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Alberta then and now

The difference between then and now can oft be dramatic. And Bob from Calgary may be one striking example.

I agree with much of what Bob told The New York Times more than five years ago about the differences between Canada and the United States, from education to crime to who can marry who.

But the Alberta of September, 2010, and this last day of 2015 are wildly different places, and one wonders what Bob might say now.

Identified only as Bob from Calgary, he gained widespread fame this week when The New York Times said his comment, posted on a 2010 article, was the most popular ever on its website.

It was attached to a Paul Krugman column about “the angry rich,” and, at last count, has been given the thumbs up by more than 7,060 readers.

At the time, the benchmark U.S. oil price was in the area of $75 (U.S.) a barrel. Today, it’s at about $37, and we’ve seen what the collapse has done to Alberta, the home of Canada’s oil industry.

Which got me wondering about what Bob might say today as the province heads into an uncertain 2016, having gone through a certain recession this year.

First, I applaud Bob for how he praised education, health care, lower crime, LGBTQ rights and the freedoms we Canadians enjoy. These differences are even more stark today.

The then and now largely relates to the economy of the oil-rich province, which led the country and now lags, and the city that once had it all.

“My household makes just over $250,000 here in Canada,” Bob noted in 2010.

I hope that still holds true, and that Bob isn’t among the thousands who have been thrown out of work as unemployment spiked to 7 per cent and the need for jobless benefits surged.

But today, Bob might be echoing the recent comments of Bank of Nova Scotia economist Warren Kirkland, who told me that most of the jobs lost in Alberta have been higher-paying positions and that “over all, I’d say that household income is starting to decline in Alberta.”

Bob also bragged in 2010 of how “my total tax bill is about 2 per cent higher than it would be in the USA. To me, it’s a bargain!”

Today, he might not be so fond of the new “bargain” with Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP, which swept to power and raised taxes on the rich, which Bob presumably is or was at the time.

Of course, to her credit, Ms. Notley is also boosting the minimum wage, which Bob presumably isn’t earning, or certainly wasn’t at the time.

Bob also noted that Canada’s banks are “there to support the economy, not end run it to make a few $$.”

It’s true that Canada’s banking system is sound, and during the crisis was the envy of the world. And it does boost the economy.

But Bob also might note today that the five big banks collectively earned about $33-billion (Canadian) in profit this year.

Oh, what a year

From the slump in oil prices to the shifting fortunes of Canada’s housing market, 2015 was a year not likely to be forgotten by many.

The Globe and Mail’s Matt Lundy and Tom Cardoso took a look at the last 12 months, in charts.

North Sea storm hits rigs

Oil companies are shutting down operations and pulling their people from rigs in the wake of a brutal North Sea storm.

A BP barge that came loose is also posing problems, and one person is dead after a hit to a China Oilfield Services rig.

Both BP and ConocoPhillips were evacuating employees in the area.

Video: Bank of Canada's mix of 'hope and concern'