Chamber pressing high-speed rail plan

The Red Deer Chamber of Commerce is hoping to fast-track high-speed rail.

The Red Deer Chamber of Commerce is hoping to fast-track high-speed rail.

Urging the Alberta government to move forward with the long-contemplated project is one of six policy resolutions approved by the Chamber board on Wednesday — setting the stage for the Alberta Chamber of Commerce to potentially adopt that position this spring.

“We don’t know where it’s at and what’s being done, so we’d like to give a little nudge,” said Chamber president Bruce Schollie, stressing the importance of the issue to Red Deer.

“It’s crucial to us. We want to make sure that our voice is heard when it comes to high-speed rail, because we don’t want to be forgotten.”

The Chamber resolution asks the provincial government to quickly implement the recommendations in a recent study prepared for the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

That study highlighted the importance of identifying a right-of-way for a high-speed rail system between Edmonton and Calgary, so that affected municipalities can plan for it.

Another Chamber resolution that Schollie believes has a direct impact on Central Alberta calls upon the province to enhance learning and training opportunities so that worker productivity improves.

He said this initiative is particularly important with another labour shortage looming on the horizon.

“It doesn’t appear that we’re going to be able to supply the workforce with enough people, with our traditional and even non-traditional means.”

Schollie said the cyclical nature of Central Alberta’s energy-dependent economy makes it especially vulnerable to labour shortages.

Another message the Chamber hopes to send the province is the need for it to encourage and support technology-based innovation.

“We lag behind other countries and other provinces in terms of our action in that area,” said Schollie, adding that local entrepreneurs who received more help in developing their ideas could help diversify the economy.

The other resolutions approved by the Chamber board relate to Albertans being exempted from payment of harmonized sales taxes on managed assets like mutual funds, attracting eco-commerce and green businesses, and modifying Alberta’s Land Stewardship Act to better protect agricultural and other sensitive lands.

Schollie praised the Chamber’s policy committees for researching and preparing the resolutions. He said this process involved consultation with other chambers of commerce in the province, and ultimately some of the Red Deer resolutions could have co-sponsors.

The six resolutions will be presented at the Alberta Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting and policy conference in May. The Red Deer Chamber also develops policy positions related to national matters, which it presents to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce each year.

Schollie expressed satisfaction with the efforts of both the Alberta and Canadian chambers in lobbying government with respect to resolutions that originated with Red Deer.

“We know we’re being listened to.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com