Alberta’s NDP government gets serious about economic diversification, an overdue change

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PHOTOS: Premier Rachel Notley with Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee moments after the two cabinet members were sworn into their new portfolios. Below: Labour and Advanced Education Minister Lori Sigurdson.

A key part of the business of any government is the business of business, and Alberta’s New Democratic Government recognized that unavoidable fact today with the creation of a renewed Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.

This is good news for a province mired in economic difficulties caused largely by factors beyond its borders, especially at a time when a new government that also understands the basic principles of economic stimulus is about to be sworn in Ottawa.

loriI mention this only because someone from the Wildrose Opposition is almost certain to solemnly and tritely advise us any minute now that government has no business in the business of business, yadda-yadda, and we will all nod sagely because we have heard it so many times before it’s taken on the quality of catechism.

It is sheer baloney, of course, and recognized as such by virtually all governments – including most of those that pretend otherwise for purposes keeping their corporate funders sweet, as the unlamented Harper Government did.

What the Notley Government has signalled it intends to do through the creation of this (somewhat) new ministry and the appointment of one of the NDP’s original Legislative Gang of Four to run it is get serious about diversification of the economy, instead of just trotting diversification out as a slogan at election time as the Tories used to do, and to do it in a reasonably rigorous way.

“Our government will be a good partner to job creators, by supporting the development of a more diversified and resilient economy,” Ms. Notley told the news conference in a bit of necessary boilerplate.

According to the government, the ministry will be responsible for:

  • Expanding access to capital for small- and medium-sized enterprises
  • Supporting private-sector job creation by promoting trade and investment
  • Leading Alberta’s negotiations on domestic and international trade agreements

The creation of the ministry got some bi-partisan support, with favourable comments included in the government’s publicity materials from the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association and the Alberta Chambers of Commerce.

Back in the day under premiers Peter Lougheed and Don Getty, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives recognized the need for such an approach and had a ministry of the same name usually headed by a respected cabinet minister. Ralph Klein put an end to that when he brought the era of Orwellian nomenclature to Alberta government.

It’s also significant that the government has moved the innovation portion of this portfolio into the new ministry, where it belongs, and away from Advanced Education where the Progressive Conservatives had lately pigeonholed it. It is hoped this mean universities can concentrate on what they’re supposed to do, educating our young adults and doing research, instead of worrying about spinning off commercial applications fast enough to suit the PCs’ market-fundamentalist rhetoric.

The movement of the hardworking Mr. Bilous, a former schoolteacher, to the new ministry required a minor cabinet shuffle. At a brief ceremony at Government House in Edmonton this morning, Ms. Notley introduced a new Minister of Municipal Affairs to replace Mr. Bilous in that role, Registered Nurse Danielle Larivee, and slightly modified the mandate of Lori Sigurdson, the minister of labour and advanced education.

Ms. Larivee is the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, a vast riding in north-central Alberta, and Ms. Sigurdson is MLA for Edmonton-Riverview. Mr. Bilous is MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview. This geographic reality set off a chorus of yips and yaps among newspaper columnists from Calgary, who felt the position needed to be filled by an MLA from that city.

There was a corresponding shuffle of top civil servants.

  • Jason Krips was named as Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, moving from the DM’s post in Agriculture
  • Beverly Yee became DM of Agriculture and Forestry, moving from Assistant DM in Municipal Affairs
  • Rod Skura will continue as Advanced Education DM without innovation responsibilities
  • Gitane De Silva will serve as DM of Intergovernmental Relations in Executive Council, moving from International and Intergovernmental Relations

Meanwhile, Ms. Notley’s job has been made just a little easier, it’s said here, because the federal NDP is no longer either the government or the Opposition in Ottawa any more. As a good New Democrat, I’m sure Monday’s election result causes the premier some pain on a personal level, but from the point of view of running Alberta – and seeking re-election – it means she doesn’t have to face being tarred with any locally unpopular federal NDP policy or any dumb remark made by a non-Albertan NDP MP until after the next provincial vote.

At the same time, with Justin Trudeau as prime minister, she’ll be working with a federal government that sees economic development and governments’ role in it in much the same was as the Alberta NDP.

“A majority of Canadians did appear to vote for a platform that talked about protecting and properly funding health care, about investing in infrastructure, about taking action on climate change and about renewing our relationship with indigenous Canadians so with that, there’s a tremendous amount of overlap with the position our government has taken,” Ms. Notley told the Edmonton Sun’s Matt Dykstra on Tuesday. “I look forward to making real progress on those issues with the federal government.”

Categories Alberta Politics