Alberta's real advantage isn't its tax structure.
This piece in my opinion is one of your best. Thank you.
Jen's columns often push me to view issues in a different light. For that reason alone, I subscribe to premium content from The Line and other sources. If I wanted boring echo chambers, I'd be on social media or engaging a certain state owned broadcaster.
I fully agree that Alberta needs to push its advantages: reasonable cost of living, high quality workforce (strong work ethic and highly skilled), generally well maintained infrastructure and attractive natural environment. All that in spite of overly long winters and existing within a hopelessly dysfunctional federation. I also agree that the world seems to lack politicians that lead, instead gravitating towards those that project some idealized version of a value set. Avatar is the perfect word to describe the marketing persona that currently inhabits the Prime Minister's office.
I differ or would elaborate on some other points:
1) Throwing the energy industry under the bus is not a litmus test to prove one's progressive credentials or to signal that one "believes in science". Alberta has a natural advantage in producing energy. Failing to capitalize on that advantage would be stupid, as is allowing so-called climate change and other activists to get in the way without a fight. The absolute truth is that consumers drive demand for energy, Producers are simply easier targets than minivan driving soccer moms and Millennials subsisting on energy intensive food delivery services. Alberta can defend the energy industry and chase the future at the same time, even if that doesn't align with some pre-defined, social media friendly archetype
2) The "war room" and inquiries into NGO activities are at least partially motivated by seeking the facts. The execution has been poor and maybe the timing too late, but uncovering the truth is always laudable and I'm surprised that so many journalists have been offside
3) Where Alberta continues to live in the past is failing to reduce government spending to something that doesn't require $10/GJ natural gas prices. So many observers fail to grasp that bitumen royalties were always speculative. In the good old days prior to US shale, natural gas royalties (not crude or bitumen) enabled Alberta's health and education overfunding. Twelve plus years later, few politicians have dared to adjust spending down to something more typical to other jurisdictions. The Feds face same reality check: the collapse of the Canadian energy industry means austerity. Taking on debt only delays and amplifies the inevitable
4) Government will fail if it tries to make Alberta more attractive to entrepreneurial people by building hipster amenities. Rather, the approach should be to remove barriers and allow creative and ambitious people to do what they do best. Places like Texas and Colorado started out as resource producers and leveraged tax advantages, well managed administration and cost of living to attract people who in turn created new opportunities
5) Alberta was diversifying nicely and had largely kicked its non-renewable resource revenue addiction by the late 90's. Nortel was briefly Calgary's largest private sector employer. The three largest manufacturing plants east of Ontario were in Calgary: Nortel's plant that made phone system, Nortel's plant that made wireless base stations and Smed's high end office furniture plant. Corporate head offices such as Canadian Pacific moved to the province. When energy prices started to rise, the provincial government got lazy and started indiscriminately throwing around money and lost its obsession with economic competitiveness at the same time
So if I were in a leadership position, which thankfully I am not, I would advise Alberta to own it. Do not shy away with the province's libertarian values. We built something from nothing in one of the coldest and most remote inhabited regions on Earth in spite of an often hostile national framework. We should take pride in that and if other Canadians disagree, that is their defect. Developing the agricultural and energy industries took brains, guts and hard work, qualities that will succeed in any endeavor.
Fantastic piece! Both a sobering and inspiring read. I’m sharing it all over my social media. I absolutely love Calgary and Alberta (and having lived in many other Cdn cities I feel I’ve got genuine points of comparison), and this article beautifully expressed the hopes I have for this place I love.
Thanks for advocating for Alberta's future. It's a beautiful province with so much potential.
Started subscribing to the line after oppo stopped.
I think Alberta is experiencing the same shocking collapse of high paying blue collar jobs that auto workers suffered in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The root causes are a bit different (being out-competed by lower cost competitors vs. a collapse in demand), but the effects are the same. I think the bigger challenge for Alberta is that the cost of everything has been inflated by the high wages in the energy sector, and the costs are either going to throttle the economy or result in a very painful series of rollbacks and cutbacks. The fact that Alberta governments haven’t really tried to managed anything in 20-25 years is another problem - previously they’d just spend more money rather than expend the effort on getting more value. Anyway, it’s not such an impediment to attracting tech jobs, which flourish in high cost jurisdictions already. I’m just not sure what’s going to replace all of the trade jobs, let alone the jobs that young men could step into with little or no education.
