The Alienations are Coming!

A recent poll found that Albertans’ level of frustration with the rest of Canada is growing.  They could have picked up the same information by listening in on the conversations at any Tim Hortons.  One target, among many, is the Canadian equalization program.  This is the Robin Hood program that takes from “Have Provinces” and gives to ‘Have Nots”.

The study found that 60% of Albertans feel strongly or somewhat strongly that it’s unfair to Alberta. The more conservative you are, the stronger you feel that the program works against Alberta. And while Edmonton and Calgary residents dislike the program, those outside of the cities dislike it a lot more.  Even those who have moved to Alberta from other provinces feel the same way.  The longer you stay, the more the program irritates you.

Unhappiness with the federal government isn’t new or exclusive to Alberta.  But in the midst of the battle over pipelines there is a higher level of public alienation in Alberta. Here are the criticisms and complaints you hear in the coffee shops of Alberta:

  1. Federal transfer programs – When you add it all up, Albertans pay far more into the federal coffers than comes our way. This is because we earn more money, thus pay more taxes, and are younger – fewer pension benefits are paid.  We traditionally have low unemployment rates, so employment insurance benefits are lower too! But the equalization program mentioned above is a one-way valve out of Alberta.  Even in the depths of the recent recession with huge deficits, Alberta didn’t receive any funds from the program.
  1. Pipeline indignity Number One – Albertans generally find it incomprehensible that many in the rest of Canada find pipelines an inappropriate way to move crude oil.  It is clearly safer and more efficient that rail or truck, yet many in Canada just simply refuse to support pipelines. So, the fear (real, imagined, or fictional) of a pipeline spill remains a reason to stall and delay pipelines.
  1. Pipelines Indignity Number Two – Albertans don’t get it that the Canadians are pretty ambivalent that bitumen is sold at a discount because of poor market access.
  1. Pipelines Indignity Number Three – Albertans dislike the political maneuvering and uncertain pipeline approval process.  The work of the NEB was trashed by politicians. Northern Gateway was killed. And adding more regulations until Energy East’s proponents quit, resulted in even more mistrust.
  1. Carbon Tax – Albertans, by and large, are “tax averse”. The need for a tax on carbon was to take action on climate change to meet Canada’s obligations in support of the Paris Accord. It was also supposed to provide the “social license” that would allow Alberta pipeline access to overseas markets. Those who oppose the tax say it is unnecessary, a cash grab, and will be meaningless in the battle to deal with climate change. And a few believe man-made climate change is fake news.  Then having a federally enforced tax was more salt in the wounds for some.
  1. Mistrust of the Prime Minister – An increasing number of Albertans just don’t trust the Prime Minister. Our tender sensibilities were offended when he forgot to mention the province by name in a speech. Statements like “”We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out.” and “Only communities can grant permission” (related to pipelines approvals), sets Albertans’ teeth on edge. Employing an environmental activist as chief of staff is not very soothing for the resource development industry. For some, the shadow of Pierre Trudeau’s anti-Alberta, National Energy Program is still part of Alberta political legend.
  1. Public Hypocrisy about Energy – Canadians can get quite hot tempered about energy.  Some get angry at ‘climate change deniers’.  Others rail again the hypocrisy of those who use oil, yet want to shut down the oilsands.  And when a celebrity flies in to campaign against the oilsands, coffee cups at Tim Hortons get broken!
  1. Internal Trade – Albertans mostly support free and open trade across borders.  Most Albertans believe we are sufficiently entrepreneurial that our businesses can compete with the best. Labor mobility to the province has been vital to Alberta’s success.  Albertans on balance prefer open competition – along with the lower prices a free market brings.
  1. Free Floating Conservative Anxiety – Alberta has long been solidly Conservative in its federal politics. Alberta has 34 ridings, 29 are held by Conservatives.  Although we experienced a twinge of ‘Trudeau Mania” in the last election, the shift to the “Real Change” aggressively liberal policies create concern about the country’s direction among conservatives.

Severely Normal Albertans will know that alienation with the federal government isn’t anything new in Canada. We can behave like warring tribes instead of a federation. That said, Alberta’s sense that the rest of Canada doesn’t support us, isn’t going to disappear overnight.  The United Conservative Party has tapped into this angst and we will hear more anti-federation talk going forward.