Learning from Alberta’s Past to Inform our Future

December 7, 2020 | By The Next 30

In just a few weeks, the Possibility Panel and its 30 panelists will gather online to discuss a wide range of challenges and potential solutions for Alberta. But before that happens, we’re starting with a look back to the things that have worked in the past — and what we can learn from them. On Tuesday, December 8th, beginning at 7 pm, you’re welcome to join the more than 300 people who have already registered for our second warm-up session called “30 Things to Celebrate.”

In order to get the creative juices flowing a bit, we asked three of our panelists what they wanted to celebrate from our past. Here’s what they had to say.

Salimah Kassam:

“I’ve seen some policy progress in the area of poverty reduction by reducing the hidden costs of living on a low income. Examples are: tackling payday loan cycles through the 2015 implementation of the  Act to End Predatory Lending, an increase to the amounts of money we allow people living on low incomes to save in their RRSPs/RESPs before having government income support clawed back, and the 2012 AISH increase.”

“What can we learn from these policy wins? We know that organized dedicated advocacy and community /non-profit / grassroots movement making over time can create systemic change. The wins above all happened because social sector policy professionals developed research and continuously outlined the economic cost to the government of doing nothing and because citizens got involved and engaged in calling for change.”

Todd Hirsch:

“The policies and the programs that the provincial government in the 1960s and 1970s, like the AOSTRA program, was really the catalyst for developing Alberta’s oil sands. I don’t think the oil sands would have developed without that program. And with that jump-start, through the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s with the right price signals and better technology, the oil sands work now as a commercial enterprise — although maybe not at today’s prices.

It’s that kind of moonshot mentality that’s missing. I know we live in a very different world today, and no government has any money like we might have back then, so I know the calculus is different. But I do miss that attitude where we see potential to develop something as a province, and the provincial government designs a well thought out program to jump-start it. Even the development of agriculture — none of that would have happened without heavy public sector support at the beginning.

Today, fast-forward to 2020, and we are as a province transitioning beyond hydrocarbons, as we need to. And I see glimmers of it every now and then, with the provincial government’s strategy for geothermal and hydrogen. But I miss those programs in the past where it was a moonshot effort — a real herculean effort to make something very improbable happen.”

Carman McNary:

“In a way that was completely not-partisan and non-dogmatic, [Peter] Lougheed bought an airline for the explicit purpose of building Calgary as a hub and changing air travel in Canada. That continues, to this day, to have an impact on the whole province.

“There’s two ways to measure any investment at a government level. One is the investment return, and on that basis there would be lots of Albertans who would say ‘why did we buy an airline and not make money on it?” Lougheed wasn’t a stupid man, so why did he do that? He did it for the second reason that governments make investments: because of economic impact and strategic change. And that was achieved in spades. The identification of those sorts of opportunities, and focusing on the ones that have the greatest impact at the least risk, is something that should be non-partisan, non-dogmatic, and approached for the good of the provincial economy.”