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This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

Good morning. Wendy Cox here.

The gravity and emotion of what the Ontario community of Oshawa is about to face with the announced closure of the General Motors plant was captured perfectly in Globe photographer Fred Lum’s photograph of a burly autoworker listening to the closure news. The worker’s bald head is bowed, a union flag is furled uselessly in his hand.

It’s an evocative image and the death knell of the plant’s 2,500 jobs can’t help but prompt sympathy. But many sympathetic Albertans are also wondering whether the same thoughts have been spared for them.

Calgary reporter Justin Giovannetti arrived back in Alberta in October after spending the past two years at the Ontario legislature. Before that, he had been The Globe and Mail’s Edmonton correspondent, based in the legislature. Justin says he’s been surprised at the level of anger and hurt he’s discovered upon his return, a simmering resentment rumbled by attendants at this week’s Calgary business luncheon with Finance Minister Bill Morneau and flicked at by Premier Rachel Notley and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

“We need solutions, not sympathy,” Sandip Lalli, the head of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce tells Justin in his piece published today comparing Oshawa’s plight with Alberta’s.

“Why we are not spoken about in the same context [as the auto industry] when they discuss the national economy, I don’t understand. I really don’t.”

Justin crunched some federal data for his piece and found the auto industry contributes about $19-billion to Canada’s economy each year. The energy industry accounts for $120-billion. Over the past year, about 3,000 jobs were lost in the energy sector, about the same as will die when the GM plant closes in Oshawa. Both sectors employ about the same number of people – 99,997 in September in the energy sector and 111,000 for the same month for the auto sector.

But because Ontario’s population is so much larger than Alberta’s – 3½ times – the impact of the distress in the energy sector is much more closely felt: Calgary has a higher percentage of unemployed people than any other Canadian metropolitan area except for St. John’s.

“That is just jaw dropping. If you imagine a similar hollowing out of Bay Street in downtown Toronto no one would let that stand. The whole country would be jumping to the rescue. The federal government knows Alberta’s problem in theory, but I don’t think they really get it,” said Jean-Sébastien Rioux, a professor at the University of Calgary’s school of public policy.

Ms. Notley spent much of the week promoting solutions. Her province plans to buy new rail cars to move an additional 120,000 barrels of oil a day out of the province, a workaround for the lack of capacity on pipelines.

That, writes Gary Mason, is something everyone should be worried about. But Gary makes the case that Alberta has little choice and the rest of Canada – ROC, an acronym that was once associated with people outside Quebec – Canada should be paying attention.

The province is also considering drastic measures, examining production cuts to reduce supply and providing incentives such as breaks on future royalty payments.

Even trucking the product has become an unlikely alternative, David Ebner writes in a piece about the survival tactics people in the industry are searching for. David interviewed Ingram Gillmore, of Gear Energy Ltd., who notes the only silver lining might be the wakeup call that the situation delivers.

"I hate to say this, but it’s almost good that pricing is so insanely terrible, because I hope it comes to the attention of people east of Manitoba,” Mr. Gillmore says.

“All the anti-oil rhetoric, which is mostly fictitious, is suddenly going to become a lot less meaningful to people when they realize the Canadian economy is suffering. I hope that this is so bad that the rest of Canada wants to elect people who are going to support the energy industry.”

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.


The Globe’s six-month investigation into the looming environmental and economic disaster that is the tens of thousands of abandoned and idle oil and gas wells paid off this week with action. The Alberta and B.C. government’s moved to impose cleanup deadlines on energy companies in a major policy shift to reduce growing financial and environmental risks tied to tens of thousands of idled oil and gas wells across the province. Saskatchewan has pledged to study the measure.


The B.C. legislature finished up its fall session on Tuesday and it’s likely every MLA was relieved to walk out of the buildings for a bit of a breather. The intrigue that gripped the ornate halls following the dismissal of the legislature’s two most senior non-elected officers deepened this week with a news conference by the pair to declare their innocence. Craig James, the long-serving clerk of the legislature, noted that he had made many moves over the past number of years to modernize the financial accountability in his office, noting that the auditor general had given his team a clean bill of financial health since he took over. That hadn’t been the case in the past.

Neither Mr. James, nor Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz have been told why they are the subject of a criminal investigation. The Opposition Liberals, deeply regretting their actions last week to go along with the Speaker’s recommendation that the pair be removed, have been trying to reverse the order suspending them. It hasn’t gone anywhere. Legislature correspondent Justine Hunter writes this weekend to explain why the Speaker has the unique authority to operate the House as he sees fit.


Andrea Woo attended the emotional coroner’s inquest into the suicide death of RCMP Sergeant Pierre Lemaitre. The officer had a high-profile role as the force’s spokesman in the hours and days after Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver’s airport after being stunned repeatedly by a Taser. Sgt. Lemaitre delivered the news that Mr. Dziekanski had been aggressive and violent before being stunned twice. In fact, a video later showed Mr. Dziekanski was stunned five times almost immediately after officers arrived. His only weapon was a stapler.

Sgt. Lemaitre’s wife testified that although her husband had struggled in the past with anxiety and depression, his inability to set the record straight pushed him over an edge. He became abusive and angry before his death.

The coroner’s jury recommended the RCMP add mental-health measures to the force’s regular three-year physical fitness checks.


Barrie McKenna on what Oshawa really means: “The looming plant closure is undeniably terrible for the city of Oshawa, the affected workers, its vast network of suppliers and the tens of thousands of people who depend on the economic spinoffs. And it’s certainly not a good omen for Canada’s shrunken auto sector. But Oshawa is not the “engine” of Canada’s auto industry. It used to be, but it hasn’t been for at least a decade. Oshawa has become a symbol of its past, rather than its present.”

Gary Mason on the legislature drama: “The NDP are in full damage control and are trying to play down the way this whole thing has been handled. I suppose they have no choice. Mr. Plecas, for his part, has hired an additional adviser, former Liberal cabinet minister and former attorney-general Wally Oppal, to provide some cover.”

Marsha Lederman on Fortnight with her 10-year-old: “If you are judging me, go right ahead. You will not find a harsher critic of my parenting than myself. I feel rotten about this. Other than that bit of headset communication with pals and watching my kid bust out some pretty co-ordinated dance moves IRL, I can’t think of anything positive that he is getting out of this. What lessons learned? What new skills? What moral growth?”

Keith Brooks on an exit strategy for oil and gas: “If the oil and gas sector continues to grow, so, too, will its liability. If we fail to police the industry, the risks will increase. If governments keep propping up these companies, Canadians will have more to lose when they fail. And, ultimately, for humanity to succeed, oil and gas companies must fail. It’s time to acknowledge this – and start talking about an exit strategy.”

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