by Morinville News Staff

Alberta’s NDP government swore in a change of cabinet Thursday ahead of Tuesday’s provincial budget.

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Service Alberta Darren Bilous will now serve the province as Minister of Economic Development and Trade. He will also chair a Cabinet committee tasked with guiding the Municipal Government Act (MGA) review process.

Danielle Larivee takes over the roles of Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Service Alberta.

Along with the reappointments comes the creation of a new ministry – Economic Development and Trade – that will oversee the implementation of the government’s economic plan. The province says the plan will include enhanced supports for small- and medium-sized businesses, sector development initiatives, and have a strategy to increase trade, investment attraction, and market access.

“Our government will be a good partner to job creators, by supporting the development of a more diversified and resilient economy,” said Premier Rachel Notley in a release Thursday. “The new Economic Development and Trade Department will provide leadership in efforts to create opportunity and lasting prosperity for all Albertans.”

This new ministry brings work currently spread between several departments under one umbrella. The government says the ministry is primarily concentrated in Innovation and Advanced Education and International and Intergovernmental Relations, but will also be supported by several agencies, including the Alberta Innovates corporations. It is to be guided by the advice of the Premier’s Advisory Committee on the Economy.

“We need to take the qualities that have made Alberta an energy leader – including an innovative, entrepreneurial culture and a highly skilled workforce – and apply them to the challenge of building a diversified, 21st-century economy,” said Deron Bilous, Minister of Economic Development and Trade.

Bilous’ new department will also deal with coordinating and leveraging research and innovation systems to increase business start-ups and the commercialization of Alberta ideas; expanding access to capital for small and medium businesses; supporting private sector job creation; and leading Alberta’s negotiations on domestic and international trade agreements.

The move meets with the approval of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce.

“By creating a new Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, this government has made it clear that the economy is a priority,” said President and CEO of Alberta Chambers of Commerce Ken Kobly. “It’s important that we have a partner dedicated to helping grow and diversify the provincial economy, so our organization is looking forward to working with government on these initiatives to help make Alberta the best place in the country to start and operate a business.”

However, the province’s official opposition is not as confident about the move.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the diversification of the economy would not come through government intervention, but through allowing Albertans to have the freedom and financial stability to invest in new ventures.

“Wildrose knows that the people who diversify economy are our local business owners,” Jean said in a release Thursday. “Instead, the NDP have raised taxes on businesses and individuals and have begun a problematic 50 per cent increase to the minimum wage on the backs of small business owners.”

The Wildrose was also critical of the change in Municipal Affairs, the sixth in three years, and said the change would only “frustrate municipalities who are looking for stability and leadership.”

“To add insult to injury, today’s cabinet shuffle has created even more confusion in the Municipal Affairs portfolio,” Wildrose Shadow Municipal Affairs Minister Pat Stier said. “Our municipalities deserve a consistent and knowledgeable advocate who has direct experience in understanding how vitally important this ministry is to Alberta communities.”

The province’s budget will be tabled Oct. 27.

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