Both the governments of Canada and British Columbia have clearly expressed their desire to move landlocked energy (both gas and oil) to the Pacific Ocean for export to Asia. Northern BC literally sits in the middle of this issue, giving the region unusual prominence in Ottawa. UNBC has never had a high profile in our nation’s capital, but it’s appropriate for that to change if the North is to increase the local pool of skills and add capacity in related research and innovation.
One group critical to building the UNBC profile in Ottawa is alumni. Though still relatively small in number, UNBC graduates in Ottawa include Industry Minister James Moore and dozens more. I met with a group of alumni in Ottawa last week to get their ideas on how UNBC can best meet the challenge of responding to the energy issue in ways that respect economic development, environmental sustainability, and community vitality.
“Linkages with decision-makers here are key,” said one.
“UNBC could be a knowledge broker,” said another.
“You could be a source of expertise on federal aspects of natural resource developments.”
“UNBC could promote itself as the University of the corridor from northern Alberta to the west coast.”
These alumni have a certain insight, being employed in ministries such as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and Natural Resources Canada. One is a specialist in cross-border issues. Another is coordinating a national study on First Nations food, nutrition, and the environment. One developed the new strategic framework for the Canadian Forest Service that involved two years of consultation about sustainable forests. Another is a finance specialist. One is a manager for the Treasury Board. The group even had expertise on the oil sands.
Did this group of alumni represent the upper echelon of decision-making in Ottawa? No, but they represent something perhaps more important. They’re bringing new ideas and northern perspectives to the capital and contributing to an emerging sense of “open innovation.” It’s rooted in an appreciation that not all of the smart people are in Ottawa. In fact, “the idea of this city being the central source of knowledge is disappearing,” said one graduate. There’s increased appreciation for diffuse and diverse expertise that can contribute to better decisions, he said. It was this statement that offered a glimpse into UNBC’s potential contribution. It may be precisely that UNBC is NOT in Ottawa that makes it most valuable to the national discussion on energy, but also to policy discussions in any number of areas of consequence to Canada and its northern regions. If there’s a greater interest in assembling knowledge from across the country in the pursuit of better decisions in Ottawa, northern BC is well-positioned.