Monday, August 15, 2005

The Real Leadership Race in Alberta

So now we know. No progressive conservative leadership race in Alberta until 2007. It is official. In which case, let us get to the real leadership race: creating a twenty first century Province with a twenty first century understanding of our place in the world, relevant skills and a relentless focus on building a better Alberta.

What does this mean? First, it means we have to reinvent government. Restore democracy to the legislature – let it sit more frequently and have real debates about the issues that challenge Alberta, not just party line debates. Reinvent the Standing Policy Committees as cross-party committees which challenge and give scrutiny to the work of Ministers and their Departments in a way that permits back-benchers from all parties to have a real voice in planning, resource allocation and evaluation – the British do this well, why can’t we? Make use of the powerful broadband networks many individuals, communities and organizations have invested in to really use e-democracy to make a difference. Let us have a smaller, more focused cabinet with a more radical agenda. Engage us all in a real debate about policy choices – an open debate – so that we do more than just “slightly better than now” – we transform our government into the most progressive, imaginative and skilled in North America. It is possible.

It means reinventing our institutions. Most of our institutional frameworks are based on nineteenth century or at best early twentieth century models – our universities, our school systems, our health care system or social support system. Rather than having four separate boards for our Universities, let us create a Federal University system (as is Oxford, the University of Wales and the California State system) and really co-ordinate our resources for teaching, research, innovation and community service. Remove a tier of administration from the school system and focus on individual schools – the unit of measurement for students, teachers and parents and the front line and let schools band together to create common services driven by their own needs – stop the top-down and move to bottom up education. Simplify all of our procedures and processes and move to smart regulation – really make our new Ministry of Government Restructuring earn its stripes.

Alberta should look again to more ways of leverage the Federal governments investment in Alberta and to look at ways of becoming more like Quebec with more autonomy in its management of Federal programs – strong steps have been made here already, we should take more.

Most critically, let us beef up our investments in education, innovation and support for the disadvantaged and demonstrate just what a caring, future thinking Province can be like. We have made a start, but there is much more to do. Challenge the group now looking at the future of post-secondary to do more than tinker – demand that they create a twenty first century system for our Universities, Colleges and private post secondary education system and encourage them to look at big ideas, not just small ones.

Encourage the private sector in health, education and social services to grow. Create incentives for them to pioneer new ways of working, new approaches to public : private partnerships, new ways of funding joint ventures with the public sector so that we can build a powerful, sustainable mixed economy of service.

Lead in environmental management and practices – show what a modern twenty first century Province can do when it gets it act together to clean up polluted sites, effectively manage and nurture our natural resources and engage our young people in understanding the challenge of a sustainable environment. Pioneer new programs to develop the skills and competencies in Alberta to manage environmental challenges.

Showcase Alberta talent, skills and achievements – let us celebrate more, but also learn from their achievements. Challenge individuals, companies, communities, organizations to identify their top five challenges and support their attempts to both deal with these challenges, learn from them and share that learning. Become the Province where challenges are normal and our ability to respond to them is unusual, creative and effective. We already do this in some areas with world-class science, technology, distance learning, medicine – but let us extend this to rural Alberta, to the North and create between linkages for our pioneers.

Leverage the SuperNet to be more than “something to do with computers”. Invest in innovative uses of the SuperNet to build effective “across Alberta” communities of practice and knowledge networks in all of the areas that matter to the future of Alberta – learning, health, organizational development, non profits, support for seniors, culture, arts, music, information, environment, energy, the future of work.

Create a tax environment that stimulates private sector research and development, venture capital investment in small business and supports the growth of home based working, enables communities to match funds raised for projects that matter to them. Think through with our bank just how we can help the retiring owners of a small business transfer that ownership without over burdening the new owners. We do some of this already, we need to do more.

Finally, connect all of these pieces into a strong, compelling vision for the future of Alberta as a Province that leads North America, but is also an effective and leading partner in the confederation that is Canada. Show the world how to use wealth, natural resources, innovation and smart people to create a society which is passionate, compassionate and focused in its use of skills. Show a society that makes a difference to the lives of Albertans by being connected, engaged and devolved.

This is the real leadership challenge we should be attending to.

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