The prov­ince’s op­po­nents didn’t make our mis­take

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - CHRIS NEL­SON

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.

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