Lots of things aren’t going Alberta’s way right now. There was the Northern Gateway pipeline to B.C. proposal killed by the federal government, and the Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick killed by Quebec and the feds.
The Trans Mountain pipeline to B.C. has an uncertain future. Ironically, Energy East was really the addition of a short, new line through Montreal to connect with an existing pipeline. And to add to the irony, Ottawa approved a $1.2-billion annual increase to Quebec’s incoming transfer payments. And if that isn’t enough, a recent Abacus poll showed 63 per cent of Canadians supporting Bill C-69, an onerous, project-killing initiative (of all the provinces, only Alberta is unsupportive, at 58 per cent).
More recently, a former minister of Justice and Attorney General resigned from cabinet due to alleged pressure from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his office for her, as then AG, to drop federal charges against SNC-Lavalin and support a redemption agreement with the company, which she rejected.
On a quieter note, two researchers at University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy recently published a paper showing that from 1967 to 2017, Albertans paid $611 billion in net federal fiscal transfers, $180 billion in eight years since 2010. Ontario paid more, $722 billion, but less per capita than Alberta. B.C. paid less at just over $100 billion. All other provinces received, Quebec with $476 billion. Whoa!
Bill C-69, favouritism to SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based multinational, and one-sided federal transfer payments. No wonder people here are mad.
The oilpatch across Canada may have lost 100,000 jobs in the last five years, of which about 40,000 were in Alberta. SNC-Lavalin, a multinational company that employs 50,000 people worldwide but less than 9,000 in Canada, of which less than 4,000 work in Quebec. Yet they are the current federal government’s interest. Sure, try to help SNC, without messing with the law, but at least send as much love westward to the oilpatch.
So now what?
Some folks want us to separate. It’s an old argument from diehard, conservative Albertans. I can certainly understand the emotion behind it but I don’t get the rationale. Alberta has a good resource base, both renewable and non-renewable. We have well-developed infrastructure and government services. We have a diverse, skilled, hard-working and entrepreneurial workforce. We have a land that people want to come to, even when it’s -25 C as I’ve read in the paper lately.
However, we’re small and we’re landlocked. It would cost us more through new duties and tariffs to move products in and out. Most Quebecers, spoiled as they are by the feds, and not just by Liberals now, really don’t want to separate, for reasons similar to us, and they have ports and access to the Atlantic. And, let’s face it, despite the problems we now face, Canada really is a good country, partly because we’re part of it.
Just the same, there is strong rationale to revisit the articles of Confederation. That won’t be easy or short, but there is a necessity. And it’s better than leaving.
Roger Jackson is a former deputy minister and a St. Albert resident.