What if Alberta could be the province of tomorrow?

What began for Alberta, six years ago, as just another bust in the cycle of a volatile resource, hasn’t gone away.

Even though the province made drastic changes during that time, including electing an NDP government, dissolving the Progressive Conservative Association and its spawn – the Wildrose Party – and turning it into a mammoth coalition of like-minded conservatives who would make everything all better if they were elected, it hasn’t been working out.

The leader of the like-minded conservative party, Jason Kenney, promised jobs, a robust economy, and pipelines running every which way out of the province. In order to get that, Kenney had a plan.

Promote Alberta oil, slash corporate tax rates, get rid of the carbon tax, and cut the red tape that had, until Kenney showed up, kept companies from investing in Alberta. At least, that’s how it looked to him.

Since Kenney was elected with a resounding majority and the most votes of any political party ever in the history of Alberta, he has handed out $1.5 billion to TC Energy to kickstart the Keystone XL pipeline, and guaranteed $6 billion more in loans, repealed the provincial carbon tax, renamed the large emitter carbon tax, created the Alberta war room to fight misinformation about Alberta oil, paid out $3.5 million for a public inquiry into “foreign-funded efforts to landlock Alberta’s oil”, dropped the corporate tax from 12 to eight per cent, reduced rural natural gas producer taxes, refused to assist municipalities in collecting back taxes from oil and gas companies, removed dastardly red tape, environmental monitoring requirements, and fought to make Alberta’s oil and gas industry everyone’s number one priority.

In return, Encana moved its head office to Colorado, Husky Energy closed offices, Royal Dutch Shell sold it’s Alberta assets, Conoco Phillips sold Alberta assets, Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. have reduced intended capital spending in the province, and Alberta still didn’t see any new investment in 2019.

In 2020 Alberta wasn’t able to welcome any new investment either but it did get to partake in a global pandemic – apparently one of the first indications that there is a lot more affecting Alberta than simply what the province wants.

The fact is that Alberta has been a proud oil and gas province for decades. Oil country. Oilmen. Oilers. Oil money. Knock, knock. Who’s there? OIL.

Whether some like to acknowledge the fact or not, Alberta’s NDP spent a lot of money promoting Alberta’s oil industry. Unlike Kenney’s war room, Rachel Notley spent time and money promoting Alberta’s oil industry in other provinces. By all accounts, the campaign was working to bring more people in favour of inter-provincial development.

But Alberta isn’t an NDP province. Alberta is conservative. Alberta doesn’t support an environmental agenda, Alberta supports oil.

So, Alberta elected a government that promised oil jobs, built on an oil recovery, for an oil-reliant economy, and received no oil jobs, no oil recovery, for an economy that can no longer rely on oil, in a world that is moving much more quickly toward reducing its fossil fuel use.

Now imagine for a second, that Alberta was willing to forego its reputation as an oil province in order to attract other investment.

Wait for it.

What if Alberta was willing to let the oil industry work within the market, as the oil industry does, while the Alberta government spent time finding out what other industries are successfully building in the province?

What if the Alberta government spent its time, and, most importantly, our money, on training Albertans for jobs of the future, and attracting businesses to support those jobs?

Don’t get too anxious, the potential still involves a high level of hypocrisy, so, this government should be able to handle it.

In 2017, California’s oil industry contributed more than $60 billion to its economy and employed more than 350,000 people.

Yes, California – the same state that announced last week it would mandate electric vehicle laws by 2024.

The state has been reducing production since the 1980’s and is, as of 2018, only the sixth largest producer in the United States.

Even so, what graced headlines last week was not its oil production or its oil jobs or how much oil contributed to the state’s GDP – it was their transition to electric vehicles.

Somehow, California governments have managed to maintain a healthy amount of oil production without bragging about it.

While Alberta is a target for environmental campaigns and conspiracy theories about environmental power campaigns, California has managed to create an image of healthy eating and healthy living. The state is better known for tech start-ups and celebrity sightings, high end shopping and lifestyles of the rich and famous, music, movies, food, and stunning views.

Yet they still produce oil, oil still provides jobs, and their celebrities still travel all the way to Alberta to oppose oil development.

California has been working for decades to be more than an oil state and is in a relatively secure position to continue their transition away from oil while continuing to quietly profit from their oil industry.

I don’t expect much uptake on this idea – it took over 40 years for California to get where it is today.

But wouldn’t it be nice if Alberta had a reputation for business growth, emerging industries, a sizzling economy, and the place to be for entrepreneurial ingenuity?

Or a government who wasn’t so focused on the past as to appear absolutely blinded by the future?

We have all the things California does – maybe in smaller doses – but it’s not remotely what we’re known for… not even close.

In order to get there, we would have to start thinking about the future instead of hoping to relive the past.

This post contains opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political commentator physically distancing in Southern Alberta. Connect: @Mitchell_AB for more, @thisweekinAB for posts

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2 replies »

  1. The article leaves us hanging: What constitutes the province of tomorrow? What can Alberta leverage into the future? Does it have nascent industries now that are ready to bloom with some care and attention?

    • It might just be taking our eyes off of oil and gas and seeing what else is here. I’m not going to suggest one industry is ripe (although tech is just going to keep evolving and changing… and we have the only AI Hub for Google outside of the UK..) but maybe it’s health, financial, education (Edmonton has been renowned as a real success in public education delivery), green tech (UofC made bitumen pucks) – we do other things here but you wouldn’t know it by this government and way more residents than work in oil and gas. Dare to look away and see what else is coming up – this province has so much more than oil and gas…