Ideas to make Alberta more Innovative

By Bronte Valk
CCI’s Manager of Government Affairs for Alberta

In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Canada, we all felt the turmoil. First, we felt the fear of the virus, and when the social distancing measures forced many businesses to lock their doors, we felt the economic pain of a global recession.

In Alberta, though, we were already reeling. In February, a trade war between Saudi Arabia and Russia led the global price of crude oil to plummet, causing havoc in Alberta’s energy sector.

But in the face of these daunting challenges, Alberta’s innovation leaders are banding together, determined to help lead us out of crisis by making the province a significant player in the global knowledge-based economy.

Since October, I’ve been leading the Council of Canadian Innovators’ work in Alberta, supporting leaders of scaling domestic technology companies as we advocate for government policies that will drive growth, and support a thriving ecosystem of innovative companies.

Since the cabinet shuffle in August, and the appointment of Doug Schweitzer as the Minister of Jobs, Innovation, and the Economy, the government is demonstrating a real drive to support innovation in the province. Alberta’s tech leaders are feeing this enthusiasm in the words and decisions coming from Minister Schweitzer, the Premier and other key ministers and it’s very encouraging.

As the Alberta government turns its attention to drafting the 2021 provincial budget, CCI felt it was important to submit a handful of clear, concrete policy recommendations to drive real progress in supporting domestic scaling technology companies, and make Alberta’s economic recovery more resilient.

If you’re interested in all the nitty-gritty details, you can read our full budget submission here. These ideas are tailored for the Alberta context, but most of CCI’s policy recommendations are generally applicable in every Canadian province. However, I’d like to highlight one point in particular, the first and most important proposal in our budget submission: The government of Alberta should establish a standing Premier’s Advisory Council on Technology and Innovation.

On first reading, this seems like fluff, right? Surely an advisory council can’t be the most important thing. But it really is the foundation for success in the data-driven, knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. One of the cornerstone ideas behind CCI’s existence is that we need to do a better job of getting politicians and business leaders in the technology sector talking.

From finance to forestry, energy to agriculture, you can tell pretty easily which sectors matter the most, because you can see political leaders who really understand the issues and sincerely work to do what it takes to help Canadian businesses succeed. Political leaders need to be champions for technology if we want to build a thriving innovation economy in Canada, and the first step must be for politicians to have an intimate, ongoing understanding of the innovation ecosystem.

With the other policy ideas in CCI’s budget submission, it’s clear how they will directly help scaling technology companies. Adjusting the Provincial Nominee Program so companies can more easily hire skilled workers from around the world would be a win for Alberta tech, and better access to strategic growth capital would help scaling companies to take their business from millions to billions.

But to drive meaningful success for the Alberta tech sector, what we really need is a government that understands the knowledge economy, and is actively engaged with business. To echo what some of Alberta’s top CEOs wrote in the Financial Post in September, we need a government that takes a comprehensive, strategic approach to supporting innovative companies. We need a government that’s talking to business leaders, understanding the barriers to growth, and figuring out what they can do to help.

In the past few months, I’ve been in meetings where I felt like the UCP government is ready to be a strong partner with Alberta innovators. I’m looking forward to continuing the work in 2021.

You can read CCI’s full 2021 Alberta budget submission here.

To learn more about CCI’s work in Alberta, reach out to Bronte Valk at bvalk@canadianinnovators.org

CCI is Canada’s 21st century business council, advocating for our country’s high-growth, innovative companies. Visit CanadianInnovators.org to learn more.

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