By Tim Kalinowski
The Palliser Economic Partnership (PEP) celebrated a successful year and toasted opportunities for the future at its annual general meeting last Friday.
The meeting, held at Medicine Hat College, saw the election of new officers and emphasized the need to find ways to work in lock step with other regional organizations such as the Eastern Alberta Trade Corridor (EATC) and Ports to Plains when making representations to the new NDP government.
Walter Valentini, executive director of PEP, said it has never been so important to find ways to form these broader coalitions to expand PEP’s range and level of influence.
“These are not islands unto themselves.” said Valentini referring to regional organizations like the Palliser Economic Partnership. “We can’t do it alone.”
Valentini also stressed the need to find ways to get PEP’s message across to government without getting in a shouting match over money spent on jurisdictions like Calgary or Edmonton.
“We are not in that weight class in the boxing ring,” said Valentini. “We can’t step into that ring and say we need a special charter or something special. We have to make our argument based on the science of what is required to allow growth to happen. The Eastern Trading Corridor is about making ourselves look big, in terms of football. And it does get (the government’s) attention.”
This message was reiterated by guest speakers Elvira Smid, executive director of the Eastern Alberta Trade Corridor, and Michael Reeves, president of Ports to Plains.
The Texas-born Reeves, in particular, drove home this point by showing how Ports to Plains grew from a regional, rural-based, economic development organization like the Palliser Regional Partnership, based in and around Lubbock, Texas, into an organization which now has influence at all levels of government in the United States as well as with the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“I think it is a challenge with the transition in Alberta in leadership; you can’t get into a rural versus urban fight,” said Reeves. “You are out of your weight class. You’re bringing the knife to the gunfight. So instead of going and saying ‘you are giving all the money to Edmonton,’ and complaining about that; what you have to do is try to find out how the EATC can benefit Edmonton and Calgary.”
Reeves also spoke humourously about the multiple changes in leadership in Alberta over the past few years, and how that looks in his home state of Texas.
“The more things change, the more things stay the same. There is a consistent message in (politics in Alberta).”
Reeves then showed a series of slides of the last few premiers starting with Ed Stelmach and leading up to Rachel Notley. All wearing cowboy hats. The last one of Rachel Notley arm-wrestling in a cowboy hat.
“So we got this new government,” said Reeves over the laughter of the gathered delegates. “And it’s not just a new government, it’s a totally new philosophy, and BOOM, there you go: Rachel Notley arm-wrestling in a cowboy hat. So I know I got something I can take back to Texas and I’ll be alright.”
The newly elected Palliser Economic Partnership officers are Jay Slemp, Special Areas rep., as chair, Coun. Jim Turner from Medicine Hat as first vice chair, Mayor Doug Jones of Oyen as second vice chair, Debbie Ross representing Empress as secretary/treasurer, and Coun. Eric Solberg of Redcliff and Coun. Don Gibb of Rosemary as the new members at large.
It was also announced during the meeting that the City of Brooks and Medicine Hat College have both signed on to PEP as new member organizations. For Brooks it represented a return to the fold after dropping out of the organization a few years ago.
And finally, Palliser Economic Partnership received word on Friday from MP LaVar Payne it would be recieiving a $45,000 grant from the federal government’s “Invest Canada Community Initiatives” fund.