Alberta has little choice but to innovate: Senator

Innovation must become Alberta’s new advantage, says Alberta Senator Doug Black.

Innovation must become Alberta’s new advantage, says Alberta Senator Doug Black.

The collapse of world oil prices and the uncertain future of major pipeline projects crucial to getting Alberta oil to world markets means the province has little choice but to restructure its economy, Black told the Red Deer Rotary Club on Monday.

Alberta has long been an innovator, especially in the energy industry. That know-how must now be extended into the fields of health care and agri-business, said Black, who is founding president of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the development of a Canadian energy framework.

“What do we need to do in this province at this time to get this right? We have to accelerate our focus on innovation.

Much of that is happening, but much more needs to happen,” said Black, who was appointed to the Senate in 2013 after coming first in an election for the province’s Senate nominee.

There are too many entities involved in innovation and they co-ordinate too little, he said. There is also too much competition among innovators, as exemplified by University of Alberta and University of Calgary, which too often pursue the same federal dollars.

“This is not a sophisticated way to do business,” he said, adding the same competition often exists among municipalities.

“I’m advocating strongly that focus is required.”

Black is working with the chair of University of Alberta’s business faculty on a project that is dubbed Alberta 2.0. A report is expected to be released in the next month or so that will set out the steps the province can take to build a more resilient economy.

He is confident that Alberta can get through the current downturn and come out stronger.

“We are not victims. It is a challenge, right. We can learn from it a little bit,” he said.

“But get over it and get to work, and that’s what we as Albertans are going to have to do very aggressively over the next year or year and a half in order to maintain our position.”

Besides more co-operation among universities, deficiencies in the innovation culture must be identified through “innovation maps.”

Black also called for a chief innovator to oversee the province’s efforts in energy, agriculture and health care, similar to the role played by Israel’s chief scientist.

He also advocates the creation of an annual award for the most important innovation each year.

Reducing regulation to allow innovation to succeed is also a must.

“This province is tremendously over-regulated,” he said.

When oil dollars were flowing companies could cope with the amount of red tape they faced. That is no longer true in today’s economic climate.

Alberta should commit to take a regulation off the books for every new one introduced, he said.

Black said he has spoken with the NDP government and it is clearly behind efforts to create a more diversified, innovative and resilient economy.

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