Fellow Albertans, I am speaking to you from the Cabinet room in your Legislature.
In this room, elected leaders have grappled with great challenges for more than a century.
From the terrible tragedy of the Great War.
To the Spanish Flu pandemic that devasted our province a century ago.
To the economic collapse of the Great Depression and drought of the 1930s, when Alberta’s government could no longer pay its bills.
While much was lost in each of those crises, Albertans pulled together.
With equal measures of resolve and compassion, they struggled and emerged to a brighter future.
Those Albertans left to us one of the most prosperous, generous and freest societies on the face of the Earth. We owe it to them, and to future Albertans to do the same.
Now the Emergency Management Committee of Alberta’s Cabinet meets in this room to respond to the greatest challenge of our own time.
Today, we are facing not one crisis, but three.
First, the greatest threat to public health in a century, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second, the shutdown of much of the economy here and around the world, leading to a deep global recession.
Third, a collapse of global energy prices that threatens our largest industry, and with it hundreds of thousands of jobs.
All of this follows five years of economic fragility for our province.
Faced with this triple threat, our job is to save both lives and livelihoods.
Our first priority is protecting the health of Albertans.
At the same time, the huge damage to our economy – to livelihoods – is also having a real impact on the health and well-being of Albertans.
We cannot focus on either the pandemic or the economy.
The two are intertwined.
We must do everything within our power to defeat the invisible enemy of the novel Coronavirus.
The more we do to stop the pandemic now, the faster we can restart our economy, and pave a path to recovery.
Folks, this is a time for complete candour.
Tonight I will share with you Alberta Health’s current projections about the Covid-19 threat to our public health, and the depth of the economic adversity ahead.
I won’t sugar coat it.
You need to know what we are up against.
I will also share with you Alberta’s plan to minimize lives lost, and to relaunch our economy.
As of tonight, 1373 Albertans have tested positive for Covid-19.
42 are hospitalized, and 26 have died.
Our hearts go out to the loved ones of all of those lost.
May their memory be a blessing.
Our per capita number of recorded infections is the second highest in Canada – after Quebec – but that is in part because our brilliant scientists and lab tecks are conducting one the highest levels of Covid-19 testing in the world, so naturally we identify more positive cases.
That’s a good thing, because it has helped us track close contacts of those who are infected, which limits the spread.
What matters most is how many people with Covid-19 end up in hospitals, especially intensive care.
On that front, here is some encouraging news:
The rate of Albertans hospitalized with Covid-19 – and those in an ICU – is much lower than the other large provinces.
However, those provinces saw their first cases before we did, so we might still catch up to their numbers.
You’ve probably heard about the “curve” of infections. That’s the rate at which infections grow in a country or region.
That the curve in Alberta is much lower than many other parts of the world.
So far, our curve more closely resembles countries that have successfully fought the virus, like South Korea, than the sharp upward rise seen in countries like Italy, Spain, and the U.S..
But the modelling done by Alberta Health shows that we’re not out of the woods yet. Things could get much worse if we fail to follow the public health orders around social distancing and personal hygiene.
We have two models: a probable scenario, and an elevated one.
Under the “probable scenario,” we now project that Alberta will hit the peak of infections in mid-May. From the beginning of the outbreak to the end of summer we could see as many as 800,000 total infections, and between 400 and 3,100 deaths.
Under the more serious but less likely “elevated scenario” we would see infections peak at the beginning of May, with as many as 1 million total infections, and between 500 and 6,600 deaths.
These numbers can be overwhelming.
But these models are not a done deal.
I want Albertans to see them as a challenge.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of our generation.
Those numbers are not inevitable. How this actually plays out – how many people are infected, how many die, whether we overwhelm our health care system – all of that depends on US and OUR choices.
That means rigorously following simple, basic rules like these:
- Wash your hands frequently for at least twenty seconds with warm, soapy water
- Sneeze or cough into your elbow or arm
- When you can, stay home.
- Try to stay at least six feet away from other people outside your home
- Stay at home for two weeks if you are sick, or have returned from outside the country
- Wear a covering over your nose and mouth if you are going into a crowded area.
I know a lot of folks wonder if we’re over reacting.
Some say: “just let the virus run its course. Let’s just get back to normal now.”
Well here’s my response.
Our experts project that if we had no social distancing and public health orders in place, we could experience as many as 1.6 million infections, and 32,000 deaths in Alberta – as many as 640 deaths per day. Our health system would collapse under the chaos of that scenario.
Albertans will not let that happen.
Our strategy to defeat the Coronavirus is this: to push down that peak of infections as much as we can, while pulling up the capacity of our health care system to cope.
Thanks to the efforts of Albertans to follow our public health rules, we are pushing that curve down.
And thanks to our front line health care workers – our nurses, doctors and those who support them – we are expanding the capacity of our hospitals, opening up more acute care beds, ICU spaces, and ventilators.
Tomorrow I will provide more details. But for now, let me say: we are confident that our health system will be able to cope, and that we have the supplies on hand to get the job done.
We have given AHS an extra $500 million for the fight against COVID-19.
