Alberta is an important economic engine in Canada and the development of its natural oil and gas resources has benefited the entire country.
Alberta’s resource industry has provided jobs for thousands of Canadians who moved from every corner of Canada to work here. We needed the labour and they needed the jobs.
Other Eastern Canadians choose to fly in and out bi-weekly, providing labour and expertise, but then spend their paycheques in provinces once rich in fish and seafood but now struggling.
Listening to Premier Kenney one might get the feeling it’s a one-way street. Alberta gives and gives and everyone else takes. But that’s not the reality.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2018 Alberta’s contribution to the national GDP was 15.5 per cent, Ontario’s was 38.6 per cent and Quebec’s was 19.8 per cent. These statistics tell us of Alberta’s importance to Canada’s economy, but it’s not singularly carrying the economic load.
There’s a feeling, propagated by Jason Kenney, the Canadian Petroleum Association, Preston Manning, UCP, Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan, Danielle Smith, Paul Hinman and Stephen Harper, that Alberta is being ‘had’ and we should all be mad. It’s working, but to what end?
Who would we rather be? One of our sister provinces that don’t qualify for equalization transfers, yet pay PST; BC (7 per cent), Saskatchewan (6 per cent), Ontario (8 per cent) and Newfoundland (10 per cent); or Quebec which gets an extra $1,544 per capita through equalization transfers yet whose citizens are the most heavily taxed in Canada?
It’s not like Alberta gets nothing out of Confederation. In 2020-21, the Alberta government will get $6.6 billion, Ontario $22 billion and Quebec $12.9 billion ($1,500 per capita) in health and social transfers. Changes made by Harper from ‘need’ factors (older, sicker populations) to per capita in 2008 now give less to provinces with more vulnerable populations and more to Alberta.
Alberta also scored the biggest capital investment of any province when the federal government purchased the TransMountain pipeline for $4.5 billion and committed another $12.6 billion to complete it.
Even more important, the government had the patience to work the approvals so that our constitutional responsibility to First Nations was met, albeit with a few bumps along the way. But today, because of that work, companies now have legal clarification and certainty for other resource projects moving forward.
The federal government gave $1.2 billion to clean up abandoned well sites. This particular handout has created immediate jobs for laid-off oil workers in rural Alberta.
Quebec’s priorities aren’t the same as Alberta’s. They spend a lot of money on child care because of their commitment to equality in the workplace. They value relationships and culture whereas Albertans are Type A’s—work hard, earn big bucks and play hard.
It’s the same situation facing the European Union (EU) where Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria don’t want to give Covid-19 grants to Italy and Spain because ‘they don’t deserve it’. The governments of Germany and France, in contrast, better understand that costs associated with a united whole are still more valuable than dissolution of the EU.
Alberta is going through tough times, but we’re the youngest, richest and today the most educated population in Canada. Surely with our ‘can do’ attitude and entrepreneurship, we don’t have to, nor should we want to, become Quebec-like.
More importantly, we must acknowledge and accept our own culpability for Alberta’s current mess and stop the blame game. If successive Conservative governments had followed Premier Peter Lougheed’s lead, we’d now have trillions of dollars in our Heritage Trust Fund, as does Norway, and we’d be on easy street.
B. Schimke graduated with a B. Com. from the UofA. Statistics Canada and the Department of Finance comparative data are used in this article.