The Way Forward

Why the path to true diversification in Alberta is about leadership and communities, not industries and political parties.

The glorious bubble of Alberta is cracking.

Thousands of new people and talent are moving in our cities and communities. Hundreds of entrepreneurs are building in Alberta, producing and exporting across all industries. Innovators are creating new cures for diseases, new methods for production, and new materials for building. Graduates from our schools are heading out into the fast-changing world to make a difference.

But I can’t help but feel that something is still holding us back.

Alberta has been changing over the last few years, whether some of our leaders accept it or not.

If anything, the tumbling price of oil has exposed the real crisis in Alberta. It’s a crisis of leadership — not just in government, but in our corporations, startups, nonprofits and universities. The things that matter in our communities have been distorted by power, influence, greed and envy.

It’s led to half-baked policies that stifles innovation, commercializes education, voids compassion, creates division in our communities, and most troubling, has created a culture of dependency by citizens on our provincial government to figure everything out.

Recent poll on Alberta’s economic dependency on on oil and gas (via CBC)

Democracy grants us the opportunity to empower leaders in our governments, universities and corporations. Free market capitalism creates opportunities for entrepreneurs to build businesses and companies. And yet, we act like we live in an oppressed state reinforced by our increased focus on lobbying government for funding, tax cuts, and incentive programs.

The Alberta doctrine has become one that tells us that it’s the government’s one-way role to take care of our communities. We’ve forgotten that institutions last longer than policy. We’ve forgotten that communities endure not because of its politicians, but because of its citizens.

I’ve spent a lot of time with startup community leaders in other cities around the world as part of our journey building Startup Edmonton. What I enjoy most is being part of our a global network of community leaders who don’t wait for permission from anyone to lead. We know that sometimes, the only way to fight the status quo is to play a different game entirely.

I believe this goes far beyond whichever political party holds power. It’s about attacking the value that ‘holding political power’ means something in the first place.

The way forward in Alberta isn’t about diversification away from an industry. It’s about diversification in leadership.

The game we need to play must focus on arming the next waves of leaders who’ll build startups, corporations, universities, and governments into amazing (and equal) platforms for prosperity, resiliency, opportunity and value creation, for the next 10–20 years.

And it’s already happening in our communities:

  • Entrepreneurs within our oil, gas and resource industries making change from within by building new products and innovating on new methods and processes.
  • Teachers and professors putting the needs of student learning, critical thinking skills, and values building above the constant pressure being put on our schools and universities to commercialize education and output industry-ready talent.
  • Lean leaders in our non-profits optimizing operations, productivity, program delivery and getting creative around investment from a wider range of funding partners.
  • Big companies opening up platforms for innovation instead of locked-up fortresses, taking an active role in the future of health, food and energy in our communities and beyond.
  • Next generation investors diversifying wealth built from family businesses and other industries into new community-focused funds, without waiting for incentives from the government.

In my hometown of Edmonton, the next wave of leaders is working in sync with current leaders, all towards the long game. At a community level, leadership has been diversifying rapidly, and it’s led to the growth and change that’s been happening here — in spite of how the economy turns and twists.

Community projects driven by local leaders (via Make Something Edmonton)

It’s easy to get caught up in political theatre. We like to think Alberta politics is like an episode from House of Cards. It’s become too easy to make a comment or social share on Facebook/Twitter. How we should have been saving like Norway, or whatever mismanagement scandal plagues another politician. We get caught up in how poorly everything is managed and let fear mongering cloud our judgement.

It’s always somebody else’s fault in the government.

But let’s not kid ourselves. There’s no political uprising needed to overthrow a dictatorship. We get to vote election after election. We get to check the boxes. We do it again and again, amazed how terrible things play out each time. And then we walk away until the next election cycle comes.

Leadership in our province must be built on reciprocity and diversity

Alberta is built on the backs of its communities and the over four million citizens who live here. Alberta’s problems are my problems, your problems, our problems — not just the government’s problems. The leaders we elect, support and invest in, need to look to us as citizens ready to accept and shared responsibility towards our collective goals.

This election is an opportunity to build on an already rising tide in our communities. There are many candidates across all parties that are the kinds of leaders we need sitting in the 87 seats in the Alberta Legislature. Entrepreneurs, educators, community champions, and yes, even some career politicians — we need a new wave of leaders who’ll go to bat for our communities and not be afraid to rattle the political party cages.

Know the person you’re voting for and ask yourself how you can help them lead after they’re elected. After election day, let’s think about continuing to empower (and become) leaders in our schools, universities, startups, corporations, nonprofits, and other levels of government. This is the long game we can start playing today.

One by one, leader by leader.

As Albertans, we’re lucky to live in one of the most privileged places on earth. It’s time to fully bust through the bubble, put aside the tired politics, accept the responsibility we’ve been given and act like the community of leaders we all need to be.


Alberta goes to the polls on May 5, 2015. Here’s where you can find out when and where to vote in your community.