TORONTO - Jason the Orator thundered his first words to his frenzied supporters already salivating on the spoils of victory: “Friends, today our great province has sent a message to Canada and the world: Alberta is open for business!”.
Resist the temptation to dismiss this as the typical, partisan overblown vacuity one has come to expect from slogan-driven politicos, vain and self-indulgent clones of the “Intemperate One” to the South. Call it a mind-set, branded into the DNA of anyone who takes up residence in that province.
Alberta is a thinking man’s (woman’s… “peoplekind’s”) province. It has its own Logic: Canada is a junior, often nuisance, part – as op- Il leader dell’UDC Jason Kenney posed to partner – of Alberta.
One can be a pro-Alberta Albertan, or a fanatic, Alberta-only, Albertan. To be Canadian is to belong to some secondary provincial entity. Seriously. Read Francesco Veronesi’s political analysis of the results elsewhere in these pages and ask yourself what happened in the election.
But then, Canada is probably the only country in the world where a “local” jurisdiction can claim and receive absolute control over a natural resource: “ownership” is determined by proximity. Benefits accrued from extraction “stay home”.
For 47 years prior to the last government, only one Party governed the province. Alberta has only been in existence since 1905. It is a landlocked province. Geographically and metaphorically.
There is as much diversity of opinion as there is economic activity: 24% of its GDP is derived from the extractive sector in oil and gas. Foreign interests are the big players in the development of that sector.
They pay royalties to the Government (people) of Alberta for that privilege. There is no Fund to speak of that holds and invests those royalties for Albertans. Nothing on the scale of Quebec’s interest in its Caisse de Depots et Investissements.
For 47 years, “conservative” governments either reduced royalties to induce business to invest in the energy sector (a form of business subsidy) or used the revenue to “cut taxes”.
It’s been a type of the “Ant and the Grasshopper” philosophy of life, with Albertans having the grasshopper’s approach. It is understandable. One of the largest know oil reserves in the world sits beneath the surface of Alberta. Gas reserves outstrip even those.
Only Russia, the USA, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela can rival them. What have their governments done with that resource over the last 51 years (I include the last four NDP years to underscore the numbers) with theirs? Alberta boasts deficit and a debt.
Canada, has not authorized a pipeline to bring their product to the west Coast, nor one to the ports of Montreal or Quebec City. Alberta crude may have to either be trucked or railed there.
The alternative is to ship it South where a competitor owns the refineries and dictates the price. In the face of Big Oil and its sway in the competitor nations above, Jason’s roar may turn out to be a “squeak”, unless a bigger entity – Canada comes to mind – takes on the cause.