Ottawa's new PrairiesCan to replace Western Economic Development, adding three offices in Alberta

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The federal government is expanding its footprint in Alberta with three new offices for its planned regional economic development agency.

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The new offices for the Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan) will be based in Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie and Lethbridge, the federal Economic Development Ministry is set to announce Thursday. An existing federal office in Calgary will also be expanded.

The agency replaces the Western Economic Diversification Canada (WEDC) in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in an effort to better target local federal funding and support for business development.

In an interview with Postmedia, Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly said the expansion is the biggest in Western Canada since the creation of the WEDC, which has been operating since 1987.

“By giving it this new budget and opening these new offices, we’re really putting it on par with other regions,” said Joly, who offered no specific timeline for the openings.

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The federal government first announced the west would have two new agencies last December, the other being Pacific Economic Development Canada (PacifiCan), which will be focused on British Columbia.

April’s federal budget promised B.C.’s agency $553.1 million over five years starting in 2021-22, and $110.6 million annually after that.

Existing core program funding of $146 million from WEDC will go to PrairiesCan, although Joly said the total budget will be closer to $400 million when funding through national programs like those for jobs and tourism are included.

The last time Ottawa launched a new economic development agency was in 2009 after the global recession, with the creation of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

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“I wanted to make sure that we were opening new offices, creating these two new agencies … because the economic crisis has been greater in the West and we have to do more for Westerners — that’s one of the things that we’re doing to be even more targeted,” said Joly.

In a news release, the government said during the COVID-19 pandemic, WEDC protected nearly 41,000 jobs by supporting businesses and organizations with more than $530 million in assistance.

“I’m convinced that if we had even a bigger footprint, and people knew even more about what we offer, we could have had a greater impact — and the pandemic revealed how much our work was needed,” said Joly.

Offices in Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Ottawa will be maintained, while new offices will also be established in Regina and Prince Albert in Saskatchewan, and Brandon and Thompson in Manitoba.

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As speculation about an impending federal election swirls, Joly said the announcement is not about partisan politics, but represents a key part of the federal government’s economic recovery plan.

“This is a question of answering needs that have been expressed by people in the West, and I’m very much aware that I’m a Québécois minister, not from the West, but I’m very much aware that this injustice needs to be dealt with,” she said.

Jim Carr, minister and special representative for the Prairies, added in the release that the move takes a substantial step towards meeting demands specific to the region.

“In roundtables across the Prairies, entrepreneurs, innovators, institutions, and community leaders have been clear about the need for more federal resources for investments and community economic development based on their unique needs,” said Carr.

lijohnson@postmedia.com

twitter.com/reportrix

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