Is it 1980 or 2016? We think we know what year it is despite being struck by attacks of déjŕ vu. In 1980 we had a Trudeau in Ottawa and the National Energy Program. Remembered (not fondly) as a money-grab, the NEP brought a substantial boost to Ottawa's coffers, at Albertans' expense. By 1986, when the Progressive Conservatives cancelled the NEP, the federal government had collected more than $100 billion (in current dollars) from our province. In that time, thousands of Albertans lost their homes, their jobs, their businesses; the suicide rate soared.
Fast-forward to today: In the past 18 months the price of oil has fallen by 75 per cent; the number of people on unemployment benefits in Alberta has risen by 102.5 per cent. Building and residential permits are down a third, industrial permits down more than half. Alberta's chief medical examiner's office says the suicide rate is up by 30 per cent. There is once again a Trudeau in Ottawa, who this time around seems to be considering offering Albertans some relief. There has been talk of a proposed injection of about $700 million by the federal government to Alberta's economy, (although there has been no formal announcement.) But while politicians hem and haw, Albertans are getting ready to fork over millions of dollars in equalisation payments for Ontario and Quebec, the "have-not" provinces who have been on the receiving end of $20 billion a year in equalisation payments, courtesy of yours truly, the Alberta oil patch.
Yet as Albertans tighten their belts to pay for Quebec's ongoing poor economic performance, there is not a lot of gratitude blowing in from the east. Montreal-area mayors recently announced their opposition to TransCanada's Energy East pipeline, a $55 million lifeline that would bring a much needed cash injection into the Canadian economy. The proposed pipeline would carry up to 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta to Montreal using an existing pipeline, and then to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B. through new, state-of-the-art pipe. The mayors cited "environmental concerns" as their reasoning, which is a little rich, coming from a province that imports 600,000 barrels of oil a day by rail and freighter from places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Have they forgotten Lac Megantic? Albertan politicians have been quick to point out the hypocrisy. In the words of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: "They're wrong. It's simple." We couldn't agree more, but in the meantime, Albertans have no choice but to wait and see if history is about to repeat itself.