The Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, Doug Schweitzer, penned an opinion piece for Postmedia that ran Wednesday, exclaiming the Alberta government had finally come around to the idea that the ‘D-word’, diversification, was not actually a luxury that Alberta could afford to forego while it awaited the return of the great oil boom.
But he had plenty of other options, too.
When the United Conservative Party came to power back in April of 2019, their actual plan was for the oil industry to immediately begin hiring because the NDP was, officially, ‘out of business’ (pun intended).
In August of that year, the UCP cancelled tax credit programs such as the investor tax credit which allowed private investors who were investing in non-traditional (for Alberta) industries such as tech. Under former Economic Development Minister Tanya Fir, the future of the capital investment tax credit and digital media credit programs were also “uncertain” – leaving investors uncertain if Alberta was the place they really wanted to start businesses.
Despite the fact that financial powerhouses were calling it quits on the oil industry in general, and Alberta in particular, and the fact that Alberta’s energy industry supported the carbon tax, the Kenney government repealed it in June, ending Energy Efficiency Alberta programs offering rebates on building retrofits and green technology investment – a portion of which was eagerly picked up by Alberta farmers and producers.
Travis Toews, Alberta’s Finance Minister, told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce in October, right after his government tabled the 2019-20 Budget, that expecting to diversify the province’s revenues from oil and gas was a “luxury” Alberta just didn’t have.
Even the current research director of Kenney’s pet war room refused to believe, back in 2015, that Alberta had any hope of being prosperous without another boom. It’s a long-held belief in certain circles.
The 2014 downturn threw Alberta (and analysts) for a loop. Former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice knew that things were going to be bad as banks and industry said the oil price recession would not be a quick one. Those in the Premier’s office at the time said they were told it would not be a ‘V’ shape but more like a ‘U’ – and they couldn’t see an end to it at that time.
Enter the 2015 election of an NDP government provincially and, federally, a man whose name Alberta conservatives still pretzel-ize themselves into a paralyzing rage to remember, and the recession had the only enemy they needed to paint the province blue in 2019; mostly.
But the UCP was undeterred, spending over a year and a half claiming its undying support for an industry that takes its cue from global markets, not boys in short pants.
For the better part of a year and a half, the government of Alberta acted like an extension of political rally, deriding anyone who dared suggest that Alberta could support the oil and gas industry – without throwing more money at it – while also diversifying the economy.
Instead, the UCP government used every opportunity to vilify those voices, the former provincial government, and the (still) current federal government, for attempting to create a hospitable environment for green technology investment and the jobs that come with it.
Why send the opinion to the National Post?
Because the UCP knows that companies will need to source talent that is different than Alberta’s current supply.
And since Kenney campaigned to bring back oil jobs, and was elected to do the same, many people haven’t been interested in retraining.
And since Kenney cut post-secondary funding, it will be more expensive for all Albertans to access it now.
Be careful not to trip over the unemployed on your mad dash to Ontario, Doug.
This post contains opinion.
Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political commentator physically distancing in Southern Alberta. Connect: @Mitchell_AB for more, @thisweekinAB for posts @politicalRnD for something in between