more needs to be done to improve the financial outlook of the energy sector, including renewable power production.
“There’s hundreds of millions of dollars justing sitting here in the riding,” he said.
Bright spots for southeastern Alberta include strong yields for grain producers, and a deal between the province and the federal infrastructure bank to greatly expand irrigation reservoirs. Motz called the news very positive for southern Alberta and the agriculture sector, but he generally painted the infrastructure program as ineffective so far, and he called for faster approval of projects.
“There are shovel-ready projects throughout the riding,” he said.