Like autoworkers, Alberta’s oil workers need help
A disrupted economy kills thousands of Canadian jobs. The roused media tell the nation it’s in crisis.
And a sympathetic Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hastens to reassure the stricken workers that he’s got their backs and will be there to help support them in their hour of need.
All this pretty much sums up what happened last week after General Motors announced its Oshawa assembly plant would produce no more vehicles as of December 2019. It’s the compassionate response Canadians have come to expect when something bad happens in their economy and to fellow citizens, too.
Yet it falls far short of describing how the prime minister and national media have reacted to the far more severe disruption in Alberta’s oilpatch and the far greater job losses in that struggling industry.
Resentful Albertans wonder why. After witnessing the almost hysterical response to the impending closure of Ontario’s smallest auto plant, they can’t fathom why, in comparison, they seem to be ignored.
Perhaps the differences in the two situations partly explain the different responses from Central Canada and politicians based there.
Alberta’s energy sector has been hammered since 2014 in a variety of complex ways. The axe GM lowered on its Oshawa plant was sudden and shocking. It was easy for TV news crews to decamp to Oshawa and grab their sound bites from shell-shocked GM workers. Trekking to the distant oilfields of northern Alberta to cover a story that has unfolded over years instead of a single day is more daunting.
But Albertans don’t buy such excuses. And we Central Canadians should try to see things through their eyes. Doing so might explain why they turned out in droves to protest Prime Minister Trudeau’s stopover in Calgary late last month. And why Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was in Ottawa last week making an urgent plea for help — and accusing the federal government of not providing it.
The way Albertans see it, Central Canadian politicians are ready to go into hyper drive to assist the 2,800 GM employees being displaced in Oshawa, as well as the workers at auto parts factories who will be impacted when that plant is done. But while painful, all this is happening in a province of 14.3 million people with a low unemployment rate.
With its much smaller population of 4.3 million, however, Alberta has watched more than 40,000 jobs disappear from its energy sector in recent years. Another 100,000 people may have lost direct or indirect work in Alberta and other provinces since the oil-price crash. Unemployment has soared. Calgary’s business section has been devastated.
Albertans remember the $13 billion Stephen Harper’s Conservatives kicked in to save GM and Chrysler in the 2008-09 recession, as well as the $393 million Trudeau’s Liberals have doled out to Ontario’s auto industry since 2015.
Albertans won’t be comforted by Trudeau’s $4.5-billion purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline to carry their oil, either. That’s because that pipeline’s expansion is currently going nowhere and they hold Trudeau responsible for killing two other pipelines that would have saved them from selling their oil at a discount that costs the industry $80 million a day. They expect better from Ottawa.
And while many environmentalists want to shut down the entire oil industry, few are calling for an end to Ontario’s auto sector, which also plays a role in greenhouse gas emissions.
Canada is a vast country. Its people often have vastly different needs. To keep Canada strong and united, Prime Minister Trudeau must pay more heed to the needs of Alberta.