Global Intention

After university, I decided to spend a year abroad – something every student should do before they enter the workforce and inherit the conventional view of possibilities. I headed for Japan, fascinated with how this country had emerged post-WWII as a technological and economic giant. I got lucky and was asked to teach at an elementary school just south of Osaka, and this is what I learned:

Every student in Japan is taught at the elementary school age that they live on an island and that the only way to prosper is to produce goods and services for export and trade. That foundational understanding drives their whole curriculum and policy environment, and results in an entire country that is globally oriented.

Pause. Think about that for a minute. Think about the global awareness, alertness, competitiveness and connectedness that would result from multiple generations becoming globally engaged. What if:

Every student in Alberta is taught at the elementary school age that they live in a land-locked province and that the only way to prosper is to produce goods and services for export and trade. That foundational understanding would then drive the entire curriculum and policy environment, and result in an entire province that is globally oriented and competitive.

This is emerging as my new mission, core to our economic strategy, that would result in a totally new mindset, and that would be an organizing mechanism for driving wealth and prosperity for generations to come.

And that is what we need, a new mindset. For far too many years we have been far too complacent – thinking, building, trading, spending and squabbling within our provincial borders. We have developed a regional mindset, far too reliant on government, and far too disconnected from high-growth markets around the world.

The only sustainable diversification strategy is the diversification of revenue by geographic market – becoming global players – being engaged in emerging markets like China, India, Africa and Brazil that will dominate global growth in the next 20 years, as well as across higher-growth markets in North America.

Our economic future must be global – outside of Alberta. And we need to turn our attention to shaping our international competitiveness by educating our kids properly, building and maintaining economic infrastructure, investing in research and product development, pursuing international trade and investment relationships, and aligning multi-level government resources to connect our businesses to opportunities in international markets.

Japan had the plan, the commitment and the urgency.

We need to do the same.

Talk to the Customer

When sales were down and anxiety was rising, my ol’ boss George Goeders at Procter & Gamble used to say to me, “You can’t solve it by sitting in here, get out there and go talk to the customer.”

Words to remember. Thank you, George.

That is why this past week was so refreshing. During continued decline of the stock market and energy prices, our two Edmonton Liberal MPs, Randy Boissonnault and Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, were busy out talking with customers – the right thing to do.

Eight roundtables held at the Shaw Conference Centre plus three others exposed the ideas and concerns of business owners, union employees, entrepreneurs, youth, academia, local government and local families. The MPs came well prepared, the attendees came well prepared, and the dialogue was rich, focused and on point for today’s realities.

And these weren’t the “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” kinda consultations. These were well prepared, well facilitated, well organized engagement sessions where there was an openness to new ideas and an understanding that no one knows all the answers.

What was interesting was that although our MPs desperately want to help and roll out some magical program that solves everyone’s economic problems, there was a greater understanding that the real role of government is really to create the environment where entrepreneurship and investment can best flourish.

Keeping taxes low, eliminating unnecessary regulation, opening new markets, promoting the Canadian brand, reducing the size of government and hiring entrepreneurial thinking people into the public service all create that environment where people want to invest and take risks … things that consistently employ people and create wealth.

It is a powerful motivator when government leaders are promoters of economic growth and prosperity, and powerfully concerning when they sit behind closed doors alone trying to figure out how to squeeze more tax from the system.

Getting out and taking to customers always results in better solutions.

Thank you, Randy and Amarjeet for kicking off your leadership with the right approach.

Structure Follows Strategy

It has been a long time since Alberta had a Ministry of Economic Development & Trade, and it is long overdue. The announcement by Premier Notley last Thursday brought cheers from many across the province, as we can now establish focus and resources towards our most pressing economic issues:

  1. Building a culture of risk-taking and entrepreneurship in businesses big and small;
  2. Developing revenues, trade and investment from beyond our borders;
  3. Unlocking the value of our resource assets in mutually beneficial ways; and
  4. Leading an innovation system that is relevant and respected across Canada.

