Fear for the future

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‘It’ isn’t the only thing frightening Albertans as this long, hot and endlessly smoky summer limps to a close.

No, the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror tale currently proving a cinematic hit across North America has suitable company in the goose bump stakes here in Wild Rose Country.

Maybe it’s slowly dawning on us the eagerly anticipated rebound from the awful two–year economic bust we’ve suffered through isn’t exactly the rip-roaring affair we were assured was just around the corner. Simply put, maybe this is as good as it gets.

Yet most of our country is on a giddy roll, with jobs in Central Canada being created as they once were in Fort McMurray. Nationally we’re so pumped the Bank of Canada is leading the western world in jacking up interest rates to rein in runaway growth, especially in some frothy housing markets.

But back home here in Alberta? Well, frankly, not so much. The latest employment figures show while most provinces were smiling from ear-to-ear here in the land that fun’s forgot it was the same, sad dreary news.

In fact the jobless rate in our province actually rose in August, to 8.1 per cent from July’s 7.8 per cent. In terms of pure numbers there were 202,000 folk looking for work as compared to 193,000 a month earlier and while that’s mercifully better than the 208,000 a year ago it isn’t the sort of boom we usually experience following such a dreadful bust.

Which leaves our current government in more than a bit of a pickle. For two years we’ve been endlessly lectured, like little kids being told to brush their teeth before bed, that the ludicrous level of borrowing the NDP has engaged in was necessary to save us from those ‘brutal and heartless cuts’. Oh, and that, when things did turn around, Alberta’s living, breathing answer to Houdini – yes, that being former social worker and current treasurer, Joe Ceci – would have us fairly and oh-so squarely on the righteous path to a balanced budget.

Sure. We planned to borrow $10,500,000,000 this year (yes, I know it’s simpler to write $10.5-billion, but it doesn’t quite carry the same impact.)

You’d think our good friend Joe would have told his Wall Street chums that, actually, we won’t need quite that much. Sadly no. In the first quarter update we find out – mainly because of daft assumptions over future energy revenues – we’ll need to suck up another $250 million from our contingency fund just to make ends sort of meet until we get – aptly enough – to April 1. Then this charade can start all over again.

Tempting as it is to lay all this at Rachel Notley and crew’s door that would duck the real issue. And frankly it’s a doozie.

For decades Alberta’s relied upon energy revenues to backstop our high standard of living. Natural gas pricing, once the mainstay of provincial royalty streams, has dwindled while oil seems locked under $50 a barrel. Meanwhile ever-increasing battery power is making electric cars more of an existential threat to our oil-based economy each day.

We have an amazing province. The infrastructure is among the best in the world, the taxes reasonably low and the sense of provincial pride immense. But maybe, just maybe, this actually is as good as it gets?

So go watch ‘It’ at your local cinema. Honestly, it’s akin to a Disney cartoon compared to what we face.

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About Author

Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.