ANDRUS: Dancing on a fuse that's already lit
As the Alberta government’s “Fair Deal Panel” begins its work and enters into a four-month marathon of public consultation, review and eventual report submission, the economic climate in Alberta continues to sour.
Just in time for the holiday season, Statistics Canada reported that Alberta lost 18,200 jobs in November.
This is not good news, and exasperates a situation that has seen hundreds of Husky employees sent packing in a post-election haze; Encana punching its corporate ticket south to Denver; and Pengrowth Energy’s Corp’s shocking acquisition by ConaResources Ltd. for a mere five cents per share.
The state of affairs in Alberta remains bleak – perhaps bleaker than ever.
Yet Jason Kenney, Alberta’s celebrated Premier, seems to have put all his eggs in one lonely basket – the construction of the TransMountain pipeline.
Kenney’s rhetoric has toned down since his “Firewall” speech at last month’s Manning Conference and the conditions of his Equalization referendum have weakened.
It seems the Premier is not walking a line but dancing on a fuse that he has already lit.
Kenney seems desperate to get some relief from the pressure and has made TransMountain his number one priority.
The problem with this strategy is that one pipeline is not going to solve the fundamental structural issues that face Alberta and our economy.
The past five years have seen a dramatic shift in the market conditions of global energy supply.
The United States has transformed from being highly reliant on Canadian energy imports to a global oil and gas powerhouse with surplus left-over to export.
A country that was once our greatest customer has become a competitor and one pipeline is not going to change that fact.
It’s not just the fact that Alberta has contributed over $600 billion in the tax-and-transfer scheme known as equalization to the rest of Canada and only received $92 million since the program was established in 1957.
It’s not just the fact that interprovincial trade barriers for major national infrastructure projects are going up faster than municipal tax rates in Calgary, while federal regulations continue to accumulate.
It’s not just the fact that 199 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons are based in Ontario and Quebec.
It’s that when taken together, these facts create a concoction that has poisoned the investment climate in Alberta – and Calgary is especially feeling this pain right now.
Alberta is now at a significant disadvantage, and investors know it.
A conditional referendum on equalization two years down the road won’t cut it.
A referendum on equalization should not be, under any circumstances, conditional on the construction of a single, solitary pipeline or a one-time $1.75 billion equalization rebate.
What’s needed is a strong, unrelenting stance by the Alberta government.
Immediate action is undeniably necessary, and even then it may not be enough to keep Alberta’s economy from sinking to even deeper depths that this five-year economic spiral has not yet seen.
We have already endured all that can be reasonably expected of us.
I don’t know about my readers, but personally, I’ve had enough.
The time has come to fight for the deal we deserve.
We need to fundamentally change the way this country works.
No more equalization.
Unrestricted cross-country free trade.
Fair representation in Ottawa.
And we need it now.