Alberta's 'old guard' needs to change tune, says head of EEDC

The “old guard” in Alberta - the well-entrenched, long-time Tory supporters who are predicting economic Armageddon - have a choice to make now that the NDP has taken charge, says Brad Ferguson.

'The first thing we heard was that the economy was going into the toilet,' says Brad Ferguson

Brad Ferguson, president and CEO of Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, wrote a blog on Friday titled The King is Dead; Long Live the Queen.

The "old guard" in Alberta — the well-entrenched, long-time Tory supporters who are predicting economic Armageddon — have a choice to make now that the NDP has taken charge, says Brad Ferguson.

The president and CEO of  Edmonton Economic Development Corporation wrote a blog on Friday titled The King is Dead; Long Live the Queen.

His first three sentences were: "The grumpiness is deafening. The astonishment is mind-numbing. And the continued entitlement is unbelievable."

Ferguson was reacting to the doom-and-gloom predictions made by many in the business community after last week's election saw a 44-year Tory dynasty swept aside by the orange wave of Rachel Notley and the NDP.

"It was very intentional, in terms of what I was trying to do on the blog," Ferguson told CBC News on Monday.

"It really took a look at kind of an old guard here, that wasn't necessarily all that happy with the outcome of the NDP government. They have a choice right now. You can sit around and be grumpy about it, or you can keep calm and carry on, and actually realize there are a lot of positive things that are going to come of this."

Ferguson said some business leaders have suggested Alberta will no longer be a good place to invest, to start a company, or to grow an existing one.

"The first thing I believe we heard was that, basically, the economy was going into the toilet," he said. "So we had to calm that down."

The reality, he said, is that province and its two major cities are changing quickly, and business leaders now have the opportunity to change with the times.

Canada's youngest province is changing

Alberta is Canada's youngest and fastest growing province. The average age is 36, which is also the average age of the 53 members of the new NDP caucus.

The province has had Canada's lowest corporate tax rate for a decade, Ferguson said. The royalty rates for the oil and gas sector have allowed for rapid energy development.

"But that same policy environment has created a hyper-inflated economy when oil prices are high and a deficit-debilitated budget when prices are low," Ferguson wrote in his blog.

"So if citizens, business leaders and economists all want to have a more balanced approach to growth and development going forward, then looking at incremental changes to these taxation and royalty policies is certainly not incomprehensible."

It would be "responsible," Ferguson told CBC, for any new government to look at what he called the "two levers of public policy," and to make changes over time to create more economic stability.

'Brilliant, calculated leader'

He said Notley has, so far, done all the right things.

"She is a brilliant, calculated leader who is taking the steps that need to be taken," he said. "She has reached out to the energy sector first, and said let's meet. I think there's a real willingness to meet with business leaders.

"If she can surround herself with really bright, smart people, and it's not necessarily the ones that have traditional been there, I think we have an opportunity to really change the dialogue in this province and start talking about things other than just royalty rates."

Five CEOs

Just four days before the May 5 election, five corporate CEOs in Edmonton held a news conference, where they warned that a rise in corporate taxes under an NDP government would lead to job losses.

Ferguson said those same CEOs and other business leaders would be better served by sending out positive messages that Alberta remains open for business.

"It think it's everyone's job," he said.

"It doesn't rest on the mayor, it doesn't rest on me, it certainly doesn't rest on five CEOs. We have 900,000 Edmontonians who are really the marketing department.

"And our job is to make sure they're armed with the language and the stories and the tools that they can get out there and communicate why this is a great place to invest. And why it has been and will be North America's most prosperous economy."

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