Downtown Edmonton is seen from Ada Boulevard near Rundle Park in Edmonton on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020.Ian Kucerak / Postmedia, file

The glass is half-full, not half-empty.

Never waste a good crisis.

From the ashes, the phoenix is reborn.

Positives can arise from this unprecedented economic emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, impossibly low oil prices and forever-delayed resource development.

The biggest positive? A shattering of conventionality.

For decades, Alberta made half-hearted efforts to innovate and diversify beyond oil and gas. It never really happened.  It was too easy to make a ton of money from oil and gas.


Today, these last few weeks, it has hit home. Either we drastically change, or we die.

Every other jurisdiction in Canada, and around the world, faces a similar challenge. If we are all rebuilding from ground zero, Alberta looks really good.

Our population is young, strong and talented, supported by excellent educational institutions.

Leadership in this province — in government, in the corporate world, in the public sector — is strong.

Kindled by this emergency, our leaders should have the determination to move swiftly and with wisdom. The corporate sector is full of energetic, free-thinking and enlightened visionaries.

In an enormous attitudinal shift, government debt doesn’t seem to matter. Governments around the world are printing money hand-over-fist, accumulating debt that makes Alberta’s but a speck of sand on a beach. As this flood of money has not created horrible inflation or deflation, expect governments to keep doling out money to kick-start the economy.

Examples of short-term Innovation: Page the Cleaner and insulation-blanket manufacturer Reflex Manufacturing have both pivoted in record time to create sorely sought-after brand-new products

Page The Cleaner has designed a non-medical mask that meets public health requirements. It is re-employing laid-off workers, providing them with the supplies to make 1,000 masks a day from home. “It’s a break-even proposition,” says Page general manager Bruce Hogle Jr. (grandson of legendary CFRN-TV news director Bruce Hogle). “It keeps our people working, and at the same time has opened our minds to new business opportunities.”

At Reflex, senior vice-president Chris Yatscoff and president Jason Meikle looked at their idle industrial sewing machines and asked what the machines could be used for, leading to a contract from Alberta Health Services to make hospital scrub outfits.

“The re-tooling of our sewing machines,” says Yatscoff, “was like fitting pickup truck tires to dump trucks. We have some excellent engineers on staff. They figured things out.”

In addition, Reflex had to re-think staff scheduling and hygiene to ensure a COVID-19-free environment.

There’s not much margin, says Reflex’s Meikle. “We’re keeping the operation going, keeping our people employed. Certainly we can continue making scrubs after the pandemic passes, if a ‘buy local’ policy for essential medical supplies takes root.”

Other business leaders/thinkers see enormous opportunity … IF  political/regulatory roadblocks are minimized, if today’s global trade shifts to geographical “zones” for security of supply.

“Alberta could benefit from continental energy, food, fibre (wood) and water policies,” says former Edmonton Economic Development Corporation head Brad Ferguson, now president of air-filtration company BGE Indoor Air Quality. “We would no longer be land-locked. Edmonton could be positioned to benefit from a re-building of the Western Canadian manufacturing sector.”

AltaML’s Cory Janssen sees great opportunity for medical data-analysis companies, if privacy issues at Alberta Health Services can be resolved. Reg Joseph, head of the Edmonton Health City initiative, sees local companies with the expertise to develop virtual medical care platforms. Agricultural expert Jerry Bouma suggests, with eat-local policies, that regional Edmonton could grow 70 per cent to 80 per cent of its own produce rather than today’s 10 per cent.

Yes, it’s rough times for the Alberta economy. The beating could not be worse. We have been simultaneously punched in the nose, solar plexus and gonads. But one does usually recover completely from a serious licking.

If supply-chain security dictates a new emphasis on manufacturing, if leadership can break down long-standing regulatory barriers, if Albertan and Canadian leaders have the wisdom to develop long-term economic development strategies and then wisely use public money to re-start a new and improved economy  … we might be back earlier than we think.