Food, energy, health and wellness identified as key to Alberta's future

·5 min read
Calgary's skyline glows pink at sunset last October, as seen from west of the city's downtown. (Sarah Rieger/CBC - image credit)
Calgary's skyline glows pink at sunset last October, as seen from west of the city's downtown. (Sarah Rieger/CBC - image credit)

Food, energy and medical advancements.

In short, those are the areas that could lead to a more prosperous future for the province's 4.4 million people.

The Business Council of Alberta has put together what it calls Define the Decade: Building Alberta's Future, a 72-page report that identifies several steps, or "missions," that could lead to greater prosperity.

The plan identifies the province's strengths: energy and resource development, agriculture and agri-food and medical advancements. It urges Albertans to work together to solve the world's challenges around energy and food security and wellness.

The council says it consulted with thousands of Albertans from all walks of life before it put the plan together.

"It's about a vision for Alberta by Albertans," said Adam Legge, the president of the council.

"It's about the economic development plan of how we get there over the next 10 years," he said.

Legge says the plan is different because it doesn't focus entirely on one specific sector of the economy.

"We've, in fact, framed it around prosperity missions, what are those grand humanity, global challenges, that really intersect with Alberta's strengths and our advantages and our assets," he said.

One of the world's pressing challenges is to reduce carbon emissions. The strategy suggests Alberta strives to become a global leader in carbon capture, utilization and storage, perhaps a leading global supplier of net zero oil and gas and the world's largest producer and exporter of hydrogen.

Alastair Bird
Alastair Bird

"The goals of the report are pretty much consistent with Shell's goals," said Susannah Pierce, Shell Canada president and country chair.

Pierce is a member of the report's executive task force.

"So over the next 10 years, I think you can see Shell consistent with what the report suggests, investing in low carbon solutions such as hydrogen, such as carbon capture sequestration. We are already very much involved in that in the province," she said.

Pierce noted the company could potentially export hydrogen as well.

Shannon VanRaes/Bloomberg
Shannon VanRaes/Bloomberg

"We hope to rally people, inspire people by the challenges that Albertans are going to solve, versus saying we're going to pick this sector, that sector. And that's what we think is different, unique," said Legge.

The report recommends a significant push in agriculture and agri-food production, suggesting expanding the use of new technologies, innovations and farming practices to improve food quality, quantity, sustainability and product diversity.

The third "mission," recommends Alberta become a leader in helping people live healthier lives. It suggests greater investment in health and medical care advancements. More challenging suggestions include cutting obesity rates by 20 per cent over the next decade, reducing diabetes rates among Indigenous people and establishing the lowest health-care wait times in Canada.

Equity, inclusion

One of the themes that emerged is how many people, including women, Indigenous, racialized and 2SLGBT people have not shared in the province's wealth and prosperity. The plan lays out a commitment to make Alberta a more equitable and inclusive place.

It's one of the reasons the president and chief executive officer of the Centre for Newcomers joined the group as a member of the advisory panel.

"I've heard my entire life about the 'Alberta Advantage,'" said Anila Lee Yuen.

University of Alberta/The Canadian Press
University of Alberta/The Canadian Press

"I know for a fact that that advantage has not touched a lot of racialized communities. It hasn't touched women, it hasn't touched Indigenous communities in the same way, because we're still facing a lot of systemic discrimination," she said.

Lee Yuen is hopeful the strategy will result in change. She points to the fact that 150 of the province's top business leaders and CEOs were involved in shaping the roadmap.

"The refreshing piece was, every single one of them was saying the way of our future for prosperity is to not only embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, but to ensure that we are removing any barriers to every Albertan being able to participate at leadership levels and in policy-making levels."

"That's something I haven't heard or seen before, typically, when we're doing these exercises," she said.

Heartland economic region

The Business Council of Alberta is proposing a single region made up of the province's major cities to co-ordinate investment attraction, transportation infrastructure and other economic development tools to compete with other powerhouse regions in North America, including Vancouver, Toronto-Waterloo, Silicon Valley, Houston and Denver.

It suggests a quick end to bitter regional battles that involve rural versus urban, Calgary versus Edmonton, and to work more collaboratively.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The strategy also includes a plan to improve Albertans' quality of life, by advancing truth and reconciliation with First Nations people, fostering a healthy population, attracting a diversity of people to the province and creating safe, accessible and vibrant downtowns.

It also recommends improving primary and post-secondary education, enhancing the technology and innovation sector, improving physical and digital infrastructure, reducing emissions and saving and investing more resource revenue.

The council wants to see the creation of an "Alberta Mission" agency, an arm's-length group that would connect businesses, research institutes and governments to achieve the strategy's goals.

Alberta at a 'crossroads'

Cory Janssen, another member of the report's executive task force, says, at its core, the strategy is about creating "a good life" for every Albertan. The co-founder and co-CEO of AltaML, an artificial intelligence software development company based in Edmonton, says he was motivated to get involved because the province is at a critical juncture.

"I feel like Alberta is at a crossroads," said Janssen.

He says Alberta's reputation within Canada and around the world needs to be improved — and not enough people have enjoyed the benefits of past booms.

CBC
CBC

Janssen says he wants to create a province where his teenaged kids — and other members of their generation — will want to stay in Alberta or move to the province.

He says that identifying the world's challenges and coming up with homegrown solutions will help.

"Why don't we think bigger?"

"If you believe that the best days of Alberta are in front of it, like we do, and you believe you can build it here, why don't we look at the greatest challenges that humanity is facing and really get together and just try to get down to work and actually do it in this province?"

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

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