Is it too late for Alberta?

After the NDP lost the 2019 provincial election to the newly minted UCP party, hope for the viability of this province’s future seemed dim, but not necessarily catastrophic, after all, Jason Kenney did campaign on a promise to avoid cutting education and public health care (I didn’t believe him) and to “surgically” make cuts from the public sector. If you were a credulous fool who blithely accepted the promise that cutting taxes was going to facilitate a boom in business, things might have in fact, seemed like they might be pretty good.

Fast forward one year later and outlook for the province looks absolutely grim. With COVID 19 wreaking havoc on economies around the world, an OPEC driven price war on oil and monstrous cuts made to education, health care and public service by the UCP government; this may be a watershed moment in Alberta’s history, turning the page on a historically boom/bust economy into one that is permanently depressed. Without an extremely drastic economic stimulus package that injects money into our economy via massive infrastructure projects, we are going to be absolutely fucked.

As of today, WCS is trading at less than $10/bbl. There hasn’t been a time in the history of this province that the oil business has been this unprofitable. Given the current economic climate and it’s bleak outlook, I can’t help but to consider Alberta’s plight as analogous to that of Greater Appalachia during the 1960’s, when the extractive coal industry became less profitable and steel manufacturing began to slowly move overseas. As analogies go, I think this one fits like a glove: swathes of uneducated, but hard working people migrated to a place where there was a massive demand for labour. Due to the labour shortage and the difficulty of the work, people were compensated quite well — much better than if they had pursued careers commensurate with their level of education and training in a job market that was not propped up by natural resource extraction. The current fate of Appalachian-Americans should be instructive for the average Albertan. It is the culmination of corporate rejection, strategically unimportant geographic location and cultural conservatism that has landed Greater Appalachia in a quagmire of addiction, hopelessness and poverty.

Our trajectory isn’t any different. Any hope of mitigating the blow to our economy dealt by rock bottom oil and gas prices has gone with the wind, as UCP ideologues have firmly rejected government involvement in diversifying away from extractive industry, in an effort to display just how far they are willing to be bent over a barrel by oil and gas corporations. Albertans have developed a martyr complex that has only grown over the decades since Pierre Elliot Trudeau enacted the National Energy Policy, which invoked the ire of corporate oil companies and their bootlickers. Every single time the supply of oil exceeds the demand, Alberta suffers immensely and the finger is always pointed at Ottawa because it’s politically expedient and frankly, the average voter in Alberta is critically under-informed.

With the lion’s share of the electorate seemingly unable to identify conservative policies with the abject failure to position Alberta toward success (or even viability) when oil and gas becomes unprofitable; I think it’s a safe bet that we have a long, painful road ahead of us.

That doesn’t mean I think it’s hopeless to fight back against the UCP. There can be a positive future for Alberta. It’s just incredibly important to keep in mind that poverty at the level of Appalachia today WILL be in our future if we stand back and allow the conservatives to loot our public sector and refuse to serve it’s citizens in good faith.

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