Alberta Politics
The Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, where unemployment is now higher than in any Canadian city except Windsor, Ont. (Photo: Winterforce Media, Creative Commons).

It wasn’t supposed to be like this! Alberta sheds jobs while the rest of the country creates them

Posted on February 12, 2020, 12:25 am
10 mins

In January, as the Globe and Mail put it in a colourful old-timey headline last week, Canada’s job market blew past the forecasts for the month. Unemployment also fell.

In Alberta, not so much.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Indeed, Alberta was the only province in Canada to see jobs disappearing — and in significant numbers, with 19,000 lost in January, the second month of the past three the province has experienced big job losses.

Canada, meanwhile, added 34,000 jobs nationwide in January, Statistics Canada said, which was pretty good considering the expectation the country would be up only 17,500 jobs by the end of the month. Unemployment nationwide edged downward to 5.5 per cent — not a record low, but within shouting distance.

In Alberta, by contrast, unemployment is now at 7.3 per cent, similar to the rates being experienced in the Maritimes — that part of Canada former Calgary MP Stephen Harper in the days he was leader of the Canadian Alliance Party famously and arrogantly dismissed as having a “culture of defeatism.”

It’s even worse in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, where unemployment has soared to 8.2 per cent, the second worst record of any major city in Canada, a hair behind Windsor, Ont., where the rate is 8.3 per cent.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Even the other Prairie Provinces, which share economic conditions with Alberta, saw their job numbers increase last month. Indeed, Manitoba had its largest overall employment increase since April 2008.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this!

So it’s worth asking what’s going on — especially in light of the economic claims made by United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney during last year’s election campaign that he, and he alone, possessed the answers to the economic downturn that affected Alberta after international oil prices tumbled in 2014 just in time for the unexpected election of the Alberta NDP.

Mr. Kenney’s formula, which Albertans bought into with enthusiasm: Big tax cuts for corporations, an end to the NDP’s carbon tax, spending austerity, attacks on trade unions, and the usual package of neoliberal economic nostrums.

After he handily defeated Rachel Notley’s NDP in April, Mr. Kenney moved quickly to enact his program. He dumped the “job killing” carbon tax as his first act. He quickly enacted a $4.7-billion “job creating” corporate tax cut.

It’s widely understood nowadays that the alleged effectiveness of such tax cutting measures is mostly hooey.

As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman puts it (I’m paraphrasing and parenthesizing just a little to eliminate obvious Americanisms), conservative “faith in the magic of tax cuts — and, correspondingly, belief that tax increases will doom the economy — is the ultimate policy zombie, a view that should have been killed by evidence decades ago but keeps shambling along, eating (conservative) brains.”

The record in the U.S. is consistent, Dr. Krugman points out in one of his many New York Times columns on this topic. Tax increases don’t cause job losses, and tax cuts don’t create them.

That’s true no matter how many times Mr. Kenney and his army of taxpayer-financed Twitter trolls say the opposite. The loss of something like 70,000 jobs in Alberta since the UCP came to power should strongly suggest that this isn’t the way things work.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Kenney, of course, has a litany of complaints and a host of suspects to blame for the economic problems Alberta is experiencing under the UCP’s ideological rule.

European Greens, the Rockefeller Family, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and now even former U.S. President Barack Obama are believed by UCP supporters to have been conspiring against Alberta. Mr. Trudeau in particular winds them up — astonishing given the hard work he put into supporting Alberta’s pipeline agenda during both Ms. Notley’s and Mr. Kenney’s tenure as premier.

And talk about faith in magic! The idea pipelines are supposed to make Alberta’s economy boom is based on the risible notion that increasing the worldwide supply of Alberta bitumen will somehow cause the price of the stuff to rise! Sad to say, not only the UCP bought into this codswallop.

But even Marxist economists will tell you the law of supply and demand is an inflexible one. So the likely outcome of Alberta’s desired hydrocarbon pipeline spree, if it occurs, is both lower prices and a worsening planetary climate.

Putting that aside for the moment, even the International Monetary Fund has abandoned the belief spending austerity of the sort reflexively advocated and now being put in to practice by the UCP does any good. And in case you missed it, the folks at the IMF are not exactly communists!

Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper (Photo: Presidencia de la República Mexicana).

Way back in 2012, the IMF admitted after years of saying otherwise that using spending cuts to shrink deficits causes economic damage, and more of it than economists has blithely assumed till then.