We will spare no expense to prevent the spread, while providing the best possible care to those who need it.
Now let me talk about our plan for recovery.
Albertans are under huge financial stress.
Small business owners wonder if they will ever be able to open their doors again.
Families worry about just paying the rent or the mortgage and putting food on the table, or whether there will be a job for you to return to when this is over.
Every day I hear that anxiety, the sense of powerlessness and real fear that all of this is creating for so many good people.
My message to you is that this simply cannot and will not continue indefinitely.
I want this to end as soon as you do.
But we simply cannot risk letting the virus loose in Alberta. That would create a public health catastrophe, which would force an even more stringent lockdown in the future, leaving our economy even further battered.
That means that we may have to leave our current public health orders in place until the end of May
As hard as this will be, it is the only ethical choice when thousands of lives are still at stake.
To be honest, I hope the models are wrong.
I hope that the tough measures we have taken already will allow us to begin gradually returning to normal sooner than that. But that all depends on how Albertans act in the weeks to come.
Once we are past the peak and can begin relaxing these rules, we will implement our Relaunch Strategy, our plan gradually to open up our economy while preventing a second wave of the virus.
In this we will look to the example of countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea that have managed to keep most of their economies functioning with a low level of viral spread.
Here are the key elements of our Relaunch Strategy, that we are developing right now:
- An aggressive system of mass testing, using new tests that are being developed and approved, to identify positive cases and those with immunity more quickly, so we can get people back to work. Our plan is for Alberta to turn around as many as 20,000 tests a day. We are determined to continue leading the world in testing, the foundation of our Relaunch Strategy.
- More precise tracing of close contacts of those who are infected. We have done this better than other Canadian provinces to date, and we will expand those efforts.
- Strong border screening. I believe it was a mistake for Canada to wait so long to close our borders, especially from countries with high levels of infection. While Alberta does not control who can fly here, we will deploy a much more rigorous approach than the federal government has in screening and quarantining international arrivals.
- We will strictly enforce quarantine orders to ensure compliance, including using technology like smart phone apps when appropriate.
- We will encourage and facilitate the use of masks in crowded public spaces, like mass transit.
These and other smart, focussed measures will allow us to relaunch our economy once the worst is over, while protecting ourselves from future outbreaks.
We will closely study successful countries as our guide.
Ultimately this virus will pose a great threat to human health until a vaccine or effective drug treatments are widely available.
AHS is already participating in trials, and we will do everything we can to accelerate development of effective tests, drugs and vaccines.
The end of the pandemic will not be the end of the economic downturn, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1930s.
We expect a global economic recovery from Covid-19 later this year.
But the crash in energy prices means that Alberta’s downturn will be deeper, and our recovery slower.
Our largest industry has been battered for five years.
And now Western Canadian oil has fallen as low as $3 a barrel.
There is a very real possibility that, as global inventories overflow, our energy will hit negative prices.
I cannot overstate how grave the implications of this will be for jobs, our economy, and the financial security of Albertans.
Much of this is due to the Covid-19 recession, but it has been made worse by a predatory price war led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, who are trying permanently to damage North America’s energy industry.
That is why we have begun discussions with US leaders about a coordinated defence of North American energy to protect us from the reckless actions of those regimes.
It is also why we made an historic investment to start construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline. With this, we are taking control of our economic destiny, investing with confidence in the future of our province.
We have appointed an Economic Recovery Council, made up of some of our province’s brightest minds, to develop a plan to get us through the crisis, and emerge with a stronger, more diversified economy.
And we have taken extraordinary action to help families and employers, committing $12 billion to our Covid-19 Action Plan. That includes over two dozen initiatives, like deferrals on taxes, mortgages, utility payments, and student loans; extra money for homeless shelters and charities serving the isolated; and emergency isolation payments.
We will do more, including a huge new investment in job-creating infrastructure projects.
Together with a collapse in revenues, this will have an enormous impact on our province’s finances. Alberta’s budget deficit this year may triple from $7 billion to almost $20 billion. We will face a great fiscal reckoning in the future.
I know that many Albertans are fearful of what lies ahead.
But to quote a great leader at a time such as this, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of (our) unity.”
We have strong institutions, and a culture of resilience.
The character of Albertans is coming through in countless acts of kindness.
Charities, faith groups, businesses and individuals are all fighting the pandemic
Delivering groceries to elderly neighbours.
Babysitting so that essential service workers can go to work.
Contributing to food banks and homeless shelters.
Donating medical supplies like masks and sanitizer.
We are showing what we are made of.
My friend Preston Manning – whose father Ernest Manning occupied this office for 25 years – recently shared with me an observation.
In a fierce prairie storm, he said, cattle often get spooked, turn tail, and try to run from it, getting separated and lost.
But the buffalo, which Indigenous people have always revered as a symbol of life on the prairies, herd closely together and face the storm head on, coming out of it strong and united.
That captures who we are, and how we’re going to get through this.
Keep safe at home.
Keep in touch with your loved ones.
And keep an eye out for your friends and neighbours.
We will get through this storm, together.
Thank-you, and God bless Alberta.