Alberta Canada’s Cycle of Abuse with Big Oil

Big oil hurts Alberta, Alberta hurts Canada, rinse and repeat.

The angriest part of the Canadian map

Big oil dishes Alberta a surprising amount of crap.

During a few boom times while big oil was king, resource revenues temporarily afforded Alberta plenty of spending money while maintaining a minimalist tax regime. It remains the only Canadian province without a sales tax, and even when the Business Council of Alberta — hardly a bunch of Marxist lefties — calls upon the province to implement one, the right wing politics that have dominated the province for almost all of the last half century immediately rejects the idea out of hand. After all, when faced with record deficits, why consider bringing in more revenue? It feels easier to angrily insist that yet another boom time for big oil will once more turn the tables, and the fact that the entire global economy is moving away from their product can’t possibly be relevant. As a result, Alberta’s strategy for coping with collapsing global demand for their product has consisted of spending public money on things like embarrassingly bad efforts to promote climate denial and attacking environmentalists.

Pictured: what the United Conservative Party loves the most, apparently

Alberta directs its misplaced rage at Canada every time.

Particularly on the right, which has held an effective stranglehold on provincial power for about as long as I’ve been alive, I don’t think you can even become an Alberta politician in the first place without getting red faced that the rest of the country is somehow shafting Alberta. You get the impression that “Ottawa screws Alberta” were premier Jason Kenney’s first words as a toddler. This narrative, every bit as pernicious and untrue as “oil and gas is the root of Alberta’s prosperity” has also been repeated so consistently that it’s been swallowed whole by western voters without any rumination whatsoever. There is even a growing movement, cultivated by the right wing outrage generation machine, calling for WEXIT, a proposed secession of western Canadian provinces named for the British Brexit.

Alberta wants to be more equal than other provinces.

The loudest and most oft repeated argument raised by angry Albertans involves Canada’s system of equalization payments, which redistributes some of the money collected through federal income taxes to “have not” provinces to help maintain a base level of government services for every Canadian citizen. Most of Canada calls this patriotism: we prefer seeing a decent quality of life for our fellow citizens. Equalization means a kid in the Yukon can get a quality education the same way that a kid in Toronto can, and only 5% or so of federal expenditures seems a fairly reasonable price to make that possible. If we simplistically glance only at the total dollar amounts, we can see the Alberta, with its young population and highest average incomes, contributes more to this program than it receives in transfer payments. That’s exactly how the system is supposed to work. Anger that equalization payments effectively redistribute some money from wealthy parts of the country to those having trouble affording basic citizen needs instead of the other way around is like being confused that food banks take donations from millionaires in order to feed poor families instead of taking from the poor to give handouts to CEOs instead. It indicates that you don’t grasp the basic concept of what it’s there for.

I thought we had all received this message back in kindergarten
Spot the difference between provincial attitudes
I suspect this is the exact conversation they had

What all of this really costs

Apart from the obvious damage to national unity, there’s one or two things worth noting on the subject of climate change here. The problem isn’t just that a lot of Albertans’s default behaviour whenever the subject comes up is to simply yell the word “libtard” as loudly as possible. While the rest of Canada has collectively reduced its climate pollution by 15 per cent since 2005, Alberta and Saskatchewan have collectively increased their pollution by a similar amount, erasing national gains from leadership shown elsewhere in the country. Alberta’s climate plan is that to meet Canada’s international emissions targets – already the weakest in the industrial world –Canadians not living in Alberta will have to cut their emissions by 50% in the next fifteen years so that Alberta’s emissions from oil and gas can continue to climb for another couple of decades. Does this sound fair to you? It seems so to Albertans. Heck, if we look at the potential climate impact of their fossil fuel reserves, Alberta is effectively insisting that it feels entitled to one third of the entire planet’s remaining carbon budget.

Pictured: record flooding. Not pictured: record wildfires, too.
Is this one of the places newly opened up for coal mining?

Researching a road map from our imperilled world into one with a livable future with as much good humour as I can muster along the way.

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