The province’s opponents didn’t make our mistake
Please, after five long years, can all those clever folk who endlessly extol the virtues and the benefits of economic diversification across Alberta just give us a break and shut up.
Because five years is how long it is since house prices peaked here in Calgary and while that may not be a precise gauge of how things are going for the average family, it’s one that resonates across many economic levels in our city.
And, to explain the bleedin’ obvious, the reason house prices today are on average five per cent lower than they were back at the start of 2014 is that energy prices remain in the deep dumpster.
Even when global oil prices rebounded, we saw no gain. In fact, things got worse as bottlenecks in getting our major product to market now result in us receiving about 25 cents on the dollar.
Meanwhile, unemployment in Calgary remains stuck around the dismal eight per cent level while the empty office towers downtown along with the subsequent reduction in taxes gathered by the city have resulted in a massive hole in civic finances that is about to come home to roost with a vengeance in the year ahead as already struggling small businesses outside the core get dinged once again to make up that shortfall.
Oh, and then there’s the no small matter that we are likely to elect a new government in Alberta come May that will, as one of its primary goals, be intent upon reducing the ludicrous amounts of money we currently borrow as a province on about $50 billion in debt in those same five years.
So if the City of Calgary is looking northward for more cash to fill the gap in its own finances during the next few years, then some serious vision corrective treatment could be in order.
But aren’t we supposed to be increasingly diversified here in Wild Rose land? Heck, about five years ago when things were booming, there was all sort of such talk, as though new home construction, for example, is somehow a standalone statistic with nothing to do with the health of the energy industry.
Well, that simplistic nonsense was soon proved exactly that. When the energy sector is doing well, jobs are created and people move to Alberta. Those folk buy homes, then they buy fridges and stoves, then they put a down payment on a new vehicle, then they pay more taxes which the government gives to all sorts of outfits unrelated to the energy industry, which in turn helps provide more new jobs luring yet more folk to Calgary. Hey look, we are diversifying.
Except when the energy industry comes unglued that equation reverses and such socalled diversification comes to a screeching halt.
We pretend otherwise, of course. We try to persuade Amazon to set up their second headquarters in Calgary, for example. But seriously, why would the world’s largest distribution outfit set up shop so far from any huge population centre? It makes no economic sense and such daft daydreams last only as long as government money is thrown at them.
But this head-in-the-sand wishful thinking has serious consequences. We forget to stick to our knitting. Instead, we take for granted the one we arrived at the dance with.
Then, when we collectively wake up and discover that while we’ve been blathering on about diversification we’ve paid too little attention to the fact that forces surrounding us were systematically attacking our interests by boxing us in through successfully opposing any and all new pipeline development, we finally do recognize we’re in serious trouble.
Because the various groups now gaining the upper hand in this lopsided battle didn’t make our mistake.
They didn’t take their eye off the prize, which is to shutter the development and extraction of heavy oil from Alberta and eventually paralyze the province.
Nope, they did not diversify from that plan one iota.
Even when global oil prices rebounded, we saw no gain.