None of this seems to matter to Mr. Kenney and company. Perhaps this is because worrying about debt and deficits makes a kind of superficial sense in a society where the notion that thrift is a virtue is bred in the bone. Perhaps it’s because they have another agenda to benefit wealthy backers who put their own interests before those of society. Perhaps it’s because blaming outsiders for your troubles has been an effective way for bad leaders to stay in power all through human history.

One thing we do know, and that’s that the simplest explanation for anything is usually the right one.

And the simplest explanation for Alberta’s job losses at a time when the rest of the country is piling on new jobs has something to do with the fact we’ve elected the most extreme and ideological market-fundamentalist regime in Canada and its policies don’t work any better here than they do elsewhere.

The simplest explanation for the particularly bad employment situation in Edmonton is that Mr. Kenney’s revenge agenda against the Albertans who elected an NDP government in 2015 is directed at public employees, many of whom are naturally found in the capital city, and voters in the only part of the province that held true to the NDP.

So the reasonable expectation is that two things will happen if Mr. Kenney and the UCP stay the course:

  1. Job losses in Alberta will continue and get worse
  2. Scapegoating, conspiracy theories and victim blaming that have already characterized this government will intensify as the economy crumbles

Finance Minister Travis Toews will table a provincial budget on Feb. 27, the government announced yesterday.

Given their actions to date, and the rationale given for them, it is not as reassuring as it should be to hear Mr. Toews say, “I have listened to the comments that thousands of Albertans have shared with me and I hear your concerns about the need to continue to create jobs and grow the economy.”

11 Comments to: It wasn’t supposed to be like this! Alberta sheds jobs while the rest of the country creates them

  1. Dave

    February 12th, 2020

    Alberta these days seems to be an island of recession or depression in an otherwise humming Canadian economy. As much as the UCP tries to downplay it, I think an increasing number of voters are noticing Calgary’s unemployment rate is close to that of St. John’s and Edmonton’s is higher. Also, our rates are still going up, while in other places in Canada, it is going down or stable.

    I don’t think Alberta voters so much enthusiastically embraced UCP policies in the provincial election, as they were hopeful a change in government might improve things. Of course that clearly hasn’t happened, so the UCP is continuing to frantically blame outsiders for our troubles. Well that works to some extent for a while, but ultimately people don’t care about who is to blame, they expect their government to somehow fix things regardless.

    It is possible oil prices will somehow recover enough for the economy to start to improve, despite the chilling effects of UCP austerity. It worked for Klein, who came to power near the end of a long period of falling or low oil prices of around 10 years. Unfortunately for Kenney, I don’t think his timing is as good. We are only about 6 years into this current cycle and this time climate change is another challenging issue facing the energy sector.

    I don’t think Kenney will change his approach much, even as it becomes even more apparent it is not working. The UCP government may tone down its rhetoric a bit and try to appear less harsh without doing much of substance. I suspect that is where the Finance Minister’s recent statement is coming from, but nicer words alone don’t cut it.

    Reply
  2. e.a.f.

    February 12th, 2020

    Why would business want to move to Alberta when the Premier and his elected officials are such idiots and out of touch with the world around them. Kenny’s religious zeolotry isn’t going to attract business to Alberta nor will the tax cuts. Kenny is out of his league. He doesn’t know how to run an economy or much else. the Calgary Mayor is in Vancouver today with the news reporting he is trying to drumming up business.

    Why would people/companies move to Alberta when Kenny is promising a war against nurses. that isn’t going to help people feel good about living there if they have health concerns or kids. B.C. will be more than happy to hire the nurses Kenny fires.

    It has been reported Kenny fired 60 highly skilled forest fire fighters. Wouldn’t make me feel safe to move to a rural area.

    When governments cut taxes, they defund the government and they aren’t able to provide the services people expect, so why move to Alberta?

    Alberta has lots of empty office space, two major cities which are very livable, reasonably priced housing. They could easily have been marketing the province to Silicon Valley as an alternative to moving to Vancouver. for that matter, they could be marketing their province to B.C. companies as a less expensive place to do business and provide workers with a less expensive place to live.

    The people of Alberta drank the cool aid, but if things continue as they are they won’t be able to have their stomach pumped. They will have to learn to live with Kenny and his party or perhaps die because they voted for them

    The days of attitudes such as Kenny aren’t going to improve the economy of Alberta. At the rate the protests are going, people may decide they don’t want that pipelines either, especially with that $12B price tag.

    If Kenny wants jobs, all he has to do is start cleaning up all those abandoned wells. Could most likely get the feds to pay for a good part of it

    Before oil, Alberta was a have not province. It looks like its going to be returning to that because what they call oil isn’t going to be a big seller in the years to come.

