Preparing For The Growth Summit

By Dennis A. Lindberg, P.Eng.

Even before Alberta became a province, members of our professions were contributing toward its growth and prosperity. It's no exaggeration to suggest that much of what Alberta is today, is a consequence of the skill, diligence and ingenuity of engineers, geologists and geophysicists. These professionals, in so many ways, have contributed to the growth, wealth creation, public and environmental protection, and to the high standard of life enjoyed by all Albertans. Thanks in no small measure to their efforts and to this province's natural abundance, there are many within Canada and beyond who wish they were similarly blessed.

We Are Well Placed

A recent Conference Board of Canada briefing paper, which assesses Canada's social and economic performance, notes that: "by any measure of socio-economic prosperity ­ be it economic wealth, material possessions, natural resources, health, education, or strong standing in the global marketplace ­ Canadians are among the richest most comfortable people in the world." I would suggest that within this fine country of Canada, we in Alberta, rank at the top of the provinces in terms of socio-economic prosperity. Our province is endowed with great riches in renewable and non-renewable natural resources in addition to our strength in human resources.

The Conference Board publications goes on to note that we have been and are going through a period of significant change, driven by rapid developments in technology, communications, trade liberalization and greatly increased international competition for our products and our services. These changes have caused hardship for many Canadians, and they can be expected to continue and almost certainly intensify.

In Alberta, we have certainly experienced extensive change over the past few years ­ in both the private and the public sector. There has been down-sizing, stream-lining, re-structuring, cutbacks, privatizing and out-sourcing. Many Albertans have faced uncertainty and hardship. Some were pushed, ill-prepared, into early retirement. A large number of our youth have faced unemployment or under-employment, in spite of their academic training and experience.

Positioned for Growth

Fortunately, our province, having made a significant move towards increased fiscal responsibility, is now well positioned for growth. The "Alberta Advantage" appears to be paying off, judging by the number of major investments in a variety of industries that have been announced recently. Many companies already are feeling growth pains with respect to finding the additional professional, technical and/or trade skills they require to meet increased demand for services and products. Recent statistics show the unemployment rate in Alberta to have dropped to 5.6 per cent , the lowest of all the provinces. Our provincial economy is indeed growing.

Growth won't stop change but it will certainly make it much easier to cope with change. And with proper planning, we should be able to avoid returning to where we have just come from!

Looking to the Future

It must be recognized that we cannot rest on our laurels. If growth and prosperity are to continue, thought must be given to how it should happen. I believe it was this recognition which prompted the Government of Alberta to plan the two-day Alberta Growth Summit '97, scheduled to take place in Edmonton Sept. 29-30.

The purpose of the Growth Summit is to find ways to achieve balanced and sustainable growth into the next century. It is an effort to build consensus among various sectors of Alberta's economy on how to foster growth and to deal with pressures associated with growth.

A great deal of planning has gone into this Growth Summit, which will focus on six broadly based sectors. The sectors are:

Premier Ralph Klein and former Liberal MLA Dr. Michael Percy, who is now the University of Alberta Dean of Business, will co-chair the Growth Summit. They have chosen six prominent Albertans to serve as facilitators for each of the six sectors. It has been the role of the facilitators to choose the delegates.

Members Are Delegates

In keeping with the approach taken in selecting delegates, APEGGA will not have a place at the summit table, per se, but that doesn't mean we won't have influence. I am very pleased to note that more than 10 per cent of the 90-plus delegates chosen by the six facilitators are members of our Association. The fact that so many APEGGA members are delegates is perhaps not surprising. After all, Association members work in all business sectors as well as in the public service. This diverse experience will provide a broad perspective on issues effecting growth in Alberta.

Importantly, the Growth Summit is not an isolated event but part of a process that is allowing Albertans as groups and individuals an opportunity - through facilitators, delegates and written submissions - to contribute their ideas and suggestions.

Opportunity for Input

A useful component of the process has been a series of mini-summits arranged over the summer by a number of groups. I am pleased to report that APEGGA took up the challenge and organized two one-day mini-summits, July 21 and 22 respectively, in Edmonton and Calgary.

The purpose of our workshops was to utilize the experience and perspectives of a diverse group of members and other invited participants to develop constructive recommendations for submission to the Alberta Growth Summit' 97.

Along with senior APEGGA members from the private and public sector, representatives of other professions, industry and business associations, and educational institutions were invited to participate. This resulted in a diverse group of about 35 participants in each of the workshops.

Breakout groups focused on identifying issues, positions and actions in response to the questions which will be posed to Growth Summit delegates for each sector. Each breakout group reported back to the full workshop and overarching issues were identified. Records from the breakout groups were compiled, condensed and reviewed with the aim of forming constructive recommendations.

Issues Identified

Some common major issues were identified by almost every breakout group. One was infrastructure. The importance of maintaining appropriate transportation, communications, utilities and other infrastructure that contribute to efficient development and production was emphasized. Having regulatory processes that are not a burden to development, but that fulfil the government's obligation to protect the public and environment were frequently mentioned. Education and training were also central to addressing issues in all of the sectors. Finally, research and development, and commercialization of research, were considered to be key components of growth.

Based on the results of our workshop, a submission has been developed and forwarded to the Growth Summit Secretariat. I believe that we have provided constructive input to the process and have helped to increase awareness of the important contributions that APEGGA members make to Alberta's economy.

A number of APEGGA members and others took time from their busy schedules to participate in our workshops. I want to thank all those members who did join us and I particularly want to recognize and thank those individuals from outside the Association who participated and provided a different perspective on issues. I also want to single out members who acted as facilitators for the workshop breakout groups and, particularly, John McDougall, P.Eng., a past president of APEGGA, who chaired both of the workshops.

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