Grits in Ottawa and Dippers in Edmonton: far from the worst combination for keeping Alberta’s economy in motion

Posted on February 04, 2016, 1:52 am
6 mins

PHOTOS: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley take questions from the media in this screen shot of the government’s video. Bloggers were not invited, but I’m blaming the feds and promising not to go all Rebel Media on anyone. Below: Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and same forgotten MP from Calgary who plays a meaningless role in this story.

There’s a case to be made that it is far easier for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to work with a Liberal prime minister than it could ever have been to work with a New Democratic one.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it’s easier to see now why federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair wasn’t going to become prime minister of Canada, or that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could escape the seemingly inevitable impact of being the focus of the be Conservative slime machine.

MulcairBut that’s the way it turned out: Mr. Mulcair failed to capture the imagination of ordinary voters, especially after he adopted the Conservative position on deficits, and Mr. Trudeau turned out to be coated with Teflon, so none of the stuff the government of Stephen Harper threw at him ever stuck.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Back in the day, though, at the start of the campaign leading up to the Oct. 19, 2015, federal election that Mr. Harper so unwisely called early so as to be able to work his dark magic on Mr. Trudeau in particular, that the outcome wasn’t nearly so apparent.

Back then, Ms. Notley – her own majority government elected only on May 5 that year – always looked a bit as if she recognized a Mulcair Government in Ottawa had the potential to be bad news for her government in Edmonton, but was too polite and savvy to speak that possibility aloud. Leastways, it always seemed to me that she was stepping pretty gingerly whenever Mr. Mulcair was in town.

I mention all this ancient history only because the brief appearance of Prime Minister Trudeau at Premier Notley’s side in Edmonton yesterday really does suggest the two don’t find it all that difficult to work together.

The conservative opposition at both levels of government, naturally, won’t find anything Ms. Notley and Mr. Trudeau agree on to try to remedy the economic downtown spurred by the fall in world oil prices satisfactory, or satisfactorily speedy.

HarperBut even if their joint statement was a little anodyne, yesterday’s announcement that Alberta will get nearly $700 million in infrastructure money “immediately” to keep the foundering provincial economy afloat is about the best that could be hoped for in circumstances when almost anything the two levels of government can come up with is not going to seem like enough.

The money will be “allocated immediately to projects that will help Alberta’s economy, help Albertans get to work and, indeed, contribute to the growing of our nation’s economy,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Ms. Notley said that “the federal government will start pushing it out the door as soon as we’re ready to go, so we really are talking a matter of months, weeks to months. Very soon.”

Can you imagine how much more difficult getting this stimulus ball rolling would have been if an austerity-obsessed conservative government were still camped in Edmonton, or especially in Ottawa?

If Mr. Harper in particular had been safely ensconced in another term as PM, we could take it as given that his response to a flagging economy would have been job-killing austerity. Shorter timelines for qualifying for Employment Insurance, as Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Notley are discussing? We could forget that too.

As for the provincial Tories, their response in the same situation would have been an attack on public sector jobs and pensions, both of which would have resulted in less money circulating in the economy. If we had a Wildrose Party government, it would have been even worse.

So now we are being treated to the ironic sight of conservatives of all stripes at both levels of government screaming Spend! Spend! Faster! Faster! This isn’t necessarily the worst policy under the circumstances, but it does suggest they’ve forgotten that the past few decades ever happened.

Well, whatever. But we too shouldn’t forget that Grits in Ottawa and Dippers in Edmonton probably offer the best available combination for keeping the Alberta economy in motion until oil prices recover.

Speaking of history, surely it was no accident that Mr. Trudeau’s first visit to Alberta as prime minister and the first Alberta meeting between a Canadian PM and an Alberta Premier since 2005 included a tour of a union training facility, operated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

23 Comments to: Grits in Ottawa and Dippers in Edmonton: far from the worst combination for keeping Alberta’s economy in motion

  1. Jim Storrie

    February 4th, 2016

    it struck me as a little disingenuous for the Prime Minster to talk about the $700 million infrastructure investment when it had not only been announced long prior to his visit, but had already been earmarked for Alberta by the previous administration.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      February 4th, 2016

      Wrong!

