Alberta is forecast to have the strongest economic rebound of all provinces, with an anticipated 7.2% gain in real GDP for 2021. This is great news, given it was also the province that weathered the worst economic recession in 2020. In order to not just rebuild but also enhance economic opportunity, the province needs to carefully consider policy choices that will allow it to lead and to grow.
The agri-food sector is one that’s ripe for regulatory review. As a whole, the sector is Alberta’s largest employer, and contributed $56 billion to the economy in 2020. There is also enormous opportunity for expansion, with a recent report from The School of Public Policy positing that the industry is poised for significant growth in jobs, investment, and economic activity.
Alberta’s Recovery Plan includes the development of an ambitious sector plan for agriculture and forestry that will focus on attracting investment, expanding export opportunities, and developing infrastructure. What exactly is contained within the comprehensive sector plan is anyone’s guess, however, as it has yet to be released.
While it would not be surprising to see some targeted investment in this area of activity, there is a low-hanging fruit that should not be ignored: reducing the red tape that keeps the sector all tangled up.
The province could start by streamlining application processes, both in the agricultural sector and in the beef industry, in order to make applying for permits, licenses, and projects more efficient. Unclear applications and processes and a labyrinth of red tape lead to uncertainty, and research shows that increasing uncertainty leads in turn to decreased investment. Reducing uncertainty and risk for investors will therefore stimulate investment by making Alberta a more attractive destination for their dollars.
The ministry of Red Tape Reduction aims to slash regulations in the province by a third, and is over halfway to its goal with a 16.7% reduction in red tape. This has included the streamlining and modernizing of application processes in a number of sectors and areas, and it is high time to do the same in the agricultural sector. With investor interest already strong and growing, the province can do more to create a welcoming environment by reducing the risk that accompanies an inefficient regulatory framework. The new Associate Minister, Tanya Fir, should pluck this low-hanging fruit.