Economic strategy more fantasy than reality

Ahead of the Heard

The Alberta government has released another tedious report on the future development of Alberta. It’s called the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy final report.

If that might sound familiar, it should; such day dreaming endeavours have been conjured up by the Alberta government for at least 30 years. They just go under various buzz words like; roundtable discussions, competitiveness analysis, and remember the Ralph Klein version, the Alberta Advantage. Premier Stelmach, in a vain attempt to top Ralph’s legacy, buried his old program and set out to come up with a legacy plan of his own. This economic strategy report is just a variation on the same theme and I expect more are in the pipeline. I also expect that dusty shelve space is being made ready for this report to join all the previous studies on the same topic.

The strategy report comes out with the heart-stopping conclusion that our energy resources will run out, therefore Alberta needs to diversify its economy to survive. When exactly is this calamity going to happen – next year, in ten years, in 100 years – that I suspect will need a further expensive study. It would seem the authors of this report were unaware that 30 years ago, during the Lougheed/Getty era, billions of tax dollars were spent to do exactly what this report is suggesting – to diversify the economy. I expect, back then, they too figured our energy resources would begin to run out, and they expected that to happen by about the present time. But instead, we are now sitting on more energy resources, more energy development and more energy opportunities than they ever could have imagined 30 years ago. There is only one question – what went wrong?

The report suggests that for Alberta to survive an economic apocalypse, it needs to invest in discovering new things for Alberta to produce and in becoming part of the high-tech global economy. Gosh, that would be an inspiring revelation, were it not for the reality that the rest of the advanced developed world is already trying to do the same thing. For this advice, the Alberta government paid hundreds of thousands dollars, tax payers should be outraged.

Incredibly, the strategy report virtually ignores the potential economic development of our most sustainable, most stable economic sector. It’s called “agriculture”. I note that non-trendy name, because the report replaced agriculture with the buzz words “food” and “beverage products”.

Well, here is a revelation for the members of the premier’s council: agricultural production, food processing and its spin-offs are the second largest sector of our economy. It’s been an economic powerhouse for the past 130 years and likely to be for a very long time because Albertans are very good at agriculture and food production.

And, oh yes, it’s sustainable, stable, innovative, and environmentally sound, which, by sheer coincidence, is exactly what the economic direction the strategy report is suggesting for the future of Alberta. I should say agriculture is sort of mentioned in the report, but it gets only a brief paragraph. Irrigation gets some scant mention – but it appears to be an afterthought.

The report does express interest in water usage for future development, but focuses more on conservation, ignoring the reality that most of Alberta’s water infrastructure is geared towards irrigation for – you guessed it – agricultural production.

It boggles the mind that anyone would propose conserving and storing more water and then send it to the ocean without first using it for food production. Did I mention that the billions in sustainable economic returns and thousands of permanent jobs created by irrigation was the result of an economic strategy developed for the future of Alberta about 110 years ago.

The difference between that past strategy and this latest exercise in planning fantasy is that those past visionaries understood we had to use the resources that we had available. Frank Atkins, the eminent University of Calgary economist said it best – “you have to make do with what resources you have, that’s what makes economies go.”

If we are doomed to repeat history, let’s repeat the history of 110 years ago, instead of the history of 30 years ago.

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