"We elect politicians to serve as leaders, not avatars."... For the "way too online" lot, Politics has become a type of religion tied to their identity. From 2009, but I still think of this essay a lot
Life-long Easterner. Spent a lifetime trying to understand Alberta. Resource rich, no sales tax, long history of boom-bust. Don't always agree with you Jen, but don't always disagree either. Being a Martimer, was always a bit taken aback by attitude of Central Canadians who thought that Atlantic Provinces were a draw on the riches of Upper Canada. From my PoV, Central Canadian prosperity was a fluke of geography created by proximity to US manufacturing, particularly auto. After I moved to Ontario, I found that the apparent prosperity was largely superficial, and concentrated in a narrow segment. Now as an outsider trying to understand the projected attitude (aka Jason Kenney as portrayed by media) I think if I were actually in Alberta, I would find again that the way of life being vigorously defended, is again superficial, and when reduced to its core essence, there are very few differences in what our wants and needs are. Key differences in how these are expressed. Every region of Canada has suffered some type of threat over the years: the Maritimes decisions early in Confederation to extend railways South and West instead of East and West; Ontario and Quebec trade liberalization changing manufacturing; Alberta it will be facing the reduced demand for the energy it produces. In each of the examples cited, Canada as a whole benefited in final analysis, although those who were living through those challenges at the time would have disagreed. Alberta needs the support of the rest of Canada during the transition.
Really thoughtful and well-written. And you are right about everything (IMO). Apologies for the haters - they happen. The province does have a great future: we need to get over oil. We have not been served well by our leaders, since Lougheed anyway. Three oil booms. No savings. No diversification. Nothing to show. Kenney wants to keep the province benighted, blaming Trudeau all the while, for everything.
another brilliant piece of writing, thanks Jen!
Spot on, my biggest concern is not the slow down of oil and gas but the extreme rish to the alternatives. It took us over a century to become the cleanest oil developer in the world. It will take us at least a quarter, if not half that, to truly find a way to meld o&g with more eco-friendly alternatives. My caution is to make sure we do it right not fast. (Tacos in Edmonton, where is your favorite?)
Dear Ms. Gerson:
Please try to show some compassion to all those haters. I do not condone their appalling language, but I have empathy for them. It is a serious issue in Alberta with suicides, overdose deaths, broken families, bankruptcies and more. Perhaps you can rise above vitriol and show some compassion.
Some of the frustration you're witnessing comes from the inability of many pundits to acknowledge that even though Albertans are being lectured on the demise of fossil fuels, OPEC's 2020 World Oil Outlook states "In the medium-term, after recovering from the turbulent year of 2020, global oil demand is projected to continue growing at relatively high annual rates to reach a level of 103.7 mb/d by 2025. Annual increments will be relatively high, especially in 2022 and 2023, at 2.1 mb/d and 1.5 mb/d, respectively." It seems Oil and Gas is OK if it does not come from Alberta.
To make matters worse, Ottawa limits Alberta's ability to get our products to tidewater. Why is there a federal tanker ban on the BC's north coast while tankers filled with offshore oil (from jurisdictions with no respect for human rights, and without Alberta's environmental controls) navigate the St. Lawrence Seaway to unload in Montreal? That is particularly galling when you consider Alberta's outsized contribution (according to the library of parliament) to Canada's balance sheet.
No doubt you caused your correspondents even more frustration by referencing a British newspaper regarding the coming dominance of electric cars. The population density of Great Britain is 275 people per square kilometer. Alberta's population density is six people per square kilometer. Our vast distances make electric cars less sensible - especially at temperatures thirty degrees below zero. While we are on this subject, can you explain how running a car on fossil fuels is less environmentally sensitive than running a car on electricity made with fossil fuels?
Perhaps you can take the high ground and forgive Albertans if we prefer gas power plants to wind and solar power. Frankly, after reading about the recent Texas Blackouts, I wish we had some coal fired power plants online too - diversity is our strength after all. Bonus: unlike wind power generation, solar power generation, and the CBC, fossil fuels do not require a subsidy from the taxpayer.
Your friends from Toronto and Vancouver should move to Alberta to enjoy our low real estate costs. But keep in mind that the great price on a house probably came at some other family's expense. You know - the oil and gas worker who lost his job and had to disrupt his family and relocate for work. Your friends can live in his house, but I doubt they can fill his shoes.
Feeling very grateful for you, Jen, putting up with that verbal abuse but staying the course. Will heavily promote The Line.
I wish more folks in Alberta expressed this aspirational optimism rather than so much cascading anger. It is such a wonderful place. It is too bad it is mired in political molasses.
Great piece, and also a great original article, which I read avidly last year when it appeared. My father was an loyal Albertan, who taught in Edmonton schools in the Depression era before "the war", served in WW2 in the South Alberta Regiment with two of his brothers, and moved East to TO in 1946 with my professional-musician Mom (from Saskatchewan) who came here for the professional opportunities. Dad always regarded himself as an Albertan, and never really settled, emotionally, into his life in TO, which comprised almost half of his lifespan.
Well said in so many ways.
I'm one of many who's not a hater but a lover.... wait... that didn't sound right! I mean of your work! :)