Last week Ms Soapbox wrote an article for CBC in which she called out the hypocrisy of the energy industry and various conservatives who want the Alberta government to impose temporary industry-wide production cuts to prop up oil prices.
Isn’t government meddling in the free market a big no-no?
Industry CEOs say the government has to impose production cuts because the market is broken and it’s unfair that integrated producers (companies with refineries) “…are making windfall profits on the back of Albertans, and Canadian taxpayers…” while unintegrated producers (those without refineries) are not. Not surprisingly, CEOs of integrated producers vehemently disagree.
Apparently, Ralph Klein’s policy of ensuring government stayed out industry’s way and granting industry the tools for success (low taxes, low royalties and light regulation) worked like a charm…until last week when the market broke and everything went to hell in a hand basket.
The pleas for government production cuts escalated as the week went on. Energy executives with ties to the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers and business leaders in unrelated industries stamped their tiny feet and wrote op-eds demanding the government act immediately.
We reached terminal velocity with Ted Morton’s comment about a speech by Rex Murphy which blasted the federal government and environmentalists for delaying pipelines.
Morton, a former cabinet minister in the Stelmach government and now with the Calgary School of Public Policy and the Manning Foundation complained, “We’re the Newfies of the West, right? We’ve never really been loved by Central Canada, neither Ontario nor Quebec, so there’s this lingering suspicion that Ottawa doesn’t work very well for us.”
We’ve never really been loved…?
A crazy little thing called love
It’s unclear why Mr Morton thinks Canada owes Alberta this crazy little thing called love.
The Canadian Constitution, unlike the American Declaration of Independence does not get into touchy-feely stuff. Canadians do not have an unalienable right to “the pursuit of happiness”, instead they have to settle for peace, order, and good government.
But let’s assume for a moment we could wring a “love me, god dammit!” duty out of the Canadian Constitution; it would be a challenge for Canada to love Alberta after Morton (together with Stephen Harper) urged Alberta to “firewall” itself from Ottawa by (1) getting rid of CPP and the RCMP in favour of a “made in Alberta” pension plan and police force; and (2) reducing the funds transferred from Alberta to Ottawa. Ironically, when Alberta MPs Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney went to Ottawa and had a chance to revise the equalization formula they took a pass.
Nor would it be easy for Canada to love Alberta after Morton slammed the Supreme Court of Canada (he calls it the Court Party) for being “too activist” in its interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It also doesn’t help that Jason Kenney swore he’d fight the Trudeau government on everything from carbon taxes to equalization payments, and blames the Trudeau government for delayed or cancelled pipelines when his own government fumbled most of these projects, and he’s prone to antagonistic outbursts (remember the Trudeau is an “empty trust-fund millionaire” comment?) which will certainly impede Kenney’s ability to represent Alberta to the federal government should he become premier one day.
Lastly, Albertans haven’t done much to endear themselves to Ottawa. In 2005 they slapped “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark” bumper stickers on their four-by-fours and just last week they protested the prime minister’s visit to Calgary by donning lynch-Trudeau hoodies and waving placards proclaiming, “Your mom banged Mick Jagger…and Fidel Castro”. (OK, they weren’t all boors, but many thought this was an appropriate form of protest and plastered the images all over social media).
If Canada doesn’t love us, maybe the other provinces will
Alberta hopes the other provinces will rally to its cause but it’s hard to play the victim card when Alberta is outperforming the lot of them and would do better still if it just bit the bullet and introduced a sales tax.
Also, the other provinces have their own issues. BC is trying to hold its NDP/Green government together. Saskatchewan has its own deficit problems. Ontario is becoming increasingly alarmed by Doug Ford’s attacks on political norms and citizens’ rights. Quebec is seeking equilibrium after the CAQ toppled the Liberals, and the Maritimes are just trying to keep their heads above water.
The last thing on their minds is sending love to Alberta.
It’s not about love
Successive Alberta governments supported the industry’s “rip it and ship it” business model. Some industry leaders had the foresight and the financial resources to plan for the possibility that one day supply would outstrip demand and pipeline takeaway capacity would be limited. They’re profiting for their wisdom while others are suffering from their short-sightedness and are now throwing themselves on the government’s mercy.
Unfortunately for them, it’s not the government’s job to save industry from itself.
And it’s not Canada’s job (or the other provinces’ job) to shower Alberta with love.
If we’re going to frame this discussion in terms of love, the question isn’t whether Canada loves Alberta, but whether Alberta loves its citizens enough to protect their rights and provide the social services they need to live productive and meaningful lives.