      Prove it by providing evidence – otherwise you are just making things up like conservative trolls do.

      Reply
      • Jim Storrie

        February 4th, 2016

        haha, man, are you serious? conservative troll?

        the $700mil is from, if I recall correctly, the New Building Canada Fund, and we were already supposed to receive it 2014-2015. I don’t know why it hadn’t been delivered yet, but the province was already meant to receive it and the Prime Minister had already announced in January that it would be coming.

        what’s disingenuous is for the PM to act as though the infrastructure money is his courageous response to the Premier’s plea for help. it is, rather, something that was just convenient for him to mention. Alberta’s no better off than it was last week.

        Reply
        • Athabascan

          February 5th, 2016

          So, by your own admission you are saying Harper failed to give AB the $700 million.

          You do realize it was Harper’s government that was in power then right?

          Why are you calling the liberals disingenuous? Troll!

          Reply
          • Tom in Ontario

            February 6th, 2016

            So Athabascan, you want to bring logic into the argument?

            Backbench Stevie of Southwest Calg’ry
            Ain’t gonna like you at all.

          • Jim Storrie

            February 9th, 2016

            having already explained twice why I am calling this specific announcement by one specific Liberal disingenuous I am not inclined to continue repeatedly explaining my position to you.

            you are welcome to give the PM credit for not interfering with money that was already allocated to us, but it’ll take more than that to impress me. ‘better than Stephen Harper’ is not a standard of excellence.

      • Mark

        February 4th, 2016

        Sohi pretty much already announced this money last week. By the way, you come across as very rude and aggressive, like you’d be more at home with all those right wing freaks on anti NDP Facebook pages.

        Reply
    • Northern_PoV

      February 4th, 2016

      Come on … you have to do better than that.
      ‘earmarked’ … blessed, kissed by Harper .. whatever – it was fiction until now.

      Money announced for badly needed infrastructure upgrades … but not spent so as to ‘balance’ an election budget.

      Albertans attitudes may change in the face of reality.

      Reply
  2. ronmac

    February 4th, 2016

    If I may I would like to interject a small note of optimism into this air of doom and gloom surrounding Alberta’s economy. We’ve been hearing a lot about shale oil and gas production in the US, how revolutionary fracking technologies have ensured energy self-sufficiency for decades to come.

    Not true. Shale oil and gas reserves in the US have been vastly exaggerated and production will peak around 2020 and will begin to decline afterwards. Nearly 90 per cent of all US shale oil and gas production are concentrated in 14 basins. These are rapidly being depleted.

    It’s also becoming clear that official US gov’t agencies like the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has become a mouthpiece for the oil industry, producing rosy forecasts designed to prop up investment bubbles.

    Some background info here.

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/10/drilling-deeper-new-report-casts-doubt-fracking-production-numbers.html

    http://www.nature.com/news/natural-gas-the-fracking-fallacy-1.16430

    http://www.postcarbon.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Drilling-Deeper_FULL.pdf

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      February 4th, 2016

      Interesting. I don’t doubt your sincerity, but if all this is true, why would the Saudis lower prices so much to get the fracker’s out of business? All they would have to do is wait until 2020. In fact, slowing them down now by lowering prices just delays the inevitable – why not leave the price high, let the Bakken produce whole-hog, and have depletion occur sooner rather than later?

      Reply
      • ronmac

        February 6th, 2016

        This is not new for me. I’ve been hearing that these shale oil and gas reserves have been wildly exaggerated for a couple years now. Maybe this oil price drop is just a way to slowly deflate the fracking bubble rather than quitting cold turkey

        Reply
  3. political ranger

    February 4th, 2016

    I’m glad to hear you’re taking a (hopefully short) hiatus from Rebel Media, David.
    Once your blood pressure settles your clever and burlesque humour always brings a chuckle.

