Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is now largely presumed to be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s planned successor, is preparing to bring a mammoth new infrastructure proposal to Cabinet in her new role as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The initiative is being tentatively dubbed ‘Area 53’ and is motivated, in part, to meet Canada’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) spending obligation of 2% of GDP by amply funding a slew of new defense research programs in the economically hard-hit Province of Alberta. Canada currently spends less than 1.3% of GDP on defense.
The initiative would construct a $10 billion federal research campus south of Edmonton, on a vast swath of land adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Highway and the Edmonton International Airport. The massive federal investment would be intended to quell separatist sentiments in the western interior of Canada, where the Liberal Party was unable to win a single riding in Parliament.
Freeland believes that the federal government has an obligation to “restructure and diversify Alberta’s economy beyond oil and gas extraction,” and has been prodding Trudeau to take bold steps to heal region rifts.
Sources familiar with her thinking say that the campus would be operated jointly by the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Industry, and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
Target research areas will include artic warfare, energy storage, and transport security; carbon-less defense systems; cyber warfare and cybersecurity; and ariel surveillance.
Sources say that Freeland will be requesting a $2 billion annual operating budget to fund the campus, which is projected to include 5,000 research scientists. But Freeland believes that the real economic impact on Alberta’s economy will come from commercializing the technology that is developed out of the research campus, and subsequently incubated into startups and developed to industrial scale.
“To get beyond the oil and gas industry from a political standpoint, we need to turn Alberta into Silicon Valley so that they see a carbon-light future as their future, too,” the former staffer at the Ministry of Global Affairs explains. “Freeland is trying to invent our next export industries, and to do so in a way that strengthens our position in the NATO alliance.”