In his speech to the Olds Rotary Club and local chamber of commerce last week, Senator Doug Black, from Alberta, called for urgent action to diversify the province’s economy.
Alberta 2.0, as he calls it, is his vision of an economy that’s less reliant on the energy and resource sector.
In May, Black partnered with the University of Alberta’s business school dean Joseph Doucet to host the first Alberta 2.0 conference. Their goal is to develop a “road map for Alberta to develop a more resilient economy,” he said in an interview before his speech.
That first event drew 60 delegates from post-secondary institutions and multiple industries. Deron Bilous, minister of economic development and trade, was one of those who attended.
Out of that conference will come a report that will be presented to Alberta Innovates, the provincial government agency responsible for funding innovation and leading the charge toward economic diversification.
Black wants the government to approve their vision – and soon.
“We’re pushing this as fast as we can. Time is not our friend here,” he said.
There are three sectors Alberta can become world leaders in, and through them, create jobs, Black said.
The first is value-added agriculture, where the province can take advantage of innovation taking place at schools like U of A, University of Lethbridge and Olds College. Another is clean technology; Black said there are vast quantities of untapped, uncommercialized research in that area. Last, he proposes health care.
Black also calls for greater collaboration between government, industry and academia, each with a role to play. Educational institutions do the research, business acts on it and government maintains an environment conducive to competition.
That includes keeping taxes low and reducing unnecessary regulations, with the senator saying the province should adopt a law similar to the federal Red Tape Reduction Act, which he sponsored. Black suggests that for every new regulation introduced, three should be removed.
“Believe me, it’s not going to be hard to find stuff to take off the books. I want to go further. I think for every new regulation that’s introduced, three come off,” he said.
“Because we’re overregulated and regulation is an obstacle to business. It’s an obstacle to innovation and it’s an obstacle to creating Alberta 2.0.”
However despite urging a shift away from an economy susceptible to low commodity prices, Black said building pipelines to carry the province’s resources to market must still be the highest priority. Alberta’s dominant industry cannot be replaced right away.
“Our prosperity depends, at least in the foreseeable future, it depends on exporting oil and gas,” he said. “But we have to pivot from that to the brave new world and that’s what I’m trying to show leadership on.”