I just read about Ralph Klein’s legacy in Alberta after 14 years as Premier and I got a little personally nostalgic.
I don’t know if I blogged about this before but shortly after Klein got into power in Alberta, somebody from the Alberta Premier’s Office called the New Brunswick Dept. of Economic Development & Tourism and because it was lunch hour in Fredericton there was no one available to take their call so the receptionist put them through to me.
I don’t remember the person’s name but he announced who he represented and said that they wanted Ralph to be like ‘Frank’ and he wanted my advice. What should Ralph do to be able to attract business to Alberta like Frank in New Brunswick. At the time Alberta was in quite an economic pickle and the age old Alberta challenge of building a non-oil & gas economic base had reared its head.
I gave my advice and said Ralph should be front and centre and be the top sales guy for the province. They should target some key sectors and yadda yadda yadda (all the stuff you read here). The gentleman thanked me and we never talked again. However, not much later, oil prices started to rise again. The oil sands started. The rest is history. Alberta under Klein had the most prosperous decade+ in history.
I still hear the occassional warning from folks in Alberta talking about ‘diversification of industry’ but with 70 years of oil & gas left, I don’t think it’s really on the agenda these days.
I have to admit it was neat to have a Premier that was well known for trying to attract business to New Brunswick. I used to travel to Toronto and have the cab driver tell me how much he admired Frank McKenna. Around 2002, I went to Toronto again and had the cab driver ask me whatever happened to Frank. Who was your Premier now?
Then last year the Quebec Minister of Economic Development said in a press conference that he wanted Quebec to be more like Frank McKenna.
It’s hard for a guy like Lord to follow McKenna. The fact that McKenna went on to be more popular post politics doesn’t help.
But I’ve always wondered why Lord didn’t steal that page from McKenna’s book. Didn’t make the economy a key focus. Didn’t ‘hustle’ for business just like Frank.
In my opinion, the good politicians are the ones that can steal the best ideas from other parties while building their own platform. Calling for a ‘made in New Brunswick’ solution to economic development in 1999 was wrong then and wrong now.
In 2006, we have had seven years of Lord. Seven years of unprecedented government spending. And cuts to economic development funding.
That says a lot.
At least to me.
Back to Klein.
I still think Alberta would be wise to use some of that multibillion dollar Heritage fund to support the growth of a few new economy industries – some that are already in a nascent stage in places like Calgary and Edmonton.
But that would make Alberta even stronger ecnomically and more likely to start pulling our IT and other new economy workers.
So, upon reflection, vive le oil.
Let’s hope that our politicians can figure out the importance of growing non-oil industries here.