A weekend to give thanks – Albertas got it good
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 06:00 am
An interesting detail emerged from a recent batch of StatsCan numbers. Albertans, the agency reported, are spending record amounts of money in bars and restaurants, a seasonally-adjusted $653 million in July. That’s a lot of food and drink.
Why are we doing this? The answer is simple: Because we feel good. When times are tough, we stay home. When times are good, we eat out – and times now are very good. Perhaps not so good for our waistlines, but in so many other ways this Thanksgiving weekend is a time to remember that Alberta is blessed.
Look at what’s happening around the world. A civil war grinds on in Syria. Europe is mired in economic stagnation. Youth unemployment rates in Spain, Italy and Greece are 20 per cent or more. Whole chunks of central and northern Africa are in the hands of religious fanatics. South of the border, the United States remains deep in debt and at least temporarily paralyzed until a new administration takes office. Even then, no one should expect rapid change. Things are better in Canada, but – and this is the point – they’re best of all in Alberta. This is the sweet spot of the nation.
More proof needed? Driven by strong labour demand, especially in the oil and gas sector, weekly wages in Alberta are up a remarkable six per cent over last year. Coupled with low inflation, that makes for real gains in our standard of living. The demand for labour is pulling more people into the province, too. Indeed, Alberta has the fastest growing population in Canada, (2.5 per cent versus 1.1 per cent nationally), which keeps the housing market strong and the economy from overheating.
And oh, how we’re spending, not only in bars and restaurants, but in stores and auto showrooms. In fact, retail sales hit a record $5.7 billion in July. Not bad for a province of 3.9 million people (also a record). Eventually the pace of economic growth will moderate; this already appears to be happening. But there’s good news even here since this too will keep the economy from overheating.
In short, we’re a lucky bunch. So raise a glass to good fortune this weekend and enjoy the bounty of the season, though you might take a pass on that second helping of potatoes and gravy.
The father of free trade
Brian Mulroney is back in the news – this time for the right reasons. Nineteen years after he left office, Mulroney remains a controversial, even reviled figure in some quarters. As a politician, he was a profane, spiteful and insecure human being. His dealings with Karl-Heinz Schreiber – pocketing envelopes full of cash – were a disgrace to him and the country.
Yet Mulroney was much more than that and ultimately history will judge him well. Because, for all his flaws, he was also a remarkable politician, a man of great charm and even greater tenacity, qualities that were needed in abundance a quarter century ago to produce the U.S-Canada Free Trade Agreement.
Since that deal was signed Oct. 3, 1987, Canada has never been the same. True, the agreement never produced the glowing outcomes predicted by proponents, but it also true that the deal also never proved to be the undoing of Canada as predicted by opponents. And between those two extremes, the balance is mildly to overwhelmingly favourable.
Cross-border exports, trade and investment have all increased, while cross-border disputes have declined. More intangible but also important, the Free Trade Agreement rid Canadians of their almost chronic timidity and installed the confidence that we can compete not only with the U.S. but around the world. Nowhere is this can-do spirit more evident than in Western Canada, which for generations was hobbled by protectionist policies that favoured Ontario and Quebec. No longer.
To anyone who questions the benefits of the FTA, a simple question must be asked: Would you go back to what Canada was before, a timid, uncertain place with a small internal market and limited horizons? Clearly the answer is no. We are a trading nation and the FTA paved the way for our current and future prosperity. For this too we should give thanks, and offer a tip of the hat to Brian Mulroney.