Building a Green Prairie Economy | Reflections from the PrairiesCan Engagement Sessions

July 20, 2023

On June 12, Foresight Canada took part in an engagement roundtable session in Calgary, Alberta, hosted by PrairiesCan to discuss the newly minted Building a Green Prairie Economy Act. The Act, which was signed into law on December 15, 2022, was designed to help grow the green economy across the prairies in a way that is sustainable and inclusive.

Canada’s prairie provinces are rife with clean economic opportunity, with numerous oil and gas processing facilities and coal power plants presenting opportunities for carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), and the sunny, sprawling environs opening doors for renewable energy such as wind, solar, and biomass power. In an attempt to capitalize on these opportunities, the Government of Canada has been engaging various stakeholders and leaders in the space to better understand what they are and how to best leverage them. 

Through the first half of 2023, PrairiesCan undertook those consultations, with the intent to compile the feedback from the sessions and create a framework that will be tabled in Parliament before the end of the year. The engagement sessions included discussions with prairie provinces, municipalities, Indigenous Peoples, industry, labour organizations, and prairie residents to develop a framework for local cooperation and engagement that will help grow the green economy.

During the sessions, PrairiesCan presented a number of questions designed to discover ideas on the clean economic opportunities for the Prairies, what is needed to make them a reality, and how to strengthen collaboration and secure a green future for the Prairie region in a competitive global economy.

Here are those questions, along with Foresight’s thoughts on each of them: 

1. As the world pivots to a greener economy, what are the opportunities for growth that matter most for your community and the Prairies?

Creating a framework that will allow for increased industry competitiveness across the Prairies will be crucial so innovators have the opportunity to deploy and scale their solutions. There is no shortage of impressive, Prairie-based cleantech ventures ready to make their mark on the world stage. Therefore, there is a huge opportunity to support these ventures through industry connections, capital investment, and collaboration to ensure the Prairie cleantech community continues to thrive.  

2. Other countries are actively pursuing the economic opportunities and benefits created by the shift to a greener economy. To stay competitive as a region, what actions are needed now to seize the opportunities that you see for the Prairies?

In order for Canada and the prairies to seize these opportunities, Canada can continue championing policies that enable collaboration between innovators, industry, and governments at every level. Enhancing collaboration between stakeholders can only make Canada’s prairie economy stronger.

To achieve a strong green economy for the Canadian Prairies, stability and clarity on policies such as environmental regulations, carbon pricing, and tax incentives are key. In addition, policies that streamline cleantech adoption, and take into account regional realities, constraints, resources, assets, and contributions to the national goal of a net zero future will further bolster a thriving green economy across the prairies.

3. Building a greener economy will require collective effort and leadership. How can the Government of Canada collaborate better with other governments, industry, and Prairie Canadians on the opportunities you have identified? We would like to hear examples of strong partnerships and lessons learned.

Further collaboration between all levels of government around regulations is needed; enhanced collaboration can create a better understanding of the needs of various regions, and provide clarity on how to provide solutions for those needs. 

Alberta, for example, has had a spotlight on its tech and innovation community because of the collaboration of all three levels of government in funding for acceleration and support. As a result, Alberta has seen an increase in venture capital deployment and growth in its tech sector. There is an opportunity to replicate these powerful collaborations we’ve seen work in Alberta in regions all across the country.

Canada can continue to ramp up efforts to share best practices and solutions around procurement and pilot projects. Our net zero goals are very ambitious, and if we want to achieve them we will need participation and accountability from industry. 

Solutions can’t be made in a vacuum, and projects that are undertaken with an industry partner at the table are much more likely to be successful, and achieve the desired results more quickly. 

A nationwide framework to measure our progress, with long-and short-term regional objectives that inform the national framework, would be massively beneficial as we look to accelerate Canada’s net zero transition.

4. Economic growth that works for everyone is a goal we all aspire to. What steps can we take to include the economic participation of under-represented groups and communities across our region? For example, how do we ensure opportunities for Indigenous peoples and rural communities?

Currently, many of our energy transition options, like electric vehicles or home improvements, are consumer driven, with the expense and benefit being shouldered by and enjoyed by the individual who chooses the green option. What’s missing from the picture is asking the same question at a larger scale, collectively making improvements at a community level and ensuring the benefits of those changes are distributed equally. 

Ensuring an inclusive green transition begins with clear communication. Stakeholders and rightsholders should be brought into conversations and projects at the onset to ensure that their needs are fully understood, and plans to address them are in place early.

5. What does success look like for you as we work together to build a greener Prairie economy?

For its size, the Prairies region is an economic powerhouse. It punches far above its weight — with only 18 per cent of the national population, it contributes 21 per cent of the national GDP. Improvements can be made, and projects can be undertaken in order to ensure the green transition is just and inclusive, but allowing the region to continue to succeed with the efficacy it has shown through the transition to a greener economy would be a success.

We hope the outcome of these engagement sessions, and the framework PrairiesCan is working to develop, is that we get a clear sense of how the Prairie region plays a key role in Canada's transition to a greener economy. Alberta and the Prairies are a global leader in sustainable innovation in key sectors, like agriculture and energy. 

The reputation of the Prairies as a global innovation hub should be recognized and promoted. The cleantech developers and innovators are already here, working hard to create solutions that will put us on course for a net zero economy. We hope that the Canadian Government can elevate our status as a global leader in cleantech, and turn the Prairies into a desirable destination for investors and industry partners around the world.

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