Dear Rachel Notley,
It has come to our attention that you – and many Albertans – are incensed at how other Canadians are treating your province amid the oil price collapse.
You don’t think we understand what you’re going through. Worse, many of you think we are actively conspiring to make Alberta fail. On a recent trip to Toronto, you complained that Canada “willfully holds Alberta’s economy hostage” by blocking oil from getting to market.
That is ludicrous. First of all, if Alberta is being held against its will, we are sorry and you are free to go. Not as in, quit Confederation, of course. But you are free to fulfill your energy destiny. Indeed, we are glad to see you are taking steps to do just that – by announcing a province-wide oil production cut and ordering thousands of oil tanker railway cars to relieve pipeline bottlenecks.
Godspeed. We all hope these efforts will help get you a fair price for your oil.
But the victim-complex is getting tired. It’s nonsense to suggest that the federal government somehow wants Alberta to crash, as politicians and pundits in your province have been hollering for weeks.
If we’re out to get you, we’re doing a poor job of it. Ottawa has forked out $4.5-billion to buy the Trans Mountain oil pipeline linking Edmonton and Vancouver, and will eventually spend billions more to expand it. The government is also ready to exempt some oil sands projects from new environmental assessment regulations. And last month, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced tax incentives worth nearly $15-billion over six years to encourage businesses to invest in new machinery and equipment – changes your government demanded – with a large share of the benefits likely to flow to the capital-intensive oil patch.
And, yes, we feel your pain, every time we look at our shrinking RRSPs and other savings, which are being dragged down by the performance of Canadian energy companies and their lenders. We’re hit again when we price out a winter vacation in Florida or Hawaii with our shrinking Canadian petro-dollars.
When crude prices tanked in 2014-15, the Bank of Canada slashed interest rates – not because we needed it, but because you did. This rate relief poured gasoline on already flaming real estate markets in Vancouver and Toronto, putting the dream of home ownership out of reach for many young Canadians.
We endure all this for you, Alberta.
You seem to think that Ottawa takes the plight of a few thousand General Motors workers more seriously than the tens of thousands of people who have lost jobs in your energy sector. Well guess what? The federal government is offering both sets of workers exactly the same things: empathy and employment insurance benefits.
So what do you want? Pipelines, now. We get that. But how? Surely, no reasonable person wants Ottawa to circumvent the courts, which recently ordered a more thorough review of the Trans Mountain expansion project. And you’re living in the wrong country if you think Ottawa should declare martial law, overthrow the B.C. government and deploy the armed forces to stifle pipeline opponents.
Of course, mistakes were made by this and previous federal governments to expedite pipeline approvals. That’s all in the past, and Ottawa now shares your urgency in getting the Trans Mountain expansion built.
Harping on the past won’t make that happen any sooner. Ottawa is not responsible for fierce pipeline opposition in Quebec, which doomed the Energy East project. Nor is the federal government to blame for the many legal and regulatory hurdles thrown at the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. Quite the opposite. It lobbied hard to get it built.
But as long as we’re dredging up the past, it’s worth remembering the many things Alberta has not done to head off this crisis. You have not done enough to diversify your economy, your tax base and your oil sector. Your economy is still too reliant on oil and gas. Why no provincial sales tax to offset the obvious boom-bust dependence on income taxes and energy royalties? Let’s not forget oil producers, who for years have invested too little of their profits in downstream refining, leaving them vulnerable to price discounting. And perhaps your predecessors in the premier’s chair should have moved earlier to deal with global climate change pressures by phasing out the use of coal to generate electricity.
None of that is our fault.
The (New) Rest of Canada