Alta. organizes rural development meetings

The Government of Alberta wants to hear from rural leaders on how best to promote economic recovery and development after what was the province’s worst downturn in nearly a century.

More than 20 online meetings will take place from late October to December targeting more than 900 different stakeholders and organizations, said Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development Nate Horner.

Meetings should involve community leaders, members of chambers of commerce, as well as leaders of Aboriginal and Métis-owned businesses.

Horner said that “the goal is just to make sure that Alberta’s economic recovery is felt in rural Alberta, so that’s pretty exciting.”

An online survey will be provided to those who cannot attend the meetings.

As associate minister, Horner said he was working with Employment, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer. Public comments gathered during the initiative can be summarized in “some kind of report” or document, Horner said.

“I don’t know what it will look like exactly yet.”

Alberta did not have a Minister of Rural Development for almost 10 years until Horner was appointed on July 8. The provincial government wants to make sure the tools to attract investment will work for rural Alberta, “which is why we think it’s important to start with consultation.”

While the initiative is a politically safe move on the part of the provincial government, it should generally be viewed positively, said Lars Hallstrom, director of the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy at the University of Lethbridge.

However, expectations must be tempered by “a certain skepticism given the history of provincial governments over the past decades in terms of effectively achieving rural economic development in terms of economic diversification, economic growth, labor retention. (and) different types of capital attraction. ,” he said.

Although it is based on the work of a task force that also solicited the opinions of hundreds of people, the rural economic development action plan published in 2014 by the last Progressive Conservative government ‘did not never really resulted in a lot of action, ”Hallstrom said.

Part of the problem is that every government in Alberta keeps coming back to “the same playbook of finding an anchor industry or company,” often outside of the province. As a result, the aim is to ensure that “the right players are satisfied” to attract investment, he said.

The resulting economic development projects not only often tie rural Albertans to boom and bust cycles, but they can result in significant environmental costs, he said, highlighting the history of mining. coal in the province.

“These types of addictions don’t really build long-term sustainability and resilience. They can actually make things worse.”

There is a need to better understand the barriers to rural innovation, “whether regulatory, social or financial,” said Paul McLauchlin, president of rural municipalities in Alberta. “How do we chart a clear path for (people) to get to work and get things done? “

He praised Horner’s appointment to provincial cabinet, as well as the Government of Alberta’s recent broadband initiative. It will provide up to $ 150 million to expand or improve Internet access for rural, remote and Indigenous communities, helping to promote economic diversification.

However, rural Alberta municipalities announced in February that they collectively owed $ 245 million in unpaid property taxes from oil and gas companies. These municipalities are responsible for the rural roads and bridges that producers rely on to get their goods to market.

The RMA has called for legislative changes to give municipalities the legal means to recover what is owed to them. Government House Leader Jason Nixon told an Oct. 25 online news conference that a bill will be introduced by Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver “focused on tools to recover overdue taxes owed by well sites. He will have more to say specifically about this bill. in the coming days.”

McLauchlin said municipalities must also diversify their tax bases to reduce their dependence on oil and gas. However, Alberta hasn’t always done a good job promoting things like value-added agriculture, he said.

“And I think in order for us to become resilient, whether it’s climate change or the global economic market, I think we find that we need to become more self-reliant … and make sure that we have secured value-added export trade. , and not the shipment (raw products) to another country. “

This will likely involve better integration of different parts of the rural economy, he said. He pointed out that planners are increasingly considering how to use everything from geothermal and renewable energy to waste heat from oil and gas production, to help boost other sectors such as value agriculture. added as part of rural industrial parks.

Such initiatives could also include the provision of wastewater in areas where water is limited, he said. “And nothing becomes waste anymore, but you actually think of it as a circular system.”

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