Monday, July 06, 2009

Stelmach Premier's Council for Economic Strategy is a Smart and Timely Move.

It is a positive and profound move by the Stelmach government tap into some great minds and invite some fresh thinking into the future of Alberta. The Premier's Council for Economic Strategy differs significantly from the Klein era efforts in the Growth and Future Summits. Both events produced some worthwhile and interesting outcomes. But there was no real political will in those day to pursue anything forward thinking. It was all about reducing deficits and debt as fast as possible. The future would have to take care of itself as we focused only on the present fiscal agenda of the province in the Klein days.

I think the current Stelmach initiative is a forcus on foresight and that is significantly different. First it is intentional whereas the Klein efforts were mostly damage control or political response arising from musing of the former Premier. Second I assume there is positive political will to pursue the possibilities that will emerge from the PCES. Finally, the participant in the Stelmach process are past being impressive they are accomplished but also wise in the ways of the larger world and the changes that are bearing down on all of us.

There are 12 members of the PCES and they are all noteworthy and accomplished people with a range of expertise and a depth of experiences. Two PCES participants that are particularly impressive are Sir John Bell (Oxford and Stanford) and Juan Enriquez (Harvard) who are deeply involved in genetics and genomics but in very different ways. These are not the conventional kinds of minds one would by default apply to pondering the future of Alberta given their backgrounds. That is exactly why they are impressive appointees to the PCES.

I have met Juan Enriquez and been exposed to is fertile and curious mind over lunch and in other conversations. I have to admit I am very impressed with anyone who presents at a TED Conference and Juan has done so many times on a range of topics. A YouTube search of Juan Enriquez will give you a sampling of this man's mind.

Alberta is poised for a new era and ought to be leading toward that new era. We have an educated, diverse, young, healthy and prosperous population. We are sitting on the largest reserve of fossil fuel energy resources on the planet along with a stable government and easy access to the American market. Hewers of wood and drawers of water are not sustainble economic nor environmental presumptions for Alberta's future any more.

In the past this energy sector success has lead us to only consider the low hanging fruit of conventional oil and gas development. With the move to oil sands development and the synthetic oil and now synthetic natural gas coming from coal deposits we have potential for some adaptive foresight opportunities for the province. There are social and environmental consequences to growth as we have seen particularly form the last boom. A more integrated, full cost accounting and longterm lifecycle view has to become the new norm for defining progress and prosperity for Alberta.

What is also needed to secure a prosperous future for Alberta is a new mindset. That means we need to explore options beyond energy and options to look at energy in a new way, including new markets in addition to the Americans. A prime option for a new mindset about markets and opportunities is for Alberta to look seriously at India. My business partner, Satya Das, recently wrote a paper on the potential for an Alberta-India alliance you will find interesting.

I am very encouraged by the formation and composition of Premier Stelmach's Council for Economic Strategy. I am even more encouraged by its mandate to seek out and "develop ideas to ensure Alberta's continued prosperity and quality of life over the next three decades."

I see this initiative as a new pioneering spirit designed for the new times we are facing and about to face as a province. I plan to revisit the Growth and Future Summit reports but only for some background and context of past thinking. What we need is new thinking that may even be foreign to the typical Albertan consciousness. That is what I hope to see for the PCES and with men like Bell and Enriquez on board I am pretty confident that will happen.