Investments in Key Economic Corridors are Vital to Alberta’s Recovery
Alberta’s Economy is Recovering
After three of the toughest years in our province’s history, Alberta’s economy is finally getting back on track. We’ve added 56,000 jobs since December. The international credit rating agency, Moody’s, just upgraded our rating to AA2. And investments in Canadian oil and gas production are expected to surpass pre-COVID levels, jumping by 11 per cent to hit $40 billion this year.
The Importance of Tapping into the Potential of All Regions
The province is awash in good-news stories. But for the recovery to be enduring, and the stage set for an era of greater opportunity and prosperity, we need to tap into the potential of all the province’s regions. Northeast Alberta is a case in point.
Highway 28: A Critical Corridor in Northeast Alberta
Home to 31 municipalities, nine Indigenous communities, and 130,000 people, the region boasts significant oil and gas, agriculture, and forestry industries. With 718 active oil wells, 19.7 billion cubic metres of proven natural gas reserves, and over three million acres of cropland under production — and just 67,000 workers — northeast Alberta punches above its weight.
Unfortunately, the region faces an Achilles heel in the form of Highway 28. Built in 1961, the highway is one of Alberta’s key economic and transportation corridors, connecting Edmonton north to Highway 63 and the oilsands and east to Cold Lake and Saskatchewan.
Years of neglect, combined with insufficient passing lanes, inadequate intersections, and ever-increasing levels of traffic (including fuel tankers headed to the busiest fighter base in Canada, 4 Wing Cold Lake), have made the route one of the most dangerous in the province.
But it’s more than just safety. Highway 28’s significant shortcomings are also holding back economic growth and diversification by making it harder to transport the region’s goods to market and accommodate its growing tourism industry.
Northeast Alberta Alliance for Growth and Opportunities
While there was much to like in the recent budget, including significant investments in health care, Highway 28 was ignored once again. Anticipating this would be the case, regional municipalities and Indigenous communities came together last month to form the Northeast Alberta Alliance for Growth and Opportunities (NAAGO). The goal is to speak with a strong, united voice to secure the investments we need to grow and thrive as a region.
The Need for Smart Investments
While Alberta’s economic recovery is underway, the global economy is slowing down, and the threat of a recession is growing. In this environment, the province can’t take anything for granted. We need to continue making smart investments to protect and grow the economy. Thanks to sound fiscal management and strong energy prices, the provincial government has the resources to do that.
The UCP says it’s serious about advancing economic corridors and building a transportation network to support the next generation of Albertans and businesses. And make no mistake, good work is underway. But the provincial government needs to do more. Without significant upgrades to Highway 28, northeast Alberta’s economic development will be stunted.
Highway 28: The Backbone of Northeast Alberta
Highway 28 is northeast Alberta’s asphalt backbone. It’s what our kids travel on to get to school; it’s the route residents rely on to get to the hospital; and it connects our goods to provincial, national, and — through Edmonton — international markets. An investment in this critical corridor, therefore, won’t just benefit the region, but the entire province.
As has always been the case, Alberta is the sum of its communities. None of us can truly get ahead if any of us are left behind. With the pandemic receding into the background and a renewed focus on growth, it’s time to turn our attention to smart, targeted investments in critical corridors like Highway 28 to help secure a more prosperous future for all. We have the means; we just need the will.
About the Author
Craig Copeland is mayor of the City of Cold Lake.