Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the combined toll of COVID-19 pandemic, the global economic recession and the collapse in oil prices represent the greatest challenge in the province’s modern history, threatening its main industry and wreaking havoc on its finances.

In a televised address on Tuesday, Kenney warned that there is a “very real possibility” of negative prices for Alberta’s energy products. He also said measures to deal with the crises may cause Alberta’s budget deficit this year to almost triple to C$20 billion (US$14 billion).

“I cannot overstate how grave the implications of this will be for jobs, the economy, and the financial security of Albertans,” Kenney said.

Kenney also said that the province won’t be able to start relaxing social-distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus until the end of May. Once the province does start to relax those measures, it will mimic other jurisdictions like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea that have managed to both contain the virus while keeping their economies functioning, he said.

That will include aggressive mass testing to identify positive cases and those with immunity, precise targeting of close contacts, border screening, strict enforcement of quarantine orders and encouraging the use of masks in crowded public spaces, he said.

Kenney also released projections for the numbers of potential infections and deaths from the Covid-19 virus in the province under different scenarios:

  • Under the “probable” scenario, Alberta may see as many as 800,000 infections and 400 to 3,100 deaths
  • Under the less likely “elevated” scenario, the province may see as many as 1 million infections and 500 to 6,600 deaths
  • If the province implemented no social-distancing measures, it could have experienced as many as 1.6 million infections and 32,000 deaths.

“These models are not a done deal,” Kenney said. “I want Albertans to see them as a challenge. Perhaps the greatest challenge of our generation.”