We have been talking about these four simple priorities for years as part of our provincial strategy; however, the ministerial structure never followed the strategy and past ministries lived through endless leadership changes and budget uncertainty.

This was a much needed change and, when led by a strong Minister, Deputy Minister and Premier’s Advisory Committee on the Economy, I believe we are now off to a great start.

The old models of economic development, diversification and innovation have not brought success or change, and I look forward to working with this new ministry to compete and win in today’s marketplace.

I am often hard on our government because I have high expectations. This is a timely and prudent move, and I compliment this kind of thoughtful stewardship.

I look forward to helping bring back our excellence.

Why Are We Waiting?

There’s a nervousness growing on the streets and in the conversations happening in our coffee shops across Alberta. There is concern and angst among people who are typically risk-takers, adventurers and entrepreneurs.

And it’s becoming infectious. And it’s becoming concerning.

Alberta has a long history of an unusual economy – filled with highs and lows, droughts and floods, journeys and discoveries. It’s been a land of opportunity between periods of hardship, and our culture of camaraderie and cooperation has prevailed when times were most tough. And we’ve always fought through it, together.

Optimism is a key virtue of living here, as is hard work. There is no room for entitlement, and pointing fingers and complaining leaves you sitting very alone. If something needs fixing, we fix it. If something needs doing, we do it. And if someone needs help, we help them. It’s pretty simple.

So why has developing a budget and a policy framework become so difficult?

In today’s world of economic uncertainty, our individuals, families, businesses, farmers and non-profits all need some help, some guidance, some direction in terms of what they can expect … such that they can plan and make decisions that positively affect their future.

Instead, we’re playing politics and waiting for a federal election before taking care of our own?

That’s certainly not the culture that’s made us successful. That’s certainly not how we build our province. And that’s certainly not any form of leadership.

People expect more. And when you can taste fear hovering in the air … people need action.

Let’s see some leadership and some action … please.

Relative Advantages at Risk

Like many, I watched both the Canadian and U.S. political debates last week. And like many I shook my head at the shameless pursuit of these potential leaders to get their media sound bites, as opposed to the much needed presentations of progressive economic, environmental and social policies that will advance our respective nations.

In Canada, I blame that on the debate format that allowed for multiple microphones to be on at the same time. In America, I blame that on the presence of Donald Trump.

But as the various caricatures struggled for air time, one thing became incredibly obvious:

Canada’s opposition leaders are on a path to creating an uncompetitive, bureaucratic, socialist state while opposition leaders in the United States are passionately committed to making the American economy the most entrepreneurial, innovative and competitive economy in the world.

And this should concern Canadians.

It should concern us because the advantages Canada has built up during the Obama Administration are at risk, and at risk of reversing rather quickly.

Advantages are relative. And, just as Canada has been successful in the attraction of business, people and investment relative to the U.S. over the past eight years as the Obama Administration was increasing debt, deficits, taxes and bureaucracy … we risk losing our advantage if we start doing the same.

For me, there are only three ballot questions:

  • Do we want to be a high-tax or a low-tax jurisdiction?
  • Do we want big government or small government?
  • Do we want to be a social welfare nation or a globally competitive nation?

I don’t advocate for any one political party – they all have their faults – but I do love my country and all of her potential. We have the world’s second largest land mass with a well-educated and peaceful population and an economy that is inter-connected and inter-dependent from coast to coast. We have the strongest banking system on the globe and a quality of life that ranks us consistently among the Top 5 nations, and consistently considered the most desirable country in the world.

Yes, we have massive work to be done in the areas of Indigenous rights, environmental stewardship, infrastructure investment in our cities and safe energy production and distribution. But, these next steps in Canada’s evolution can only be done on the back of a strong economy where Canadians are all productively working with small, medium and large scale competitive companies and on projects that will build a stronger nation.

From what I saw at the debate the other night, the Canadian opposition leaders are enamored with the Obama Administration, while the American leadership hopefuls are enamored with what we currently have in Canada.

America needs change.

In Canada, we should be seeking improvement … not change.