    Reply
  3. Abs

    February 12th, 2020

    It might have helped if Mr. Kenney had gone to university and taken a few economics courses, maybe even earned a degree of the kind he most despises, a B.A. (gasp!) in Economics. Instead, he uses his high school education to formulate schemes that are negatively and severely impacting the lives of Albertans. Back in the day, did they even have an economics course at his high school?

    High school students today know that it is not enough merely to graduate. If one wants a decent quality of life in the future, some sort of education after Grade 12 is needed. Yet here we have a college dropout guiding the most important decisions of our economy, and one who is too ego-driven to choose the best and brightest economic minds for advice, and listen to them.

    At a certain point, it becomes obvious that this is a pattern of behavior, not chance. Ideology over facts. It is a choice. There is no stopping him. The 55 percent of voters who fell for the ruse decided our fate. They can’t take it back, and now all of us will have to live with the nightmare that Alberta has become. This is on them. As Jim Prentice once said, look in the mirror. Do they realize now that they are not the chosen ones?

    But who does the ideology serve? Who does Kenney serve? Certainly not Joe and Josie Average Albertan. Who benefits? Ask yourself that, and it becomes obvious.

    Reply
  4. Abs

    February 12th, 2020

    This just in, economic policy according to Kenney is “not the fantasy land where we fuel the modern economy with pixie dust and unicorn farts”. Good to know.

    I stand by my belief that a university education in economics could have done this man a world of good. However, I would.like to visit this mythical place he describes, just for one day, and report back about the experience. More fun than Alberta right now.

    Reply
  5. Political Ranger

    February 12th, 2020

    Stupid, just plain stupid!

    There is always this defence of people in positions of power, be they hooeys at the UN or big kahunas at corporations or puffed up MLA’s in the Legislature, that they are somehow above simple epithets like stupid, that a simple description of stupid is somehow beneath the dignity of their fine office. But, sometimes, they are just plain stupid!

    This is especially so for Kenney and his mob of meathead morons. Hanging on for the comeback of yesterday’s petro-industry is not a plan; it’s a gamble. And it’s just plain stupid.
    Giving away a $4.7 billion subsidy to a moribund decaying industry is just plain stupid! Of course they are not going to spend it on employees; it goes straight to shareholder dividends.

    The sooner these soft-brained, slow-witted mutts get the heave ho, the better.

    We are back to the Klein times now. Where an average Grade 10 social studies class could do a better job of managing this province’s affairs.

    Reply
  6. Bill Malcolm

    February 12th, 2020

    When one’s frazzled brain is as far up one’s rear end as that of dear Jason, he of the solemn, pain-filled voice railing against the devil forces he imagines are aligned against Alberta, what hope is there for the place? An ideologue whose mind is so malformed that change in outlook is not possible runs the provine. A pity that the fast-paced craftiness, imagination and inspired ruthlessness he showed in grabbing the premiership from zero to charming the good ole boys cannot apparently be similarly deployed to help Alberta dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in. Other than to complain, he shows zero sign of imagination apropos the unemployment situation. There is a major disconnect at work here – Jason is apparently not a go-getter except as it pertains to his personal situation. A compliant and complacent media similarly devoid of ideas and backing up the status quo of UCP non-leadership means the place is in a doldrums and heading downhill, with only spitefulness against the defenceless coming to the fore.

    Contrary to the notions of local business boosters, Alberta and indeed Canada is regarded as a backwater that few people in this world think of at all in daily life. Just go on an overseas visit to Europe, or down to the USA. You’ll meet people to whom Canada is a theoretical place they’ve never spent any time thinking about other than to assume it’s snowy and cold year round, and oh, yes with Americans it’s socialist simply because we have public health care. That an army of people consisting of European Greens, those well-known unpricipled commies the Rockefellers and Obama, a fine but unshowy double neocon and neoliberal himself, should be mounting a campaign against Alberta in Jason’s puerile mind, well, it’s the stuff of fantasy. He assumes Alberta is a far more important place than it is, imagining all these forces spending actual time trying to torpedo the place, conspiring for its demise. Nice try. But paranoid nonsense.

