Reboot Alberta

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Alberta Needs to Start Thinking for a Change. Ontario Is!

I am intrigued by the Ontario government’s support for taking advantage of the current economic crisis as an opportunity to transition to a creative economy from a dying industrial age. I guess it helps that Richard Florida who writes on urban cultural creatives has recently moved from the States to Toronto as his preferred city of residence. I like Florida but prefer the deeper insights of Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson’s work “The Cultural Creatives” about similar themes.

Florida has teamed up with Roger Martin the Dean of the U of T’s Rotman School of Business to write a report commissioned by Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty to be released today. The report is Ontario-centric but is said to be transformational and transferable to all provinces and will show how to move from an industrial society to a creative one. Ontario has been studying the link between prosperity and productivity for some time now. They are clearly leading the way to add a creative link as a means to future prosperity as well. I am looking forward to getting a copy of the report and giving it a careful read.

Alberta is in need of this kind of thinking for a change. Alberta is still striving too much to sustain a sense of yesterday. For example we continue to subsidize conventional oil and gas drilling activity by reducing royalties and industry accountability for sound environmental practices and duties to reclaim abandoned sites. We have fragmented the boreal forest with well sites, seismic lies, roads and right of ways so badly that its sustainability for wildlife is under serious threat.

It is not all bad in Alberta but there are few serious signs of any significant transformational shift happening in Alberta anytime soon. We need to quit compromising to conventional industry demands and to embed a new consciousness of innovation and adventure that will take us to a new level of diversification. Examples of that kind of leadership thinking are around but they are sparse and segregated and mostly insignificant.

We have some political champions in Alberta for such a change but they don’t seem to be winning the agenda and priority battles in Cabinet and Caucus. Alberta seems more intent on perfecting yesterday with more and more concessions being granted to the conventional industries from oil and gas, to forestry to agriculture in an effort to try and sustain old models and methods in the conventional economy.

We Albertans have the necessity to adapt and change because fossil fuels have limits that are economic and environmental. We have the fiscal resources to change. We have the institutional and intellectual infrastructure and human ingenuity horsepower in our universities, technical schools and the Alberta Research Council to change.

We have a very creative group of people in our cultural industries and environmental and social services sectors as well. We can transform the province if we choose to. We seem to lack the visionary leadership in politics and business to actually engage in the new world we can see coming. We are too "successful" and complacent to have any sense of urgency and intentionality to get serious about the inevitable changes that are coming. We seem content to passively react rather than actively respond.

This recession is a perfect opportunity to revisit, revise and to shift to a new trajectory and to actively eschew the tyranny of the dead ideas of the past. Speaking of the tyranny of dead ideas, I just bought Matt Miller’s book of the same name. I intend to read it carefully. I will also be rereading Thomas Homer-Dixon’s “The Ingenuity Gap” to find a reframing of my own consciousness about these concerns about the need to rethink and transform our economy.

Time for Alberta to start thinking for a change. Ontario is on to it. Why not us?


  1. Anonymous10:56 am

    Great post, Ken, well put. It would be nice to see Alberta take the lead on a more sustainable or creative economy. It seems like any plans to try and diversify are insufficient or have completely fallen off the map.

  2. Anonymous11:42 am

    What is the initial crucial first step to get the "Trustees" to think like longer-term leaders; earn votes instead of buying votes and take the plunge!

  3. It's a great read - worthy of GOA attention.

  4. Anonymous2:03 pm

    Hear hear, Ken. I agree with your sentiment completely. For too long have our leaders been focused on catching up with the past.

  5. Anonymous10:06 pm

    Hi Ken,

    A little known 'Alberta connection' to the Ontario study by the Prosperity Institute out of the UofT business school... is Amy Cervenan.. one of Alberta's first 3 National Merit Scholars... my understanding is that she was pivotal on research for one of the sectors... Lots of bright Alberta talent in Ontario... too bad they aren't working here!


  6. Ken, I completely agree with your view here. I get very concerned when we talk about diversification, but subsume our creative economy and advanced technologies to heritage industries (kill, drill and mill) rather than viewing them as an industries in their own right. We are missing opportunities that other economies around the world seemed to have figured out - it is people that make a polity great. It is people's creativity that will fuel a polity's future. Our community needs to trust that we can do more than extract things from our land and believe we can export this knowledge to the world. I'll stop now. Yah Ken!


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