By Heather Cameron
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On June 29, 2023, Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors Devin Dreeshen and his Press Secretary, Jesse Furber, hosted a virtual media roundtable to share information about several important issues currently affecting Alberta.
The things discussed in the federal provincial territorial infrastructure funding meeting included a potential strike at the Port of Vancouver, a greater need for communication between the provincial and federal governments, Alberta’s national and global potential, and recent changes to Alberta’s GED license program.
“The federal government looked at their programs, specifically the infrastructure transportation programs that they offer, and they’re looking at changing their funding formula and the program delivery model that they have with provinces,” Minister Dreeshen said. “So they wanted input from the provinces of what we as provinces would like to see in that fund. I stress from Alberta’s standpoint, and I think it was unanimous from other provinces as well, that we wanted the most amount of flexibility as possible.”
Minister Dreeshan stated that when it comes to priority setting of what infrastructure is deemed important, transportation projects are priority for the province and that decision should be made by the provincial government and not the federal government. Minister Dreeshan emphasized that there shouldn’t be any federal strings attached or the federal government narrowing the types of projects that could receive this type of funding.
A looming strike at the Port of Vancouver, Minister Dreeshan said, was also another heavy concern at the meeting.
“With the Port of Vancouver having over $40 billion worth of Alberta exports leaving that port on an annual basis, it’s vitally important for Alberta’s economy to make sure that there isn’t a work stoppage, that a union strike wouldn’t grind that port to a halt,” Minister Dreeshan said. “If it does, it would have a whole bunch of reverberating issues for Alberta’s economy.”
Those issues, Minister Dreeshen, would include what doesn’t get shipped on the days of a strike, the cascading effects of boats being caught up in port, having to pay to merge, Canada not being as reputationally seen as a good supplier of goods around the world, and possibly losing out on deals on global exports.
Factors contributing to the possibility of a strike, Minister Dreeshen said, are articulating wages and hours. These are among many things that employees have asked be addressed, Minister Dreeshen said.
“When it comes to the importance of the port, it is a critical infrastructure asset,” Minister Dreeshen said. “It is Canada’s number one port and it’s vitally important that it remains operational.”
Unfortunately, workers at the Port of Vancouver began to strike on June 1, 2023 and the strike is currently ongoing.
Minister Dreeshen said. “Back to work legislation should be on the table to make sure that Canada’s number one port, which is the Port of Vancouver, doesn’t shut down.” Minster Dreeshan said.
Minister Dreeshen said that that another major issue currently associated with the Port of Vancouver is a lack of provincial representation on the board of the Vancouver Port Authority. This issue was something, Minister Dreeshan said, that he raised with the federal government and his concerns were echoed by both the governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“Currently, there’s 11 board of directors on the Port of Vancouver, but only one of the 11 represents the three prairie provinces,” Minister Dreeshan said. “We alternate who appoints the one representative from the Prairie provinces. However, when you look at the prairie provinces and the volume of exports and the value of exports that we provide to the Port of Vancouver, it’s nearly 80 percent of everything that gets exported from the Port of Vancouver. However, we only have 9 percent of the board representation that determines very important decisions of the port and how it operates.”
Minister Dreeshan said that the Government of Alberta requested a stronger voice on the, the board of directors not just for Alberta, but also for Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“When it comes to just federal Alberta relations, the federal government needs to step up to make sure that when it comes to trade international trade, they’re helping Alberta work with other provinces and territories to get our products to market,” Minister Dreeshan said. “I think it’s about 600 billion that Alberta has net contributed to Canada over the last few decades. Obviously when federal money comes back, that’s great, but year after year, we send more money to Ottawa than we ever get back from Ottawa. Alberta should be able to not even just get its fair share, but to be able to keep more of its own resources.”
An example of how Alberta is not being treated fairly by the federal government, Minister Dreeshan said, can be found in the national trade corridor program that the federal government introduced a few years back.
“Alberta actually submitted nine projects to it,” Minister Dreeshan said. “One was building a road or helping the province of Alberta build a road from Fort McMurray, essentially across to Grand Prairie on, on Highway 686, but that was declined. And the other eight projects that we applied for have either had no response on or have been denied by the federal government. So Alberta’s batting zero for nine. I think that’s an issue that I think we need to continue to work on with the federal government so that we do get attention for some of these national trade corridor projects or other types of projects. When you look around the country, you see other provinces receiving support from the federal government, but the province that contributes the most doesn’t seem to be getting anything. That is something that we are continuing to work with the federal government to make sure that we can at least get some support from them.”
Alberta, Minister Dreeshan said, has tremendous potential and is blessed with so many natural resources that the world wants, whether it’s oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, the mines and minerals, or other things.
One of Alberta’s resources that were recently developed, Minister Dreeshen said, was an update to the GDL program that came into effect on April 1, 2023. Minister Dreeshen says that because of the updates, those who do not have suspensions or demerits on their licenses can exit the GDL licensing program without having to take the advanced road test or pay the $154 fee. That change, Minister Dreeshan said, makes it easier for Albertans to upgrade their license and also keeps a high, stringent level of safety within the province of Alberta.
“I think Alberta has tremendous potential,” Minister Dreeshan said. “We we’re obviously blessed with so many natural resources that the world wants, whether it’s oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, mines and minerals, or other things, our strategy is impressive when you look at all the types of minerals that we have that the world is needing. So we are really in a such a blessed place. We just need to make sure that we can develop all these resources and enrich our society by being able to develop them and get the royalties and the taxes off of them to pay for services that Albertans need and want.”