Welcome to Alberta, the land of prosperity. But that wasn’t the case for my neighbours’ apple tree this year. An untimely frost caught the apple blossoms by surprise and stalled its growth for the season. A growing tree that has survived harsh winters, disease, and drought. It has done well and the family has eaten fresh apples right off the branches. They won’t this fall.
The same is happening in Alberta. We’ve enjoyed the fruit of our labours for decades. Farmers, resource developers, builders, community groups, and service agencies have weathered the seasons and difficult conditions. Countless men and women have worked in bitter cold and under blazing heat to help this province grow. There is resilience here. But it just takes one misguided government to step too far into the orchard to put a halt to it all.
All too often those who make decisions on our behalf are forgetful, taking growth for granted. They shop in the produce aisle, taking their bags of apples, blissfully unaware that ‘harvest’ they are enjoying is the work of others. It is the result of a finely-tuned network of people who worked together, in just the right conditions, to grow something extraordinary. Governments can forget and get lulled into the belief that industry and prosperity are a given in our province. They’re not.
Governments who are absolute in their ideology, self-righteous in their orientation, dismissive in their dialogue, and inattentive in their execution become forgetful. They stack the deck against prosperity and growth. They see the giving tree of Alberta and industry as an entitlement to exploit, not a resource to celebrate, nurture, and share. Free enterprise, that bedrock Alberta virtue, can withstand a lot. But an untimely or sustained effort to halt growth can do damage. It has and they have.
Take, for example, the new municipal planning framework in the Calgary region. New policies are getting tighter, with centralized planning restricting the organic, market driven, exciting growth that has made our cities and towns so successful. In the past, towns, counties, and cities created free enterprise policies that made conditions favourable to new innovative developments. From trendy downtown boutique communities, to thriving shopping districts, and industry that employs thousands, each municipality has found ways to attract and retain business. This organic growth, driven by entrepreneurial Albertans and welcoming municipalities has produced some of our most beloved business assets.
But this, too, is under threat. The Calgary Metropolitan Regional Board is ensuring that there is less competition. They want uniformity of housing product in the Calgary region, and reduction of alternatives to where business can locate. They do not trust Albertan entrepreneurs driven by the marketplace to design and build amazing communities and business districts, as they have done for generations. Instead, they will approve what we can build, how our homes should look, and what tire shop goes where.
This top-down bureaucratic approach to growth is not what made Alberta an amazing province, and it’s strangling our prosperity. Massive red tape, broken policies, intrusive legislation, and planning from above take a toll. Instead of producing fruit, industry will have to wait out this season. Worse yet, capital is fleeing the region for friendlier marketplaces like the United States.
Perhaps government needs a more heuristic form of education. Sadly, it will not be our rotund governments that lose out from a missed season of productive growth, but our committed Albertan families, the thinning services we’ve worked hard to create, and the people who drive our province forward – they will come up empty handed when the time comes to harvest.
But the Alberta story isn’t over. We’ll take our education, learn from this mistake, and step into our next season with new ambition. If governments return to the fundamentals of free enterprise, optimistic risk-taking, bold innovation, and care for the province we love, we will enjoy that elusive Alberta Advantage again.