    Reply
  4. David Grant

    February 4th, 2016

    I agree with that this has the potential of being a good partnership. It is also interesting that the Wildrose believes that building the Energy East pipeline will create jobs, but the infrastructure spending won’t. I think that money will help Mr. Nenshi build the South East line which will make it easier for me to go to Inglewood and visit my counsin and of course, benefit the community there. Now if they can only expand the train to the airport and other needed neighbours.

    Reply
  5. Jared Milne

    February 4th, 2016

    I know I’m a tad late to the party in writing this comment, and I apologize to David for putting the comment here, but I’m curious as to why so many people are willing to jump all over the Notley government over the royalty review, some even saying on David’s blog that it would be a one-term government like Bob Rae’s in Ontario.

    But here’s the thing, though-didn’t the government say last year that it wouldn’t make any large-scale changes if that was what the review recommended? And didn’t the government also say that this was not the last review it would do, that things might change in the future? Or was I mistaken in recalling these things?

    And one might also note all of the other campaign promises the Notley government has kept before its first anniversary in office, ranging from its corporate and upper-income tax increases to the minimum wage increase to farm safety, the things that have many conservative Albertans spitting mad.

    Like David said, Ms. Notley seems to be a pragmatist-but in Canada, that’s not always a bad thing, particularly when it leads to the likes of Gary Doer, who introduced a long series of tax breaks but also a variety of progressive initiatives ranging from increased health spending to same-sex marriage to university tuition cuts to supporting the Kyoto Accord to water protection, all of which he introduced over 10 years in office while winning three elections in a row…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Doer

    Reply
  6. Farmer B

    February 4th, 2016

    Alberta’s GDP for 2013(most recent stat I could find) was 332 billion. A 1% increase would require an investment by
    government of 3.3 billion. Do you really think 700 million is significant? It is about .2%. It works out to roughly to just
    over 160 dollars per Albertan. Quebec received 1130 dollars per person in equalization in fiscal 2014-2015. Even with
    the low price of oil Alberta will continue to be a net contributer to equalization in the near future. I think the effort put
    forth by our premier and prime minister is well intentioned but Canada’s greatest asset is our resources and keeping
    them land locked simply reduces our opportunities for future growth. The goal of a high tech green economy is indeed
    everyone’s hope but it can’t be created out of thin air.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      February 5th, 2016

      But Farmer, when you compare the $700 million to equalization payments you are comparing apples and oranges. Alberta is still a net contributor to equalization because the high income earners (from whom the money comes via their income tax) are still making high incomes. The poor folks who have lost their jobs are not going to pay much tax (if any) so they won’t be contributing to equalization. In other words, it is wrong to think of equalization as Alberta still paying even though it is suffering; rather, it is that well-off Albertans are still paying by virtue of the fact that they still have the money to pay higher levels of income tax.

      Two other things: as of 2012, Quebec taxpayers paid more money into the equalization program than Alberta taxpayers (because there are more of the former) and the proportion of Quebec’s budget that comes from Alberta taxpayers (via the equalization program) is a whopping 1%! In other words, Quebecers pay for most of their expensive social programs by taxing Quebecers. To hear the rhetoric (and I’m not trying to single you out), you’d think that 80% of Quebec’s budget was being paid by Alberta, which is simply not true.

      Peace.

      Reply
  7. David

    February 5th, 2016

    Back to the very first comment by, no Jim it is not “disingenuous” for Trudeau for the Prime Minister to talk about infrastructure spending that had already been announced by the previous Conservative administration. Actually it is genius.

    The federal Conservatives talked a lot, but in the end often did little or nothing. Any progress was painfully slow. Voters long ago got the sense the Conservatives weren’t really interested in doing anything that might actually help people that could involve spending real dollars, but the Conservatives kept on talking about all the things they intended to do. Perhaps this is consistent with the Conservative ideology – government should do little or do nothing, but it was not what voters wanted or expected of a federal government.

    It is not Trudeau’s fault the Conservatives talked a lot and governed in slow motion, sometimes seeming in a near comatose state. Had they actually done what they promised and they had plenty of time to do so (unspent infrastructure money for several years and unspent money in a number of other departmental budgets), Trudeau would not be able to take credit for it today. You may not like it, but I find it to be delicious irony.

