BIG Region – Alberta

Photo Credit: Edna Winti (Flickr)
Photo Credit: Mark Stevens (Flickr)
Photo Credit: Michael Kalus (Flickr)

Unlike most Canadian provinces bordering the United States, Alberta’s physical borders are at a considerable distance from its principal population centres – Edmonton and Calgary. Meanwhile, Alberta’s borderlands are sparsely populated, largely agricultural lands.

As a landlocked province, Alberta’s economic borderlands include major trade corridors making use of the Trans-Canada corridors, parallel transcontinental rail lines and pipeline corridors, the Crowsnest corridor linking southern Alberta with British Columbia’s East Kootenay region (the principal land and rail gateways to Western Montana, Idaho and Washington State), and the Can-Am Highway system linking its major cities with the U.S. mount​ain states, northern British Columbia, Alaska and the Northwest Territories.

Provincial gateways also include international airports in Calgary and Edmonton and, for southern Albertans, regional airports in Great Falls and Kalispell, Montana. Alberta’s recreational borderlands spill over into the East Kootenays and the Flathead Valley of north-western Montana. Aboriginal, farming and ranching communities in Southern Alberta also have extensive business and family connections across the border in Montana.

Alberta also sees itself as part of several cross-border regions, including the U.S. Pacific North-West Economic Region, and connected with the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states as a result of its extensive economic and cultural linkages. Its energy trade corridors and investment networks span the United States and increasingly connect the province with the European Union and Asia-Pacific regions.

Its diffuse social, economic and political linkages raises significant governance challenges, not least those affecting major market flows and environmental sustainability and how to relate to other Canadian and North American jurisdictions.

As a result, researchers were most interested in exploring energy and environmental policy relationships, agricultural trade and food safety, cooperation and competition among communities in borderland regions of Alberta and its neighbours, as well as issues of labour mobility, markets and recruitment in Alberta.

They also wanted to be able to determine the extent to which internal borders (interprovincial, aboriginal, urban-rural interface) should be a significant focus to address issues related resource development.

Concretely, researchers focused on the centrality of the energy and agricultural sectors to the province’s prosperity and development. Any exploration of energy questions will immediately raise major questions of market flows (capital, products, services, distribution systems, labour) and environmental sustainability.

Alberta has a diversified agri-food sector, but one that is facing significant challenges of adjustment due to border effects related to market structures, marketing options for independent producers and food processors, and regulatory cooperation on food safety issues. Cross-border water management issues, while sectorally significant, are dwarfed by broader questions of inter-sectoral, urban-rural and inter-communal competition and coordination germane to environmental sustainability.

Initial discussions between researchers and business groups identified varying effects related to country pricing and cross-border supply chains. These issues require additional definition and investigation related to other governance issues.

Finally, security issues are also of keen interest to researchers, as they have different implications for different economic sectors. Again, these issues remain to be scoped out in discussions with stakeholders.

Dr. Geoffrey Hale at the University of Lethbridge led the Alberta region.

Special Journal of Borderlands Studies Issue on Alberta 2019

This issue of Journal of Borderlands Studies examines the context of Alberta: Canada’s fourth largest province by population and third largest in economic terms. Landlocked Alberta is a dynamic, heavily urbanized yet largely resource-driven economy which has experienced considerable economic diversification since the 1980s. The province’s major export sectors, particularly its energy and agri-food sectors, have been transformed by changes to wider regulatory and market structures, major technological innovations, and the opportunities and pressures arising from global and North American commodity price cycles. These shifts have prompted large-scale movements of people and capital, creating substantial ripple effects in both larger and smaller Canadian jurisdictions. However, they have also provoked and been caught up in countervailing social and political tensions across North America with broader implications transcending provincial or national boundaries.