This week in AB
Harper on Alberta
I couldn’t find a photo of Harper and Smith... Photo credit: Global News
Once upon a time, there was a prosperous Canadian province where anyone could make lots of cash. Then, along came a Prime Minister who roared a terrible roar and said “you cannot be prosperous without Ottawa!” And because he was all-powerful, it was so. Until it wasn’t.
This story is familiar in Alberta — sort of.
It’s why people in this province rage against anyone named “Trudeau”. It is popular folklore that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau caused a global oil glut by proposing a National Energy Program.
Spinners of this tale of woe leave out the part about the 80’s recession being global. Or that there was too much oil supply — it ruins the ending.
Conservatives in Alberta are amazingly disciplined when it comes to doubling down on a lie — I’ve never seen anyone do it better — and the idea that a National Energy proposal caused the largest recession in Alberta since the Great Depression is pretty much gospel. It’s also the reason Stephen Harper says he became a conservative.
So, when Alberta Premier Danielle Smith tweeted out a video of Stephen Harper endorsing conservatives over the NDP, it wasn’t too surprising. Aside from the fact that Harper didn’t mention either Smith or the United Conservative Party specifically, that is.
In the brief video, Harper claimed that Alberta was only beginning to recover from the “job-killing, tax-hiking, anti-energy policies leading to mass layoffs, business closures, and recession”, it was like listening to him talk about how P.E.T. flexed his massive Canadian muscle and forced more oil production by offering to lay pipe to every coast we could reach.
It doesn’t matter that, in 1977, and again in 2014, the Saudis increased production to show that their muscles are bigger than everyone else’s.
And it certainly doesn’t matter that the 2014 recession was coming no matter who was in government. Although it should matter that both Prentice and Harper’s boys tried to lie about it first.
No, it’s far easier to create a problem where the only solution is to elect conservatives — anything else might actually involve addressing things that affect the rest of us.
Speaking of which…
Have you heard the news? An issue that has been steadily growing in our urban centres since 2019 is boiling over — just in time to become a ballot question in an election.
Crime. Drugs. Social disorder.
I do believe it would even fit on a lectern.
2019 was a wild year for defunding the police in Alberta. With Alberta’s coffers still closer to half empty than full, and a freshly-elected United Conservative government determined to reduce sustainable revenue from a tax-averse public, the UCP had to find revenue from other sources.
Amazingly, the party that is now trying to position itself as the only one willing to fund more boots on the ground, is the same one who made the biggest dent in policing budgets.
In the first budget of the UCP’s term, they decided they could cut municipal grant funding for policing as well as siphon off a higher percentage of fine revenues.
The resulting shortfall led to a loss of millions of dollars and hundreds of officers in Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge, Alberta’s three largest cities, despite warnings that crime was increasing.
What really mattered is the UCP did a good job at looking like they were listening.
Former Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer kicked off the Rural Crime tour just weeks before his party’s 2019 budget informed rural municipalities they would also see less provincial funding for policing.
Meanwhile, the “Fair Deal Panel” tour was in full swing in its attempt to garner support for another Harper-era pet project — a provincial police force.
Certain conservatives have been banging this drum ever since the infamous Firewall Letter, but there’s a catch; in more than three decades of research, the results are always the same: a provincial police force will cost more.
Despite the price tag, Kenney tried to add some rouge to le vilain cochon, by promising rural municipal leaders that the province would shoulder the additional expense.
You gotta admit, it sounds a whole lot better than “no worries — we’ll just get more money from Calgary”.
Another billion-dollar giveaway
It’s a $13 billion “investment”, Trudeau said.
A great lesson I received from my time with the Western Standard was an overview in using language to tell a story without having to, ahem, spell it out.
“Governments use the term ‘investment’ — we say ‘spending’”, I was told.
I still see it that way today when I don’t agree with the expense (as does everyone else who writes or speaks about public spending), and can find a number of other words (like “giveaway”, “welfare”, “bail-out”, “handout”, “funding”, “backing”, “propping”… you get the picture) to denote my position.
I’ll just get the Harper connection out of the way first; in 2008, Harper found himself in the same position of having to match American offerings of corporate welfare or risk the loss of auto-manufacturing jobs in Canada (and it didn’t stop them from going anyway).
It is what it is but I’m livid about it again because our livelihoods are being used as leverage for corporate profit.
Volkswagen is looking to build a manufacturing plant for electric vehicle batteries. The U.S. wants good manufacturing jobs for its citizens and was offering to pay Volkswagen to choose a locale there. Canada wants good manufacturing jobs for its citizens as well and agreed to do the same.
So, back to today, we’re offering Volkswagen $13 billion in subsidies, over 10 years, to build a plant for around $7 billion. This project will create “3,000 jobs directly” and “30,000, indirectly”*.
*Actual outcomes may vary with zero repercussions (don’t take my word for it, Trevor Tombe is the numbers guy).
It’s like paying VW to put their name on the cheques because “private” business is more acceptable than government.
Even worse, corporations are now in a position to ask for money — and benefits — from the people it profits from… in order to make more profit??
Even if we just rage on about government “investment” that results in zero interest in the profits, who “invests” with zero expectation of a return on profit?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if government money is going to prop up business, then it should have an ownership share, like any other investor.
Seriously, if this was your financial advisor you’d fire them for handing over your money and getting nothing but bragging rights in return.
“But it creates jobs!”
No, it creates profit. I have no problem with government “investing” but “investment” isn’t writing a cheque with no possibility of return — that’s just spending; a giveaway, a handout.
Just in time for an election in Alberta, again, the feds have decided to throw an equalization bone for the UCP to gnaw.
Harper changed the equalization formula in 2009 to decrease the reliance on a province’s fiscal capacity in the framework. That decision resulted in increased funding for Alberta, and was renewed again under Harper in 2014.
It’s a courtesy — simply a courtesy — that the federal government will try to give provinces as much notice as possible, typically one year, when a review or renewal is expected.
The previous renewal was in 2018 and the federal government is looking to lock it in for another six years, until 2029, which will allow a majority government to stay quiet about it until at least 2028.
Tyler Meredith, of Meredith & Boessenkool, noted that it was not required to be an issue this early.
“As I said on Budget Day, I was surprised (equalization) was put forward now,” Meredith wrote.
“It has to happen. But it’s not urgent, urgent, just nice to have (notice).”
I guess it’s not easy to claim that Trudeau is in bed with the Alberta NDP when the “Liberal-NDP alliance” seems hell-bent on screwing them over.
Nenshi was right.
A foil is more valuable.