Dear Rest of Canada

Hi Rest of Canada, just thought I would drop you a quick note.  I guess you were taken by surprise that the Prairies are so upset with the Liberal Party during the recent election. 

We voters are all lamenting the campaign focused on ugly and mostly irrelevant personal attacks on the leaders.  It was unfortunate that the Liberals chose to vilify Conservative Premiers and rail against “oil lobbyists”.  And the Conservative’s tone-deaf approach to climate change was dumb too.

Did you notice that missing in action was any conversation of Canada’s resource sectors or the communities that support them? Energy, mining, forestry, grain, canola, potash, livestock… can you remember hearing anything much about our resource economy? 

So, the Liberal campaign didn’t speak to the western economy, and when it did talk about energy it was as if the sector (not the end user) was the villains in the climate change story. 

Now the western shut-out of the Liberals caused everyone to spring to attention.  And the rise of separatist sentiments in Quebec is of concern too.

The pundits are quick to offer explanations:  

  • It was Trudeau’s character, or his inauthentic virtue-signalling.
  • Or it was the pipeline.
  • Or Westerners reluctance to accept climate change as real.
  • Or maybe it was social media giving malcontents a platform.
  • Or irresponsible politicians stoking fear among an uninformed electorate.

But Rest of Canada, it is actually the Liberal inspired economic downturn in Alberta that is at the heart of the matter. That is why your cousins are thinking impure thoughts about the federation.  The recession of 2015 was caused by falling oil prices.  But the ‘piling on’ of many anti-energy policies since then has cooled investment and caused the loss of billions in economic wealth.  

Alberta briefly tipped back into recession in 2018; and 2019 is nearly as bad – even while the rest of the nation was doing well.  The outlook for growth in Saskatchewan and Alberta is expected to be weak through 2020. Trade problems and turmoil in the energy sector continue.

Well, separation from a government that is actively working to kill off your job or cause your small business to fail isn’t an irrational response.  The 100,000 jobs that were lost had people attached to them. Imagine how your cousins felt being fired and ‘walked out’ of Calgary’s office towers. What about the managers and staff of companies who worry making payroll?  And the food banks that became overwhelmed? You can see how all of this got personal.

In September this year, 12,000 Albertans just gave up looking for work. And There will be 7,000 fewer people working during this drilling season.  

These are real people with family and friends – they connect the dots between the federal government’s policy and their employment prospects. If you are unfamiliar with the list of harmful policies; stop in at any Tim Hortons in Saskatchewan or Alberta and you can get the story in detail.

And then there is cashflow.  The net annual amount of cash redistributed from Alberta to the Rest of Canada is spectacularly high! Over nearly six decades Alberta’s net contribution to the federal government was $611 billion. That represents $3,700 per capita year after year. Since 2010, that average has jumped by $2,000 per person.  As you might imagine, Rest of Canada; when Alberta politicians bring these numbers to public attention in recessionary Alberta….   

Westerners are generous, and higher wages rightfully mean higher taxes, but this massive wealth transfer year after year, for 60 years is a burden. According to the federal budget watchdog the forecast for the next 40 years is more of the same.  Surely, Canada’s fiscal framework needs to be re-examined.

Now I know you are wondering about this ‘Western Alienation’ thing. Some say it is greed at play.  Sometimes people think it is just ‘knuckle dragging right-wing angst’.

At the people level, ‘alienation’ is really a deep-rooted sense of betrayal. There is worry that federal anti-energy policies will continue. Will the one-way cash pipeline just continue unabated? What if today’s political dynamics might not change, and hard times in the West are sometimes silently cheered, often ignored and seldom alleviated.

Rest of Canada, you will hear much about the federal government trying to find someone to represent the West around the federal cabinet table. And, of course, the Prime Minister should change his tone. If forecasts turn to reality, then the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies are expected improve beyond 2020. There is cause for optimism but another year after this one.

And if we can all work together on better resource industry policies and this Alberta ‘cash cow’ problem, then your cousins won’t have to seek different solutions.