It’s nice when your community sits on massive natural resources. This is the case in much of Alberta. There are oil towns like Edson, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray.
There are oil and lumber towns like Whitecourt and Slave Lake. And of course, there are huge service centres like Edmonton. In so many places, the job of local government is not a job of encouraging growth, but of managing growth.
Life is not so easy in regions where there is a stable or declining population. In such places like Fairview, most of Saskatchewan, High Prairie and much of central-Eastern Alberta, government still has a very important job. The job in these places is to focus on the pillars of a sound community.
Good health care. Ensure a safe community. Promote all kinds of recreation opportunities. Maintain or improve quality of education. Provide opportunity for economic advance.
As former Lesser Slave Lake MLA Larry Shaben once said, “It is not up to government to create jobs. It is up to government to create an environment in which business can succeed.”
That means constantly working to maintain and improve the pillars.
Too often, local governments take the pillars for granted. Of course, they say, we need good schools. Of course we want good health care, which is why we worked to get a new hospital. Of course we want recreation. Of course we want a safe community. We are doing just great, aren’t we?
As a former mayor of High Prairie, George Keay, said many times, “If you are just standing still, you are actually falling behind.”
If your community isn’t improving, lots of other communities are. You need to get better just to stay even.
There are still those who make a tired case that “economic development just happens.” Or they will say, “We have done all we can. It is up to somebody else.” Or perhaps, “We need to hire somebody.”
Sure, these are all nice ideas. Lazy politicians with little or no imagination sell such ideas all the time to gullible voters and taxpayers.
Is there a proper way to pursue economic development? Maybe. There is always the flavour of the week, trying to copy what somebody else is doing or seemingly has had success with. Throw enough ideas at the wall, and maybe something will stick.
Somewhere along the line, success or no success with other ideas, thoughts must turn to the community pillars. Education. Health care. Recreation. Safety. Opportunity. Make these the best they can be. And then make them even better.
When every community leader is pulling and pushing in the same direction, it seems likely that one day, everybody wakes up and says, “Hey, you know what? This is one heckuva fine community to live in, to raise a family, to send my kids to school, to work in, to run a business in, or retire in.”
And tomorrow, it is going to be even better, because we all keep working at it.
Economic development just happens? Just like the person who worked hard for 20 years, just to become an “overnight success.”