Alberta has been a good place to grow up. University of Calgary students who graduated from Alberta's education system know, relative to their peers in other provinces, that they were provided with an adequate education to begin their lives. For those who came from other places -- either from across Canada or around the world -- Alberta has been a good choice in which to undergo one's post-secondary education.
The Progressive Conservatives are set to elect their leader in the coming week and the Liberals chose theirs last week. The next premier and leader of the opposition will almost certainly come from those two parties. Regardless of the person who wins, there are some questions all Albertans should be asking about our future. The answers to these questions will shape Alberta for decades to come.
An issue Albertans must address is the future of the province's economy. Debates around the economy often involve two positions: those who argue that the oil sands should continue to be the central focus until they run out, or the oil sands must be shut down as soon as possible to make way for new technologies to replace Alberta's reliance on oil, coal and natural gas. These extreme positions, however, fail to recognize the realistic middle ground. To be sure, the oil sands aren't going anywhere, but both government and industry have an interest in exploring new ways to produce energy and new ways for the economy to stay prosperous.
The energy sector knows that the oil sands are a finite resource, so it's in their interest to invest in alternative energy solutions. The government can encourage this by creating incentives for research and development. Still, there's only so much the government can do -- efficiencies in extraction pay their way, which is why prudent companies are already exploring alternatives.
What will government do about the other sectors? Over the last decade Alberta has become a much more diverse place in which to live. Calgary, specifically, has begun shaking off its oil-centric, conservative, only-landscape-artists-are-real-artists reputation. It isn't hard to see how these changes are for the best: places improve when citizens are willing to question the status quo. And this doesn't always have to mean socially-progressive policies -- people willing to exchange ideas in any area means creative solutions to problems of any sort can be found.
It's hard, of course, to point to a set of reasons -- let alone government policies -- that have encouraged the positive changes to Alberta we have witnessed. There's also a risk that if the government tries to encourage a change of image it will have the opposite effect. Discussion, rather than stagnation, is the answer.
There are some areas, such as education, that need more support from the government. While there's no denying that much of Alberta's success is due to its environmental resources, the province's future depends on ideas. Assessing the state of post-secondary education in Alberta, many are quick to note that universities are underfunded. Politicians say as much all the time, yet few are willing to do anything about it. Not only must the quality of education increase, access to education must as well. Provincial student loans shouldn't be based on the income of one's parents, for instance. Finding ways to encourage entrepreneurship will also help students who graduate with great ideas.
It's convenient for politicians to focus on policies that will be popular in the short-term. Too often the attractiveness of this approach means that the problems we can deal with now go unsolved because the government lacks the courage to address them. Inspiring, brave leadership can change that. It's worth the effort.