Sun 26 Oct 2014
Notes for Remarks to the Public Policy Forum Dinner by Allan R. Gregg
Edmonton, Alberta October 23, 2014
“To Be Partners in an Idea”
Growing up, my Father advised me that if I wanted a career that would bring with it recognition, awards and trophies, the best route was to become a professional curler. Needless-to-say, while this has never been my aspiration, I have to confess that being recognized and receiving the Peter Lougheed Leadership Award is kind of nice – so to the Public Policy Form and all of you here tonight, thank you.
Also, I would be disingenuous if I didn’t admit that being placed in the same company as Oryssia Lennue, Eric Newll and Jim Dinning is nothing short of humbling.
And I know I can also speak for the rest of the recipients when I say that to be given an award that is associated with anything that has to do with Peter Lougheed, has to be viewed as one of Alberta’s greatest honours.
Forty years ago, I loaded up my brand new Ford Cortina and headed towards the Calgary Trail to enrol in the Phd program in Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa. At the time, my Mother claimed she know that I would never come back. And while others (like Senator Grant Mitchell who so generously introduced me) headed East only to return to great acclaim and accomplishment in their native province, I never did.
In fact, a cynic might suggest that I have been gone for so long that is not possible for prairie virtue to any longer course through my veins …. that time must have reduced me to an effete, Central Canadian snob … or even worse from the perspective of an Alberta … a Godless Torontonian.
But strangely, no matter where I’ve lived, or traveled, or what I’ve done over all those years, I have never to ceased to think of myself as a Son of the Canadian Prairies.
And while I may have never come back, since I left over 2 million new Albertan have come to these borders; more than doubling the size of the province and converting major cities like Edmonton and Calgary into truly vibrant, world-class cities that hum with diversity and a babylon of voices.
Even if these new Albertans were not born here, and instead came from have-not provinces like Nova Scotia … or Ontario … or as far away as Somalia, I don’t believe that they came here for economic opportunity alone. I believe they came for the allure of being part of something – of becoming a Westerner. Because for both me – and I would venture all these new Albertans – being a Westerner is not just a matter of where you were born … or even where you live now.
No… to be a Westerner is not just about place. To be a Westerner is to be a partner in an idea … an idea that opportunity – and the pursuit of opportunity — is a right… and that with industry and integrity, opportunity is with the individual’s reach and grasp. Partners in an idea that believe – based on merit and hard work – you should be able to be pretty much anything you want to be.
To some, this might seem to be little more than a hollow cliché or, at the very least, hopelessly naive. But I believe the very fact that Westerners take this cliché seriously and embrace the future with a sense of endless optimism and confidence is what gives the West its dynamism and vitality and propels this particular region ahead of all others.
I also believe however, there is a part of this credo that can hold the West back.
It is one thing to all agree that you should be able to be anything you want, but once there is a Western consensus on this, it begs another obvious question ….”If you can be anything you want to be, what is it that you want to be?”
As a Westerner, living outside the province, I obviously haven’t been part, but I have seen Albertans struggle with this question. At the heart of that struggle is a fight for a Big Alberta that can extend its reach and influence beyond its borders to play a leadership role in not just the West, but all of Canada… But Big Alberta can run headlong into a more inwardly focused Alberta that sometimes feels under siege or believes its talents and accomplishment are underappreciated by the rest of Canada and therefore its primary focus must be to protect that which it already has. Even though we don’t hear much talk anymore about putting Alberta behind a firewall, we all know – that from time-to-time – the Small Alberta mindset continues to raise its head and I believe, when it does, this holds Alberta back from being all it can be.
We all know that the province is blessed with bountiful and rich resources. But with over 4 million people who are partners in an idea, surely the most durable, enduring and dependable of these resources has to be the ingenuity, tenaciousness and determination of those people. And I don’t know about you, but for me ingenuity, tenacity and determination combine into the most potent of cocktails – and that is fearlessness.
Albertans need not fear the prospects of a Zero Carbon Future. Ask Eric Newell who, as Chair of the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation is scouring the globe and seeking out breathtaking innovations and inventions that will move us towards this future, and he will tell you – far from posing a threat – zero carbon present an economic opportunity for Alberta as great as any the province has ever seen.
Ask yourself too, who is better positioned – and has a greater existing financial incentive – to turn Alberta into an export powerhouse in environmental technologies and innovation?
And where else is it going to be more important to repair the broken relationship between Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous people than right here in the West? These relations, for too long, have been mired in a pattern of misunderstanding, betrayal and neglect. Consequently, even if we can point to some modest gains for Canada’s First Peoples, we should not delude ourselves that until we can repair trust our relations will continued to be marked by failure. I for one, refuse to go to my grave and let my grandchildren live with this stain for another generation. That is why I have joined with Paul Martin, Joe Clark, Sheila Fraser, Ovide Mercedi, Phil Fontaine, Marie Wilson, Stephen Kakfwi and many other to make a solemn pledge that we will work together to forge a New Partnership between Indigenous people and all Canadians. Albertan should join – in fact, they should lead – this Partnership.
If Peter Lougheed were with us tonight, he would remind us that it is never easy to rise up beyond short-term, vested interests to meet the challenge of the long game and the better good. And I think he would also remind us that when things are easy, someone else usually does them.