Alberta looking at rural growth

The Alberta government will conduct a series of meetings in rural areas of the province to determine how best to support economic growth there.

The Alberta government will conduct a series of meetings in rural areas of the province to determine how best to support economic growth there.

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson announced on Tuesday that a task force consisting of him and four other MLAs will take part in eight roundtable meetings in late March and early April.

More than 500 individuals and organizations representing economic development entities, industry, agriculture, communities, aboriginal groups, tourism and non-governmental groups are expected to be invited, he said.

Olson said the meetings will focus on five themes: industry and business development, financial and capital access, workforce development, regional co-ordination, and rural economic infrastructure capacity.

“We want to ensure that we have the right government programs and services in place, and that they’re working together to maximize benefits for our communities,” he said during a news conference. “It will help us focus on a clear set of shared priorities with our community partners.”

Olson said feedback from the meetings will help his government develop a rural economic development action plan.

“Through the action plan, we will build on the success of our rural communities by embracing new ideas, creating linkages between existing resources and organizations, increasing Alberta’s rural economic development infrastructure capacity, and ultimately growing our provincial economy.”

Rural Alberta is already a big contributor to the Canadian economy, noted Olson, with the Conference Board of Canada estimating its impact at more than $77 billion annually.

Other members of the MLA task force are Hector Goudreau, MLA for Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley; Jacquie Fenske, MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville; Ken Lemke, MLA for Stony Plain; and Bridget Pastoor, MLA for Lethbridge-East. All are members of the Progressive Conservative caucus.