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Alberta throne speech turns economy's eye toward Asia

The Alberta government says the government must look pastUncle Sam and begin feeding the Asian Tiger if the province is toflourish in a quicksilver global economy.

EDMONTON - The Alberta government says the government must look past
Uncle Sam and begin feeding the Asian Tiger if the province is to
flourish in a quicksilver global economy.

In the speech from the throne
read in the legislature Tuesday, Lt.-Gov. Don Ethell announced that
Alberta will ramp up plans to expand its markets for food, oil, and
technology in Asia.


“Over the next two decades hundreds of
millions of people in the emerging markets of China and India will rise
out of poverty and demand a quality of life that comes closer to what
we enjoy here in Canada,” Ethell said.


“A major opportunity exists to expand trade and investment with Asia.”


To
that end, Premier Ed Stelmach's government plans to introduced as its
flagship piece of legislation the Asia Council Advisory Act.


When
passed and proclaimed, it will create a council to suggest ways to
expand business, education, and cultural relationships between Alberta
and countries such as Japan, China, South Korea and India.


Ethell
said the United States currently buys 85 per cent of Alberta's exports,
but noted there's a risk of becoming too dependent.


“If Alberta
is to grow to its greatest potential, we need to diversify our product
development through technology and take advantage of other markets.”


To say Alberta politics is currently in a state of transition is an understatement.


Faced
with a new rival on the right, the Wildrose Alliance, Stelmach has
already indicated that he will step down in the fall. Three of his
cabinet ministers recently quit to run for his job as premier and Tory
leader.


The Tories are not the only party holding a race.


Opposition
Leader David Swann has also announced he is stepping down after the
spring sitting. So far there is only one candidate, Laurie Blakeman, to
replace him as head of the Alberta Liberals.


The centrist
Alberta Party is in a leadership race of its own and recently got its
first sitting member in Calgary MLA Dave Taylor, who was elected as a
Liberal.


The Wildrose Alliance has a leader, Danielle Smith, but she doesn't have a seat in the legislature.


That leaves Brian Mason of the NDP as the only party leader who is in the house and not on his way out.


While Tuesday's speech signaled a session light on legislation, it won't lack for controversy.


The
government plans to bring back the master land-planning document it
passed two years ago. The Alberta Land Stewardship Act has brought
widespread criticism from landowners and opposition politicians.


The
act gives cabinet the authority to create regional land plans that can
supersede and, if necessary, eliminate competing local legislation.
Opposition politicians, led by the Wildrose Alliance, call that a
direct threat to landowner rights.


But Ethell said a makeover to the bill will fix that.


“Government
is taking steps to ensure that legislation to support the development
of regional plans fully respects landowner rights,” he said.


The land-use framework “is not intended to stop growth, but to provide for co-ordinated planning and protect the environment.”


The throne
speech will be followed by the provincial budget on Thursday. Stelmach
has already signalled the spending document will run a deficit for the
third consecutive year so that work can continue on critical road,
hospital and school projects.


While the shortfall will again be
covered by the province's multibillion-dollar Sustainability Fund,
Stelmach has been getting pointed suggestions from members of his own
caucus to balance the budget.


But Ethell said to do so would be to repeat the mistakes of the past.


“Albertans
learned the false economy of delaying infrastructure investments in
previous downturns. When growth returned, we were unprepared,
struggling to catch up and paying inflated prices.”

 
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