Opinion: Growing technology sector a priority for next Alberta government


It is becoming increasingly clear that the pandemic is casting a long shadow over the 2023 election in Alberta. Just four days after the campaign, the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 public health emergency over, but the economic hangover, deep social divisions ​​​​​​​​​​​​and memories of the past three years are great.

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But the pandemic also changed Alberta in another way, which may be cause for cautious optimism. Today, each of us lives a more digitally connected life and uses technology more than ever in our work and personal lives.

This also applies to the Alberta economy writ large. As more value is created through the knowledge-based and data-driven economy than ever before, it is undeniable that the tech sector is more important than ever to Alberta’s future prosperity.

The good news is that Alberta’s tech sector has been on fire in recent years – 2022 marked five years of the province consistently breaking its venture capital attraction records in the tech space.

Alberta’s tech entrepreneurs are emblematic of our confident provincial identity – they’re ambitious, competitive and punch above their weight. And at a time when inner-city communities are struggling with the effects of the pandemic, tech companies are attracting young, well-educated professionals who will help maintain vitality in our cities when they return to work.

What’s more, Alberta’s tech sector has largely grown out of the province’s can-do spirit, without much government support. But to reach our full potential, that has to change. In another generation, the Alberta government was a valued partner of the private sector in building the province’s energy economy, creating necessary institutions and regulatory structures, and providing strategic funding where needed. The SAGD technology that helped unlock the oil sands is one of the many innovations made possible by the Lougheed government that has the vision to establish the first Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority.

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Alberta’s tech sector has all the ingredients to be an engine of prosperity for the 21st century on par with (and in partnership with) the energy sector, and it can help the province weather the volatility of the boom and bust of the natural resources to beat cycle.

Now it’s time to ask both Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley; what is your plan to build the digital economy of the province, where more than 200,000 people already work? What is the plan to ensure the most promising startups and innovative high-growth businesses can scale up in Alberta?

There is a lot of work to do. A single existing policy puts the province at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to attracting top talent. Due to an archaic quirk in the province’s labor legislation, confusion exists over whether companies are allowed to use the term “software engineer” when hiring employees. Alberta governments of all stripes have historically prided themselves on moving at the speed of business. Whichever party forms the government after May 29 must remove this unnecessary bureaucracy to keep Alberta businesses competitive with those in other jurisdictions.

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We also consistently hear that the Alberta government is doing a poor job of procuring local innovators, which could boost the local economy while also providing Albertans with much more efficient digital government services.

And frankly, we’d like to see the Alberta government borrow some of the successful innovation strategies we’ve seen in other Canadian provinces — like British Columbia’s dedicated tech talent immigration stream under the provincial nominee program, or Ontario’s consolidated intellectual property agency. .

There is still time in the Alberta election period to debate many important issues, but given how fundamental it is to everything else, the economy should be top-of-mind.

By any measure, that conversation should include the question of what the plan is to support Alberta’s tech sector. Thousands of innovators would like to hear an answer.

Jess Sinclair is Director of Government Affairs, (Alberta) for the Council of Canadian Innovators.

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