Change is normal, so adapt or die
Three articles in Wednesday’s Advocate paint an interesting picture of the near future for this province.
Between the front page (Like it or lump it: province reneges on sewer funding) and the Comment page (No spending cuts means tax hikes are coming) lies the real observation (Disruptive innovation a boon to some business, a bane to others).
On the Comments page, we can already see that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation didn’t get it completely right. There will indeed be spending cuts, and these cuts affect municipalities (and therefore taxpayers). But their logical conclusion is probably correct: we’re being softened up to accept tax hikes.
But if we take the message of Jim Harris — that disruptive change creates a need to adapt or die — we can conclude that what’s happening in Alberta’s economy is perfectly normal.
The South Red Deer Regional Wastewater Commission is a partnership with board membership from six municipalities, all of them growing, and all of them needing newer, more sustainable infrastructure to handle their growth.
You can’t grow your towns and counties without the ability to flush and drain wastewater for treatment. All the partners agree that the most efficient way to protect fresh water resources is to co-operate and have one large, modern wastewater treatment plant.
They realize it’s better for all to build a sewage pipeline to one large plant, than to build six small ones, and have local inefficiencies add up to more pollution in the Red Deer River.
This is a result of the kind of disruptive innovation that Harris talked about, in his City Centre Stage address through the Donald School of Business.
A societal agreement that we need to take the best care possible of our water resources, plus an economic need to support growth means that towns, cities and counties need to co-operate to manage growth.
Managing growth costs money. The municipalities have already spent a lot of resources over eight years now on a plan for a wastewater line from Olds, to Bowden, to Innisfail, to Penhold, to Red Deer, and including the counties in between. The province, realizing the benefits of such a plan, promised to put up 90 per cent of the construction costs.
Now, with economic disruption on Alberta’s agenda, the provincial government decided 80 per cent funding would be enough.
That’s a $10 million shortfall the municipalities will have to either tax for, or transfer from other needed projects. As a result, some commission members are asking themselves if this is all worth the frustration and cost. Without the province’s full commitment, the chain will likely be broken.
The disruptive innovation that Harris mentions is the fact that municipalities can agree to co-operate on major projects that have wider benefits for the whole province than for each of their own ratepayers.
The adaptation we need is from the province — it must honour its funding agreement, even if it hurts politically.
Some adaptation is also needed from the opposition in the legislature. This obviously beneficial project cuts through municipalities that are all represented by Wildrose Party MLAs.
Wildrose has done nothing but scream for infrastructure funding delays or outright cuts, ever since last year’s election. With the growth of economic problems in the province, these demands have only gotten more strident.
Yet the very cuts Wildrose demands threaten the ability of a huge area of their ridings to grow in a sustainable way.
Alberta is still adding population at a rate of about 80,000 people a year. Those people have to live somewhere — and they would prefer to live in a place where the toilets flush, without polluting their drinking water.
If this co-operative project is abandoned, new Albertans will tend to settle in places not represented by Wildrose — because infrastructure growth along the hotbed Hwy 2 corridor south of Red Deer will have been set back by a decade.
Winners and losers. Disruptive innovation, change and adaptation.
The main thesis of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation article is true: Albertans are being softened up for a tax hike.
The disruption in our economy demands it. Or, alternatively, we can just proceed with the old, inefficient solutions, and put up with more pollution.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email email@example.com.