Big Idea 2013
Illustration by Raymond Biesinger
Political power is a bit of an abstract concept. Depending on where you live in the world, it can be boosted by general popularity, money, military might or knowing the right people in the right places.
In Alberta, the feeling for more than 100 years is that other people made the decisions that affected us. Despite holding a disproportionate amount of Canada’s wealth, we didn’t have the political power to match.
But that is rapidly changing. The population growth of Alberta is leading to more parliamentary seats in this province after the coming redistribution. And, love him or hate him, our Prime Minister is an Albertan, and proved you could win a majority government without doing well in Quebec. Taking the West and the Toronto suburbs equals a majority government.
Oil. Money. Demographics. Alberta has gone from a political outsider to a national policy-shaper. And, for our annual Big Idea, we decided to take on this question: What is Alberta doing with its new-found influence? How can we ensure this new-found power is held? How can we better sell ourselves to our neighbours? And what does this mean for Edmonton, the capital?
After the Big Idea for 2013 was hatched, we invited our Top 40 Under 40 alumni to join us for an extended chat about Edmonton, Alberta and power. We got a lot of opinions, but there were some unifying themes:
– That we are tied to Fort McMurray and the oil sands; what’s good for them is good for Edmonton.
– That it’s time for Edmonton to be bold; time to stand out, to be assertive as a city. The humble prairie utilitarianism has to give way to a young, bold voice.
– As an economic power, we need to do a better job of showing ourselves to be strong Canadians. Instead of isolating ourselves as a regional power, which is what alienated the rest of the country from Toronto, we need to show that we stand for the national common good. We need to tell others that the oil from Alberta will fuel the transfer payments – so natural resources equal new hospitals and schools. As Catherine Vu, head of
Pro-Active IT Management and Top 40 Under 40 alumna, told us: “We can’t just rub (our wealth) in people’s faces, not like Ontario and Quebec did. We have to tell Canada that our wealth is their wealth.”
Four writers will look at these themes:
Walk the Talk: Eliza Barlow looks at how our political power and wealth has led to a backlash of resentment. The issue of natural-resource development, a key to the future of the region, has become bitter and regional. The same kind of resentment that used to be aimed at the Bay Street Boys of Toronto is now targeted towards the big oil players. And she looks at how Alberta’s big hitters are trying to change the perception of oil.
Bound By Highway 63: Scott Messenger writes on Edmonton’s link to Fort McMurray; Highway 63 has become a ribbon that has tied together two wealthy regions into a regional economic superpower. Do we have to do a better job of promoting Edmonton as a regional player?
The Alberta Prime Minister of Canada: Paul Bunner, a political insider who has written speeches for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, looks at how Edmonton has benefited from a federal governing party that has a large Alberta contingent. Bunner looks at the next crop of Tories – and how Alberta grassroots and Ontario supporters may have an ideological collision.
The New Dubai?: Omar Mouallem looks at our city. Do we need to do more to show our vibrancy? Should the utilitarian ways of our past be abandoned for showy, grand architecture? After all, wealthy cities show off their opulence. Will we see a bold new wave of design in Edmonton, a daring nature that reflects our ambition?
HOW THIS YEAR’S BIG IDEA CAME ABOUT
The idea for Big Idea was hatched last year at the Trudeau Foundation Conference in Edmonton. Two former federal party leaders, Reform’s Preston Manning and Liberal Michael Ignatieff, spoke at the event, and both agreed that Alberta represented a growing political strength that couldn’t be ignored.
“Ontario used to be the older sister,” said Manning. “Like the big sister, it was doing well and would look out for the rest of the family. Now it’s Alberta who has to have the older sister mentality. It’s up to the people in Alberta to show the Ontario people who are not doing so well that they are being helped by what’s happening out here. We have to move in a healthy direction.”
“I used to take a lot of criticism when I said this in Ontario,” said Ignatieff, who resigned the Liberal leadership after his party finished third in the last federal election. “But the economic centre of the country has moved west to Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. And with that, the political centre of the country is moving west. My party has got to wake up to that.”
Alberta will soon have more seats in parliament after the coming redistribution of seats. In the most recent federal election, Alberta had 28 seats. As the province’s population grows, so does the number of seats Alberta has in parliament.
The Alberta Commission has recommended that the province be allocated 34 ridings when the next federal election writ is dropped.
Currently there are eight federal ridings that are entirely or partially located in Edmonton. That number would grow to nine after redistribution, plus the suburban ridings of Sturgeon River and Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan would be created.
Even when the number of ridings is increased to 34, Alberta’s ratio of people-to-ridings would still be the highest in Canada, meaning that, compared to the national average, we are still politically underrepresented on the federal stage.
According to the commission’s report, after the next redistribution, our “electoral quota” will be at 107,213 people per riding. That’s based on a 2011 census count of 3,645,257 people living in the province. As Edmonton and Calgary continue to be Canada’s fastest growing cities, the number of ridings will need to catch up.