The city skyline is visible behind pedestrians as they make their way along Strathearn Crescent, in Edmonton. File photo.
David_Bloom David Bloom / David Bloom/Postmedia
The Government of Alberta will soon release the findings of its Blue Ribbon Panel, which will serve as a baseline for critical upcoming provincial budget deliberations. We share the government’s vision to ensure the economy is at full strength and capacity and Edmonton is eager to continue building Alberta’s global competitiveness. A successful Edmonton makes for a successful Alberta.I have some key suggestions that I think will help. For example, the University of Alberta has been building capacity for decades to become a world-leading hub for artificial intelligence and machine learning that is consistently ranked among the world’s top five. Faculty members who form the intellectual heartbeat of the university’s respected team have mentored students and talent from around the world, including attracting Google Deep Mind to open its office in Edmonton.A bright future awaits in big data and analytics; a small but exponential industry emerging in Alberta. The Government of Alberta’s leadership and investment is absolutely vital for this sector to take off.Being home to more than a half-dozen post-secondary institutions aligns with having one of Canada’s youngest populations. Many of these people are attracted by the opportunity to learn at the country’s largest polytechnic and the province’s flagship university.Add in Norquest, MacEwan, Concordia, King’s, Yellowhead Tribal College and Athabasca and the result is unparalleled capacity to supply skilled talent for Alberta’s rebounding economy. These are the young minds that are going to help bring about new discoveries, disruptions and innovations, propel our economy forward, and make our industries more competitive. Planning for enrolment and capacity growth will be essential as Edmonton supports Alberta’s future economic growth.When it comes to infrastructure spending, recognizing the significant economic downturn, Edmonton (and Calgary) have done our part by already absorbing a cumulative 42-per-cent reduction in our general infrastructure funding in the City Charter as compared to the Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant program it replaces. We need to ensure we don’t forget key investments that contribute to quality-of-life aspirations such as the long-awaited Lewis Farms recreation centre or improvements to vital commerce and transportation connectors such as Terwillegar Drive.Investments in these projects demonstrate the ability of different orders of government to help communities move, thrive and grow.Our health assets are another key building block: the scale and integration of Alberta Health Services gives us a number of competitive advantages in health technology, data and innovation. Our Health City economic development initiative has attracted some of the world’s largest health companies to Edmonton to partner on research, new intellectual property and company growth.Altogether, our health assets represent a centre of excellence that is relied upon by millions of northern Albertans and northern Canadians, and many of our key hospitals are in need of renewal and expansion.Infrastructure, talent and health are major enablers in building Alberta’s economy of today, and the economy of tomorrow. In short, they represent our key competitive advantages — part of our unique horsepower. To compromise their momentum would hamper not only Edmonton’s trajectory, but Alberta’s economic recovery as a whole.I also understand the Government of Alberta’s desire to identify inefficiencies while ensuring quality services and Edmonton can help with that as well. Investments in housing have been proven to produce savings and efficiencies in health and justice.Creating more permanent supportive housing units through a variety of partnerships is the final link that could make Edmonton the first big Canadian city to functionally end homelessness as we know it. Alberta has been a leader in this regard for a decade, and the finish line is within sight if we make the smart investment together.My hope is the Government of Alberta will consider all these suggestions as I believe that the Canadian province that figures out how to leverage the power of its big cities will emerge as the undisputed winner in Confederation.Don Iveson is mayor of Edmonton.