I know you usually get letters from little girls and boys, but I'm a bit desperate these days.
In the past, you've been very generous with me, but it seems perhaps I've done something to upset you. I've had nothing but lumps of coal in my stocking for the past two years.
Since I'm trying to get off coal, perhaps you'd consider leaving a few goodies under the tree instead. I've compiled a short list of things I'd love to see.
Oil at $55 a barrel. Plenty of Albertans would like a much higher price for West Texas intermediate, such as $75 (U.S.) or $80 a barrel. But I actually don't think we need it that high. Sure, $80 oil would help bring back jobs and investment, and it would certainly boost government coffers. But a big jump in oil prices would just put me back on the roller-coaster of booms and busts. A moderate price with stability is better than a high price that crashes again in three years.
More clean-tech companies. Okay, I'll admit that I've fought a bit with my big sister British Columbia this year. But she's had two full years of strong economic growth and I'm starting to feel left out. Vancouver has worked wonders in building up its tech sector, but from what I've been hearing it's starting to have a hard time holding on to them. The city is too expensive for tech-sector employees to live. Could you please send a few of those companies east over the Rockies? I've got some attractive office space in Edmonton and Calgary, and their employees can get much bigger condos for half the price!
Good weather. Tourism is huge for me, and last year was a record-setting year. But attendance at the Calgary Stampede was down – not only because of the recession, but also because of torrential rain and hail. Could you manage to keep July and August comfortably warm and dry? That would keep the tourists spending. And on the topic of weather, I'd also like to put in a request for decent moisture in April and May – not too much and not too little, but just the right amount to keep farmers happy. Agriculture is my second-most important sector and the proper balance of wet, dry and warm is necessary to keep those wheat and canola crops healthy.
A free-trade deal with Japan. Would you put in a good word for us with the Prime Minister on trade deals? He's done great work with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe, but I'd love to have more diversity in global trading partners. Free-trade access into Japan for my lumber, pork and beef products would be fantastic. It doesn't have to be Japan necessarily, but it seems like an obvious market for Canada. Even if its economy is stagnant, there's still more than 126 million consumers.
Favourable deals for Canada in the White House. Could I slip in one more teensy, weensy request? Could you arrange for Donald Trump and his incoming administration to rethink U.S. trade isolationism? I know Canada isn't in his crosshairs, but we risk being collateral damage if he follows through on some of his campaign promises to tear up the North American free-trade agreement. He's talking favourably about the Keystone XL pipeline, which would be welcomed by my energy patch. But what I really need are open borders – and throw in a renewed softwood-lumber trade agreement if you can manage that.
Now, Santa, I know I'm asking a lot. You must get so many requests, especially this year with all of the violence and anger around the world. It's been a tough year for many.
But if you find it in your heart to deliver a couple of these things on my list, I'll make a promise to you, too. I promise – one more time – not to waste this recession. I promise to foster more economic diversity, to encourage more innovation, to continue building up my arts, culture and transportation systems, to lead in environmental stewardship and to be that place of opportunity for people from all corners of the globe.
Have a safe trip on Christmas Eve, and give Rudolph and Mrs. Claus my regards.
Todd Hirsch is the Calgary-based chief economist of ATB Financial and author of The Boiling Frog Dilemma: Saving Canada from Economic Decline.