Alberta: The “have” Province
16th April 2012 by Andrew Needs, Ottawa | No Comments
For my New Zealand readers this title may seem a little curious. It is a play on terminology used in Canada with regard to Federal Policy (i.e. determined by central government in Ottawa) whereby the wealthier, or “have” provinces, contribute fiscally to the “have not” provinces. Increasingly the “have” provinces have been those in the West. Alberta is far and away the wealthiest province in Canada, driven overwhelmingly by the energy sector. You don’t have to be in Alberta long to get a sense of the more generalised energy of the place. Alberta has a reputation as being a conservative bastion, both big and small C. There are certainly some pointers to that in the lock the federal Conservative Party has on seats, the fact also that the current Conservative provincial government has been in power continuously for 41 years. In that context however the upcoming provincial election is being fought by two women in their forties and the City of Calgary has as its Mayor, Naheed Nenshi , a dynamic 40 year old with transformative ideas for cities.
It was into this dynamic that Melissa Trochon, New Zealand Trade Commissioner and Consul General, based in Vancouver, and I teamed up for two days last week to meet with some key businesses in Alberta’s commercial capital, Calgary. We had a series of excellent calls on CEOs, Sales and Marketing VPs across a range of sectors where New Zealand business has an interest in either collaboration or direct sales. Those sectors included: food and beverage, agriculture infrastructure and support, transport, health, and of course the energy sector. As most of the direct company to company follow up is with Melissa and her team, I have invited her to make a comment on how she saw our joint calls.
The visit to Alberta really highlighted the depth and breadth of opportunities available to NZ companies looking to take advantage of the economic growth in Alberta. About a quarter of Alberta’s GDP by industry is directly attributable to the energy sector, with around another quarter focussed on support industries such as infrastructure development, transportation, construction and manufacturing. One theme that recurred throughout our meetings was that Canadian companies are extremely interested in new products, technology and services that will either enable greater productivity within the energy sector (and associated industries) or minimise negative environmental emissions and outcomes in the province. We’re currently aware of a number of NZ companies with relevant and exciting offerings in this space. Outside of the energy sector, one exciting New Zealand-related development in Alberta is Skyline Enterprises’ new Calgary Luge operation. The luge operation will be located at Canada Olympic Park, located on a hill overlooking Calgary with a dual role as a skifield in winter and activity park with mountain biking in summer. Construction is due to start in the next two months, with an opening scheduled for summer 2013. Andrew and I were taken on a site visit by Skyline General Manager Neville Nicholson. It’s a fantastic site with great infrastructure and lots of complementary activities. We look forward to working with more New Zealand companies interested in taking advantage of the economic growth opportunities in Alberta in the future.
Melissa Trochon, New Zealand Trade Commissioner and Consul General, Vancouver
Given the wider involvement of some of those CEOs in business groups and interaction with government at both the provincial and federal levels, we inevitably also spent time discussing the wider frameworks within which their companies do business i.e. Trade Policy. There was a strong awareness of the emergent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), currently a nine-member negotiating group within the region with a focus on a high quality trade agreement that has the capacity to bring in new members that aspire to the strong free trade focus of the group. With the Western province’s longstanding focus on the Asia-Pacific there was no shortage of enthusiasm for Canada burnishing its credentials to gain membership into TPP as soon as possible.
After Calgary I drove an hour or so into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, to Kananaskis, a small resort town known best for hosting the G8 meeting in June 2002 . My reason for being there was to give the Key Note address to the annual conference of the Alberta Economic Developers Association. I covered a lot of ground in the context of a forty minute address plus Q & A: recovery of Christchurch remains of interest to Canadians both in a broad empathy sense, but also, as rebuilding starts, possible opportunities. Alberta faces a severe skilled labour shortage and will be competing with Christchurch for both the local (New Zealand) and international supply of engineers, builders, plumbers, architects, electricians etc. There was also keen interest in the parallels between New Zealand and Alberta with regard to heavy reliance on a limited number of commodity exports. Interest was most keen with regard to our drive for both product and market diversification.