Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has announced an economic relief package to help people and businesses cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The history of this province is often one of struggling and emerging, of overcoming adversity,” Kenney told the Alberta legislature. “It is a time for us, to the greatest extent possible, to come together for one another.”
The measures include $50 million in support for those who are self-isolating but haven’t yet received assistance from the federal government.
A payment of $572 will be available for those who qualify and funds will be deposited in bank accounts by the end of next week, Kenney said. The payment is intended to bridge the gap before federal aid payments flow in April and Albertans can apply online next week.
Government will defer utility charges for residential, farm and small commercial businesses for the next three months.
Kenney said corporate income tax payments will be suspended until the end of August. The province will also defer student loan payments for the next six months and ATB Financial will offer deferrals on loans, mortgages and lines of credit for the next six months.
“We will spare no expense in fighting COVID-19 and we will win that fight,” Kenney said.
Now 119 COVID-19 cases in Alberta
He said the province has done about 15,000 tests for COVID-19 so far and the number of COVID-19 cases in the province has climbed to 119.
The province has taken measures to slow the spread of coronavirus such as closing schools, theatres, museums sit-down restaurants and bars. Kenney also declared a public health emergency in the province on Tuesday.
“Behind every decision to close a business lies lost jobs and lost dreams,” Kenney said.
“Many businesses are concerned whether they will be able to re-open their doors.”
Kenney told reporters that many of the social distancing measures may be in place until the end of May.
“Based on the velocity of this disease around the world, we can expect this to pose a very real threat to public safety for at least the next two or three months,” Kenney told reporters.
With plummeting oil prices and a struggling economy due to COVID-19, the province is facing a “disturbing and pending downturn,” the premier said.
‘Profound adversity’ ahead
Kenney told the legislature that at the end of trading Wednesday, West Texas Intermediate crude — the benchmark for Alberta — was trading at $21 US, and Western Canadian Select was at $9.
He said he had just received a projection that the average price for Brent oil in the second quarter of 2020 may be as low as $5.
“We have never experienced anything like this in the history of our energy industry, when layered on top of a massive global contraction in demand, and layered on top of five years of economic and social fragility,” Kenney said.
“Mr. Speaker, we are facing a period of profound adversity.”
Kenney told reporters that he has asked the federal government to delay raising the carbon tax and bringing in new methane regulations.
“We have an industry, to be blunt, that is basically on life support,” he said.
Kenney said the measures announced Wednesday “are just the beginning. Our actions will continue to roll out as the situation changes and it is changing hour by hour.”
More measures will be announced Thursday and Friday and into next week, he said.
“The challenges before us are enormous,” he said. “Will they require great resolve? Yes.”
The announcement came after the Alberta government approved $57-billion budget in a marathon session Tuesday night.
Earlier Wednesday, the federal government announced a massive $82-billion aid package to help Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health will give an update on COVID-19 cases in the province.