    Sure, we all like to think we’re living in a great place recognized by all and sundry all over the world with nodding grunts of approval. But let’s get real. Go to say, Huddersfield UK and ask people in the street what they think of Alberta. Bring a TV camera along. Hell, bring Jason along to wow the punters. He’d be just another pasty face in the fish and chip shop queue. Yup, sorry, Alberta is nowheresville, Jay. And despite delusions of grandeur you’re merely a hack provincial (in the worldly not Canadian sense) politician. The UK itself is full of thousands of them arguing the toss, because local district councils have Party Politics, unlike here, although Alberta is giving it the old redneck try.

    Move on to Lyons, France or Hamburg, Germany and mention of Alberta is likely to draw a complete blank. Only people in the petrochemical industries are likely to have heard of Alberta.

    So what is Jason’s plan for the benighted province of majority self-delusionals? No more than doubling down on more bitumen extraction. Nothing else occurs to the man. Such insight! Such foresight! Oh, and those who had the temerity to not vote for this social paragon of days gone by will be punished for picking careers where employment is not subject to the ups and downs of resource extraction pricing. As if they deliberately did so to spite Jason’s twisted view of both the world and his goodself. He almost cries at the injustice of it all, all these “forces” conspiring to ruin his run for a place in the sun and history books.

    Unfortunately for him, economic conditions and the rapidly deteriorating environment are unlikely to change for the better as he sees it – the opposite is far more likely. Then how much caterwauling will we hear from Alberta residents and their blinkered politician’s views? So now the rest of the country is being asked to pick up the slack for Alberta’s past free-spending ways as if it were a right owed to former spendthrifts now down on their luck.

    A man with vision would do more than beat the drum of failed past policies as a way out of the mess. A population ferociously hypnotized by past glory and extension to the future for ever and ever will gradually realize that things have to change. In the meantime the rest of us have to listen to the spoiled brat brigade — not I must quickly point out, the readers and commenters on this blog, part of the “visible” minority who can see the writing on the wall and want change for a sustainable future. Until then, the bleatings will continue, the constant repetition of which will dull the senses of the Canadian population at large to be in the least bit interested.

    Reply
  7. Bruce Turton

    February 12th, 2020

    Kenney and ilk play from the same scraps of paper as other would-be (and accomplished) autocratic types: Someone to blame, not something to change. The ‘War Room’, the trips to anywhere to raise more $$$ for tar extraction while attempting at the same time to discredit (a la dictat of the ‘War Room’ itself) any foreign entity that does not join in the choir’s chorus according to the UCP book of songs.
    Further, on the latest “greening of non-renewable resources” from the mouth of dear leader of Alberta, hydrocarbons are black, and only black. Seems to me that the current Cons across this nation, and many Liberals who wish to hide behind “the rule of law” that favours one part of our nation over others (corporate vs. people in the current case), wish to ‘greenwash’ their way through the “climate emergency” by claiming that we need to adapt without much in the way of mitigation. This is really “an ask for much more spending to keep up with the mess we refuse to stop making”.

    Reply
  8. Abs

    February 12th, 2020

    P.S. No wonder no business deals come out of Kenney’s trips around the world. Business leaders probably don’t have time for Rainbow Brite.

    Reply
  9. Just Me

    February 12th, 2020

    All the more to watch the latest unprovable conspiracy theory …

    What if the UCP wants TMX and the Teck mine to fail? Ottawa is marshalling considerable resources towards the implementation of both projects, yet, not a word of gratitude from Kenney.

    What if to maintain the distraction for their own failures, the UCP wants all these projects to fail? What if it’s more acceptable politically to push the perspective that Ottawa is an enemy rather than a partner?

    If the above is the case, Kenney is ready to scorch the earth in favour of his own shallow ambitions. Another effort by the angry midget to make his own alternative reality the only reality he wants Alberta to accept.

    And consider Jason Nixon’s claim that Indigenous protests are extortion so they can secure more royalties. The Alberta as victim narrative in overdrive.

    Reply
  10. February 12th, 2020

    Kenny did not “win” an election; he stole it. Bell Media and their 200 newspapers put in a slate of Conservatives across Canada including Alberta. They did this by Global preying on every word Scheer spoke in the house regardless of how much of a lie it was and publishing it allowing no comments! Bell Media TV station picked up off the Globe and Mail and ran it as legitimate news with no place to put anything contrary about it. No, this was thievery at its very best!

    Reply
  11. February 15th, 2020

    What do Edmonton and Windsor have in common, besides the highest unemployment rate in Canada?
    They are both places were formerly ‘great’ corporations invested in an expanding industry. Industries that have fallen in to ruin and disrepair, never to rerun to their former greatness. The business people have taken their profits and left the people with the ashes.

    Reply

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