The 2019 provincial election campaign has all Albertans caught up in the dual spin cycle of political ideologies pitted against each other in an all out brawl to see who will end up on top – Rachel Notley and the NDP or Jason Kenney and the UCP.
At the Outlook, as avid observers of society, community and political trends, we feel there are a few lessons the entire province and every single Albertan could learn from the Bow Valley.
First and foremost is the lesson that just because the major industry that drives your entire economy is changing, or its continued operations in perpetuity for the future is in question – it is not all doom and gloom.
Forty years ago, Canmore’s economy was driven primarily on the extraction of coal from local mines. The town was small in comparison to today – only a few thousand residents. But when that mine closed operations, it was called Black Friday for a reason.
It meant that jobs were gone and the major economic driver for the entire community was shuttered. It was an uncertain time that forced many local residents to reassess their future assumptions.
But did the loss of a resource extraction economy mean the end of days for the sleepy coal mining town? No it did not. Did the community and politicians spend the next five years lobbying the province to return coal mining to the valley? No they did not.
What they did was rally around a new economic reality and found creative, collaborative solutions to build a future with different outcomes than had been assumed for decades. Within four years, Canmore had partnered with Calgary to bid on the 1988 Winter Olympics. With the spotlight on Canmore and the valley for the event, investments into a future with a visitor-based economy were made.
Now Canmore, along with Banff and Jasper, represent one third of total visitor spending in the province each year – approximately $3 billion. As some parts of the province manage the economic downturn of reduced investment in resource extraction, and low oil prices, in Canmore, brand new hotels are being built based on an optimistic economic outlook for the future.
Banff in the late 1980s and early 1990s was booming – and that had become a problem. Economic pressures based on the popularity of the resort community and the iconic Rocky Mountains that surround it put pressure on decision makers to consider questions like how much development is too much and how many residents should Banff have?
Did we wring our hands and complain that natural places were being sterilized from future human use? Or did we recognize that pristine intact wilderness is a value in and of itself and an important economic driver for a tourism based economy?
Every single Albertan right now is stuck on the rollercoaster of boom and bust cycle of oil prices. The future economic outlook for this province will be better served if we get off that gravy train and recognize the reality of our times – change is needed and it is hard.
We are not in any way implying the oil and gas sector should be abandoned, or that pipelines don’t play a part in realizing revenues from the extraction of resources that belong to all of us (not the major companies that take it out of the ground and sell it).
But we are at a crossroads where the assumptions of the past no longer equal a prosperous and certain future. These are difficult times that require resilience and creativity – not a return to the same policies and ideologies that tied our entire province’s success to a single industry benchmarked on the stock exchange.
The future for Alberta looks a lot like the Bow Valley right now – where you can redefine yourself and build economic success; where climate change is a reality we aggressively deal with instead of denying it exists; where no matter who you are, the colour of your skin, your gender, your religion or your sexual orientation – you are valued, respected and treated with dignity.
Some people call it the Bow Valley bubble – and we’d like to invite the rest of the province to join us in it.