There’s an urgency in Anne McLellan’s step, and in her voice.
When Anne talks, everybody listens. Intently.
She’s one of Edmonton’s great human-capital assets: Smart as a whip, a gifted communicator, an academic and a lawyer. She was once the Dean of Law at the University of Alberta.
She was Edmonton Centre’s representative to Ottawa for some 13 years … as a Liberal … one of a handful, sometimes the only Liberal, elected in Canada west of Winnipeg.
So she was for many years the most powerful individual in all Western Canada, always a cabinet minister, and at the end of her political career the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada.
She used that power extraordinarily well, always looking at the big picture. Canada, Alberta and Edmonton were better places for her effort.
She was so well regarded that, five years after leaving power, she is still continually called upon by politicians of all political stripes to take on major projects.
So you understand. When Anne speaks, all listen.
Anne has been talking a lot this past week, to whoever will listen.
About the future of Alberta.
She was one of 12 deep thinkers called upon in 2009 by former Premier Ed Stelmach to form The Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, with a profoundly simple yet complex assignment: To tell the government, and all Albertans, what had to be done so Albertans will have the same quality of life as we now enjoy in 2040.
That report, “Shaping Alberta’s Future,” was released in May of 2011, and was arguably the most long-sighted, over-arching blueprint for the future as has ever been produced in Alberta.
It says many things that have TEC Edmonton leaping out of its chair to offer standing ovations – about innovation, research, investing in the future, being a province of “intent” not “circumstance.”
So why is Anne on the speaking circuit, talking up the recommendations of Shaping Alberta’s Future?
Because, as a past politician, she knows how politicians think.
She knows there’s a new gang in charge of the Alberta Legislature. And the new gang, naturally enough, will want to do things the new gang’s way.
She believes the recommendations of the now-disbanded Premier’s Council For Economic Strategy are crucial to the future well-being of the province, that if this report gathers dust it will be to the detriment of Alberta’s well-being.
So after that long preamble, what does Shaping Alberta’s Future actually say?
In a talk to the Alberta Health Industry Association on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011, Anne laid out its recommendations:
You can read the whole thing by clicking on this link, or read the executive summary. By the way, it’s a clear, direct, uncomplicated read.
As this is the TEC Edmonton blog, we’ll zero in on those recommendations of interest to the innovation world.
1. That our natural resources – coal, natural gas, oil – be “leveraged” to make Alberta the go-to place in the world for carbon energy research and science, the Silicon Valley of high-carbon energy resources. “We can do this better than anyone,” Anne said. “And if we don’t, somebody else will.”
2. That to broaden Alberta’s economic base beyond oil and gas, the province picks other winning sectors – agriculture, forestry, bio-medical – and drives hard to make them world leaders. “We used to be a global leader in agricultural innovation, but we have declined and we should not let that decline continue. There will be many hungry stomaches in 30 years and we can be a leader in feeding them.”
3. To achieve scientific objectives, a stand-alone, world-class, “Institute for Advanced Technology” be created, free of university hang-ups, flexible and nimble, an unabashed profit-driven research centre to develop products that create wealth.
4. That Alberta makes the cultural or attitudinal shift to become a place of intention, not just lucky circumstance as we are now. “Austin, Finland, Singapore, Israel and other places have done it,” she said. “Why can’t we?”
The Council held a gathering for 100 young highly-skilled Albertans now working in London, England, to ask them what it would take to lure them back home. “One young man replied, ‘I want to live in a place of intention, not circumstance. Tell me what your plan is, the vision, the strategy.’ The fact is today we live in a province of circumstance.”
5. The creation of an arms-length-from-government “Shaping The Future Fund” into which most government revenue from oil, gas and coal (royalties, land leases) be placed. “Right now we are using the capital that should be put to work to create greater income in the future to cover day-to-day expenses."
Hence one of the council’s more controversial recommendations, that Albertans bite the bullet, accept higher taxes, premiums and fees to cover “day to day” living costs, in order that energy revenues be put aside for a better tomorrow.
“Beware the danger of complacency,” said Anne, in front of a pretty picture of a highway leading to the Rockies with a truck in the background. “If we stand in the middle of that road, continue to do what we are doing today, we will be road kill. If we do this right, we can be driving that truck.”
What is Anne asking? Simply that a culture of intent, not circumstance, takes root. That the new government be asked, directly and often from all sides, to think about the future and take some short-term pain for magnificent long-term gain.