Good Lord, can Alberta survive another spring of renewal like the last one?
Another springtime of renewal — that’s what Government House Leader Jason Nixon and the United Conservative Party’s meme machine were promising yesterday with the announcement the Alberta Legislature well get back to business on Feb. 25.
“At only 12% of the way though our mandate, we’ve delivered on 43% of our commitments to Albertans so far,” Premier Jason Kenney or one of his social media surrogates tweeted merrily with a huckster’s love of spurious statistics. “Looking forward to another spring of renewal.”
In case you weren’t already feeling a sense of foreboding, the two Jasons were promising “a busy and engaging sitting” and an “ambitious legislative agenda.” It’s enough to remind one of the best selling novel ever written: “It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” etc., etc. Well, at least neither Jason was wearing a hockey mask.
Considering what the last springtime of Conservative renewal brought us, the auguries are not promising!
There’s that drop in full-time employment since Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government decided to give a $4.7-billion tax break to Alberta’s corporate greenhouse gasbags, likely somewhat underestimated by the NDP Opposition at about 50,000 lost jobs.
Of those, 24,000 were recorded last month. Eight thousand lost jobs were in the oilpatch, by the way, which Mr. Kenney had promised to magically fix just by getting elected.
And thanks to the UCP’s revenge policy of eliminating public sector positions to get back at educated folks whose work continued through the recession, Edmonton now has the highest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada. That may satisfy high-school dropouts in Grande Prairie who used to make $200,000 a year in the oilpatch, but it sure doesn’t do much for the economy.
Then there’s the province’s souring economic prospects for this year, as economic forecasters at the Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion Bank revise previous more-optimistic predictions downward to account for the impact of UCP austerity policies and continued uncertainty around oil prices. The results: lower growth, higher unemployment, fewer jobs created, fewer housing starts, big drops in retail sales, and so on.
And don’t forget the full-notch credit downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service last month, in which the New York-based bond-rating agency’s analysts cited the province’s continued heavy dependence on fossil fuels and the no-longer-deniable impact of global climate change.
Even with the best efforts of the Alberta Energy War Room — which, admittedly, aren’t all that good — the business of extracting fossil fuels from the earth is starting to look like a sunset industry, even in Alberta.
Indeed, the only performance indicator Alberta’s leading these days is for gloom. No wonder that Angus Reid Institute poll discovered that more than 70 per cent of Albertans are miserable about the direction Canada’s heading, with which Canadians elsewhere are generally satisfied. Even our cranky neighbours in Saskatchewan aren’t as disgruntled.
The UCP’s response for all these things, of course, will be to blame Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But the longer the UCP remains in office, the more this seems like a bit of a reach.
Rest-of-Canadians are forgiven if they conclude us oilpatch denizens are only happy if the rest of the country is miserable, even though the evidence suggests our misery is being driven by the people we’ve elected.
And God only knows what the UCP will get up to if its runs out of commitments to strike of its list! Just for starters, look for more chaos in health care, the possibility of major public sector labour disputes, the end of affordable child care, and skyrocketing costs as insurers and other businesses are cut loose from reasonable regulation.
Well, if there’s genuinely good news, it may be the report in Montreal’s La Presse that Rona Ambrose, Mr. Kenney’s putative pick for the best person to run the Conservative Party of Canada, has dropped out of the race to replace the hapless Andrew Scheer as leader.
This runs counter to the insistence of Postmedia’s newspapers, it must be noted, that if it didn’t happen in English, it didn’t happen. Still, it would open the door to Mr. Kenney making his longed-for dash back to Ottawa, a city congenial to bachelor prime ministers since the days of Billy King and R.B. Bennett.
And that might give Albertans some hope for a springtime of renewal that doesn’t have to involve ruination.
Otherwise, I suppose, the beatings will continue until morale improves.