Editorial – Score one for Kenney

Jeff Burgar

We love Jason Kenney’s new idea!

Kenney has an idea to stop, or at least maybe slow, declines in rural population. It all has to do with bringing new overseas immigrants to rural Alberta. If it works, Peace River should see about 120 new people arrive. The Smoky River region would see maybe 35 or so. High Prairie perhaps 85. Every year. These are good numbers.

As far as rural Alberta is concerned, many, many communities are watching their towns large and small see a slow decline. Oil towns old and new watch their economies rise and fall over the price of energy. Forestry town have much the same issue over fibre prices.

Service centres are not immune. Much of their business comes from the very communities going up and down. Even the two largest Alberta cities, Edmonton and Calgary, see the same thing.

There is one huge difference. While populations in big places go up and down, their long-term trend is up. In rural Alberta, the long term trend is down.

A simple answer to “Why is this?” comes in one word: Jobs. A more nuanced answer should involve the Five Pillars of a Community: Quality of Recreation, Quality of Education, Quality of Health Care, How Safe is a Community, and lastly, Economic Opportunity. Are their jobs? Can a new business exist and even grow?

By many measures, rural Alberta falls short. Recreation, which includes cultural things like libraries and social clubs, and the variety of sports beyond hockey, struggles. Education struggles. Health care struggles. Safety is probably no more or less worse than large cities.

But when it comes to jobs, it is a completely different story. Unless there are distinct industrial or recreational bases, like energy production, or government, or natural things like mountains or lakes, everything can go sideways.

Kenney’s idea to bring more immigrants to rural Alberta is something of all of these. Like, it’s a big government program to put people in places like McLennan and High Prairie. In Kenney’s own words, “Our goal is to proactively attract talented newcomers from overseas, welcome entrepreneurs, and encourage settlement in rural Alberta.”

Wonderful! Kenney hasn’t said what this will cost. If anything like most government programs, local people will have to put up most of the money one way or another. What government puts in mostly ends up in civil servant salaries in the cities Kenney wants to stay away from. It’s a huge reason why cities are growing and rural Alberta is declining. We country bumpkins aren’t smart enough to run sophisticated government programs, but if we move to Grande Prairie or Red Deer, we suddenly grow brains!

Falher business person Jean Nicolet basically said years ago about government development programs: “You want to see economic development? You want to see jobs? Give me a million dollars a year and I’ll show you jobs.”

To hit the Kenney numbers in the Smoky River area, at a measly $30,000 per year for each of Kenney’s 35 or so jobs, it will take only $1 million. Or $10,000 per year for 100 jobs.

Kenney, this might work!


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