    I hope the smarter conservatives will actually learn from this, rather than whine and complain about it. If the Conservatives are ever elected again, perhaps they should talk less and do more.

    Reply
  8. jerrymacgp

    February 6th, 2016

    Here’s a thought: force the oilpatch onto the 40-hour work week. Right now, many workers have punishing schedules, like 10+ hours a day for six days a week. That’s 60 hours a week. So if two workers on those schedules working 120 hours a week between them, are put back to 40-hr weeks, that frees up one more full-time, 40-hour position for another worker. You could increase employment in the sector by 50%! Who would argue with that? Pay them a decent living wage (though not the easy six-figure pay packets, including overtime and bonuses, that are the norm when the market is hot); get them pensions, disability coverage and health benefits, and watch how our society is improved by these workers having job security, better work-life balance and time with their families, as well as better physical and mental health.

    When the market rallies and the ‘patch starts expanding, they can hire yet more workers at 40 hrs/wk and drive unemployment down even further, without overheating the economy the way we’ve seen to date.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 6th, 2016

      A wonderful idea. Of course, the oil industry (and pretty well every other private sector industry) can be told nothing, because when times are good, they believe sincerely it is because they are geniuses, and when times are bad, they believe sincerely it is because the government is incompetent. I often observed this phenomenon during my stint as a business reporter for the Globe and Mail, where it was my responsibility to write about the steel industry, which in those days appeared to be led by people who didn’t understand Economics 101, and in particular the cyclical nature of the market for the product they sold. And it was these brainiacs we were then being told to whom we should entrust the operation of our country. We did, and the results of that experiment are now plain.

      Reply
  9. Farmer B

    February 7th, 2016

    Expat, unfortunately the most recent provincial economic account information I can find online is for
    2009. In that year the federal government received 39.667 billion from Quebec and 35.99 from Alberta.
    In that same year Quebec received 53.318 billion from the federal government and Alberta received
    19.997 billion from the Feds, obviously Quebec did very well. Since 09 the transfers to Quebec have
    continued to increase, unfortunely I can’t find any info on what the federal government receives from
    Quebec, draw your own conclusions.

    Reply
  10. February 7th, 2016

    Global’s 16 x 9 took a look at ‘under used’ oil wells in Alberta back in October. Any well that hasn’t pumped in at least 10 years NEEDS to be dealt with.

    Spending some of the $700mm on well remediation would keep worker skills sharp until the industry returns, and the costs can later be recouped from the recalcitrant industry with a few pen strokes in the appropriate legislation.

    http://globalnews.ca/news/2301676/when-the-oil-stops-16×9-takes-a-closer-look-at-old-wells-in-canada/

    http://globalnews.ca/news/2301432/map-shows-nearly-every-corner-of-alberta-littered-with-inactive-oil-and-gas-wells/

    http://globalnews.ca/news/2301698/infographic-albertas-inactive-abandoned-oil-and-gas-well-problem/

    http://globalnews.ca/news/2307275/interactive-the-hidden-cost-of-abandoned-oil-and-gas-wells-in-alberta/

    Reply
  11. Athabascan

    February 7th, 2016

    Great idea, except the spending of public money to clean up wells that should be dealt with by the privateers who drilled them.

    Why should taxpayers be on the hook to clean up the industry’s orphan wells?

    Reply
    • February 9th, 2016

      Athabascan > “Why should taxpayers be on the hook to clean up the industry’s orphan wells?”

      Taxpayers absolutely should NOT be covering the cost; that is why I wrote: “costs can later be recouped from the recalcitrant industry with a few pen strokes in the appropriate legislation.” But, the senior levels of government should fund the startup to get the job going ASAP, then get after the corporate welfare bums later for payment.

      Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall seems to see some of this, but not the bigger picture…

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/brad-wall-seeks-156-million-for-oil-patch-cleanup-program-1.3438670

      Reply

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