Meeting the challenge
Two reports released this week throw a major challenge in the laps of Alberta’s corporate leaders — and sound a note of caution for the provincial government.
Alberta’s economy is driving national growth, and absorbing a significant influx of workers from across the country and around the world, according to a Bank of Montreal report released on Tuesday.
At its core, of course, the province’s vitality is dependent on the energy sector, which the BMO report describes as “the key driver of economic activity.’’ Alberta’s jobless rate is a nation-leading 4.4 per cent (Red Deer’s rate in September was 4.8 per cent).
The report warns that two issues can hamper Alberta’s growth: downward pressure on energy prices, and the failure to expand our ability to deliver oil to American and offshore customers through new pipelines.
Obviously, the price of oil is beyond Alberta’s control (although projecting a budget based on inflated oil revenues is not).
So too, in great part, is the outcome of the two major proposed pipeline projects, the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. (and, via tanker ships, to China) and the stalled $7-billion Keystone project to idle refineries in Texas. Approval of both projects, ultimately, rests with authorities beyond Alberta’s borders.
But even economic neophytes like federal Liberal leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau recognize that some things are inevitable.
Last week, Trudeau launched his leadership bid by telling a Calgary audience that “There is not a country in the world that would find 170 billion barrels of oil and leave it in the ground.’’
Particularly when the nation’s economic well-being is so inextricably linked to that oil.
So if we can be relatively assured that oil will continue to lubricate Alberta’s economy, can we be equally assured that both the corporate leadership of this province and the Alberta government are prepared for the inevitable growth?
According to an annual report on Canada’s 100 best employers, also released this week, 12 of the elite 100 entities operate in this province, many of them engaged in enterprises that are at the heart of our very economic success (and some at the heart of our most controversial projects).
The annual Mediacorp Canada Inc. ranking of the top employers in the country uses a set of criteria that encompasses such factors as benefits, training, community development, communications, flexible work conditions, work atmosphere, and other perks.
Essentially, the list tells you who gets the most out of their employees by treating them with respect, by developing their talents and by enriching their lives. The Alberta companies on the list include such major players as Enbridge (yes, even embroiled in pipeline controversy, you can still treat employees well) and oilsands giant Suncor.
If you strive to treat employees well enough to get on this list, chances are you have made an incalculable investment in manpower and the improved productivity that comes from an enriched workforce. It is a lesson for all Alberta companies that see the potential in the province’s projected growth and wonder how to best take advantage of it: do it by empowering your employees.
Earlier this year, another BMO report projected that economic growth in Alberta would result in 120,000 new jobs in the province in the next four years. So the pressure is intense for employers.
But it is also intense for the provincial government, which will be required to provide the infrastructure, from roads to schools to technical training to health care to cultural halls. Without those building blocks, the province will be unable to do its part in empowering Alberta’s workers.
And the challenge laid down by yet another Alberta boom will not be met.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.