Gordon Pitts on the power of the West

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This extended interview is a web exclusive from Type A. An edited version of this interview will air on Type A on Monday, March 9, 2012.

The Calgary Dominion Bank. Three Nobel Prize-winning scientists from the University of Alberta. Interest-free loans from the Alberta Heritage Fund going directly to pay for Ontario's crumbling highways. Sound preposterous? Maybe. But that's the future of Canada according to author Gordon Pitts. In his book Stampede!: The Rise of the West and Canada's New Power Elite, he traces a mobile Canadian labour force from east to west, and makes bold predictions about how the centres for not only economic power but also science, arts and culture are shifting westward.

Pitts began researching this movement more than six years ago. As a business journalist "in the trenches," he witnessed this change first-hand. "It was very evident that we were seeing a wealth shift and an economic activity shift and a job shift to the West," he explained to Type A host Karin Klassen in a recent interview. However, Pitts noticed that even though Alberta and Saskatchewan were gaining economic strength and that people were moving westward in droves, they weren't seeing the West as a place to live. They were seeing it as a place to make some cash and head back home. "That's one of the dangers in a society like Alberta or Saskatchewan, when there's a strong overriding industry," Pitts said. "People are living to work."

Pitts believes that this mentality needs to change in order for the West to become as culturally influential as it is economically. "You have to say to people, this is not just a place to work, this is not a place to make a million, this is a place to live the rest of your life," he said. "There's no doubt about it. You have to make yourself, in a way, in the image of a province and a region that people want to move to, they feel comfortable moving to."

As the West continues to prosper, it will become an attractive place to live, not just for those working in the dominant industries but also for healthcare professionals, artists, writers, researchers, educators and more. And the West needs to encourage and invest in this trend to ensure its long-term economic vitality. "Believe it or not, the oilsands and energy riches will not last forever," Pitts said. "Alberta very much realizes the need to invest in [research and development]. They need to build great universities and the need to be a knowledge centre."

This change is already happening. Pitts points to the vibrant and growing arts and culture scene in Calgary, the establishment of a strong heritage fund, the recent emphasis on education, and the election of strong political personalities like Calgary's Mayor Naheed Nenshi, as evidence that the West is moving beyond the "deep-seated beliefs about the West" many Canadians have.

Stampede! came out in 2008, but Pitts believes that his arguments are actually move relevant today than they were four years ago. "It's quite clear this movement to the West, this demand for people in the West, the accumulation of wealth in the West, is an even more formidable kind of shift than I imagined in 2008."






StampedeStampede!: The Rise of the West and Canada's New Power Elite
by Gordon Pitts


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From the publisher: 

"Imagine a future for Canada where Alberta is the corporate and cultural kingpin, Ontario is on the ropes, and Quebec is almost irrelevant. Not so long ago, all these scenarios would have been considered ludicrous.

But as bestselling business writer Gordon Pitts documents in this fascinating and brilliantly illuminating new book, they are now within the realm of possibility as corporate clout, political influence, and population shift dramatically from East to West. This westward push of power has been the story of Canada over the past one hundred years, as first Halifax then Montreal and Toronto assumed dominance. Soon, however, Calgary and Edmonton will take command of the financial and corporate landscape."

Read more at Key Porter Books.