Upcoming summit a worthwhile event for Alberta’s new jobs minister, who faces ‘Herculean’ task ahead

We know Doug Schweitzer is a pretty busy fellow these days, what with his new job as Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation.

He’s accepted the Herculean task of leading the rebuild of Alberta’s economy, which has been hammered over the past few years, and continues to struggle, seemingly with no end in sight. This has caused widespread angst among Albertans, many of whom are enduring a whole lot of pain.

So, for the minister, his dance card is likely pretty full, with well-intentioned folks wanting to offer him advice about how to get things back on track. Yet given the breadth and depth of the challenge, it’s difficult to know where to start.

That’s why we’re inviting the minister to a unique gathering next week — because we think what we are aiming to initiate might give him some meaningful data points with which he can tackle Alberta’s economic and environmental challenges.

The reality is at the “Growing Forward...Together Summit” we’ve set ourselves the very same task: reimagining Alberta’s future potential in a way that seeks more collaboration between the energy and agriculture sectors — two of the foundational industrial planks of the provincial economy.

We’re doing that as a first step by bringing together on Sept. 9 more than 160 people from those sectors. Using an air-water-land framework, participants will “learn and teach” as they share ideas for building an innovation economy that will emphasize environmental sustainability.

“Part of the future challenge is how to create new spaces in which creative discussions can occur. This also includes reimagining legacy labels we attach through tradition to business sectors,” explained JWN Energy's Bill Whitelaw. “Both agriculture and energy, by way of example, are as much technology sectors as any other sector with that label, and we can trip ourselves up if we don't understand that.”

JWN Energy, Radicle and Weather Innovations as businesses, and the Energy Futures Lab and Ag for Life as non-profit partners, came together to frame the summit’s mandate. The summit is supported by Farm Credit Canada, Summit Earth, EY, Radicle, Gowlings, Nutrien and Advantage Oil & Gas Ltd.

The organizing group hopes the insights generated by participants will be catalysts for near-term ongoing dialogue that focuses on immediate practical opportunities. That includes recognizing that economic and the environmental imperatives can mutually reinforce each other, noted Whitelaw.

“We believe that within the environmental, social and governance (ESG) pressures both sectors are under are a multitude of job creation and innovation opportunities,” he said. “In that sense, we’re pushing a pragmatic program of focusing on opportunities that the province can start on tomorrow.”

Whitelaw, who will co-moderate the summit with Api’soomaahka (William Singer III), a member of the Kainai First Nation, noted the gathering is also intended to curate the broad range of initiatives underway in both sectors, and explore potential crossovers and alignments, including partnerships with Indigenous communities.

“We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel, but rather to push harder on wheels that are already turning. By creating a cross-sectoral ‘catalogue’ of existing initiatives, we hope to connect some dots that perhaps haven’t been linked in the past.”

The summit will run for three hours and will include opening and closing plenary sessions, with working air, water and land sessions led by subject matter specialists from both sectors. The summit will be recorded, and a discussion paper will be produced and released in early fall.

“We hope some of our results will find their way in front of politicians and policymakers, who may be inspired to help us dig deeper into the opportunities we hope to surface — opportunities that support Alberta’s economic diversification aspirations, its sustainability goals and perhaps more important, next-generation job creation,” said Whitelaw.

He added: “While we know [the minister] Doug Schweitzer has a lot on his plate, he might consider this three hours of time well invested, to sit in and listen to how some pretty smart Albertans think we should work ourselves out of this hole and set the stage for tomorrow’s Alberta.”

While registration for the summit is closed, more details about the program can be found here:

https://www2.jwnenergy.com/EnergyAgSummit