With no shortage of irony considering the disdain many Albertans hold towards the evil, biased, mainstream media, Liberal lapdog CBC, our national broadcaster is once again letting the rest of Canada know just how disappointed we are with them. Miffed, even.
The first time the CBC illuminated this simmering angst came in February when the iconic Rex Murphy, like the hero in a Bonnie Tyler song, stood upon his stack of thesauri and asked, “Where are Calgary’s allies?” Rex’s lament for the oil capital struck a note with many beleaguered Calgarians. And Albertans. And Saskatchewanians. The once proud “Heart of the New West” that recently asked everyone to “Be Part of the Energy” is mired in a seemingly unending economic turmoil the likes of which hasn’t been endured since the mid-Eighties. Rex knows how to preach to the converted even if most of the words are beyond our common vocabulary.
Never shy to voice an opinion, oil patch workers across the Prairies, both present and former, jumped at the sudden attention Rex had drawn and eagerly shared their frustrations all over media. Our mayor, not one you’d immediately associate with being a blind cheerleader of the oil industry, has taken it upon himself to promote the industry and take pipeline opposing mayors to task. High profile Calgarians like Brent Wilson, never one to sugarcoat an opinion, beat the drum and not so lightly challenged the rest of Canada.
Not that any of this was really news. My Facebook feed regularly showcases angst-dripping memes from my Western peers fittingly juxtaposed with anti-pipeline memes from my Eastern friends. It did before Rex’s heart-wrenching plea and it continued afterwards. The chit chat at the schoolyard and hockey rink is equally, shall we say, emotive.
So it really wasn’t a shock when in early October CBC shared with the nation the results of an opinion poll revealing that Albertans feel “aggrieved” and “anxious” and “left out.” As Rex expressed in his earlier opus, Albertans are wondering why the Rest of Canada is so reluctant to help after so many years of being helped. It’s a prevalent sentiment out here and it stems wholly from the boogeyman that is transfer payments. Albertans have ponied up huge sums of money to the Federal coffers over the years, money that has been used to supplement the standard of living in poorer reaches of the country. Though admittedly contentious, it’s one of the principles of this nation that make it so wonderful. Now that fortunes are apparently reversed, the perceived reluctance by the Rest of Canada to help support Alberta is construed as a slight.
According to the poll, only 36% of Albertans think they are treated fairly by the country, less than half of 75% who think so in Ontario which, none too ironically, is where the bulk of Alberta’s resentment is directed. Consider this quote from the polling article.
“Alberta has always been the strong province that has helped the other provinces,” Diaz said.
“You would hope people would think the same way: ‘OK, now it’s our turn to help Alberta.’ But the mentality out there is: ‘Well, you guys have made all this money. You’re in oil and gas. What goes around comes around.’ And I’ve heard that from people. I’ve heard that from people I know.”
It’s a statement that gets you right in the feels. And there is certainly some truth behind it. The transfer payments, yes, but also jobs and various corporate bailouts, such as in the auto industry, during the 2008 fiscal crisis. I’d even begrudgingly concur with the often lobbed bomb that the rest of Canada is simply jealous. There’s sadly some truth to that assertion. It’s hard to completely discount the whiff of hypocrisy the country shows towards pipelines and the tar sands. Spend some time driving through the urban sprawl of the Greater Toronto Area (all of Southern Ontario for that matter) and you’ll see firsthand an environmental blight every bit as ugly and damaging as the mines around Fort McMurray. Thousands of acres of the most fertile farmland on the planet obliterated by McMansions and strip malls all built with, heated, cooled, and commuted to and from in whole or in part with fossil fuels.
Still, as someone born and raised in Ontario, now living in Alberta for eighteen years and counting, whose entire livelihood and every possession is dependent upon the oilsands industry, I find these pleas of my provincial colleagues, and Rex, a tad disingenuous. That’ll happen if every time I drive north or south of the city I eventually pass a rusting transport trailer in a field with some variation of “Texas North” or “Less Ottawa, More Alberta” emblazoned upon it.
For starters, let’s do away with the silly pretense that Alberta has coughed up millions upon millions of dollars in Federal transfer payments solely for altruistic reasons. If you’re going to continually remind your friends that “they owe you” you could at least do them the courtesy of being honest about your intentions. These contributions have always been a forced obligation and one that a great many Albertans have given reluctantly, often with no shortage of kicking and screaming. The Reform Party was not The West’s way of saying, “Hey Rest of Canada, we really wish to give more.” So please, spare me the false altruism.
Rex then goes further, sermonizing about the generosity Albertans showed in welcoming waves of Newfoundland fisherfolk to the land of jobs aplenty when the Cod-fishing moratorium wreaked havoc on The Rock. There are likely to be a few Maritime ex-pats who might disagree with the gentility of that welcome. Oh there were certainly jobs galore and some companies even provided charter flights to bring workers to and from Fort McMurray from all corners of the nation. They did this, not out of some noble duty to employ the most downtrodden fellow Canadians, but because there was a worker shortage during the height of an ungodly oil boom. Now that said boom has gone bust, well, those jobs and charter flights have quickly been scaled back or are gone completely. Check your altruism.
The auto bailout in Ontario is similarly opined as another example of Alberta’s charity though having lived here during that time I’d be hard-pressed to point you towards any fellow citizens of mine that supported this policy. Even the fact that the Alberta based Conservative party implemented this bailout is quickly brushed off as being forced upon them by the Leftist parties in a minority government situation. Again, check your altruism.
“Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark”
That infamous bumper sticker from the eighties, routinely (and wrongly) attributed to Ralph Klein (he actually called them “Eastern creeps and bums”) continues to be gleefully repeated by many a Calgarian, fully thirty years after the loathed NEP was abolished. Alberta’s media age in 2012 was 36 meaning that we are very near a point where half of the population wasn’t even born during the NEP dark ages, yet still these words are spat in contempt. Perhaps that, Rex, is why Calgary, nor Alberta, hasn’t any allies. We never made any effort to make any.
Alberta is indeed suffering right now. We are coming down off the ultimate sugar high. It’s as though we stuffed ourselves at a Chinese buffet for fifteen straight years and now two hours later, we’re hungry already. It absolutely sucks. My wife still works in the patch. We’re one of the lucky ones … so far. We’ve spent the past two years dreading what feels like the inevitable pink slip. Others haven’t been so lucky.
For most of my oil career, losing a job was often a blessing. You got a juicy severance package and went about finding another job which usually came relatively quick and painless. With a new job that severance package magically transformed into a bonus. Hell, in 1999 I was laid off after a mere ten months on the job, oil had cratered to $12/bbl and the company I worked for was a financial mess. I was as inexperienced as a prom night date and the price of oil was dire, yet I found work within six weeks.
Things are different this time. Not only is oil in the dumper, but natural gas remains anemic, something it has been for nearing a decade now. There is nowhere to turn. No flourishing niche in the patch to absorb the discarded workers. Yes, many of us got a little fat on the windfall. Despite promises of yore, many of us managed to piss it all away again. And yeah, we probably got a little too smug about it. We haven’t been nearly as altruistic as we like to believe.
Still, we did help and now we need help. Instead of soapbox pleas and social media ranting, perhaps a more modest, Canadian, phrasing to our request is in order. Dear Rest of Canada. Would you begrudgingly lend us a hand now like we begrudgingly lent you before? Please, and thank you.