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COLUMN: Numbers don't lie

Nelson Chris web


Now I understand how Pamela Ewing felt, awoken by the sound of running water from the adjoining bathroom.

Yes, in what was deemed the most famous shower scene since Psycho, there stood former hubby Bobby: wet, grinning and larger than life. Which was quite a feat, since he’d been run over and killed in an earlier episode of that famous Dallas TV show, back in the mid-1980s.

But, with ratings slipping, the show’s brass wanted to bring him back – so they declared we’d simply tuned in to Pam’s bad dream for the past bunch of episodes. Nope, Bobby wasn’t dead at all. He was, like that wonderful Monty Python parrot, simply resting.

Well, today in Alberta there’s a dreamlike quality attached to the latest economic figures: ones showing how deep in the economic hole this province has sunk.

One statistic captures it most succinctly: the employment participation rate, which shows the ratio of Albertans with a job or actively looking for one among the overall potential workforce.

Alberta’s always led the country in this, but at 70.3 per cent it’s now the lowest since 1980. Wow: forty years. I bet that nasty nugget made Premier Jason Kenney’s day.
It’s a more significant stat than the monthly unemployment rate, itself another numerical horror show this last January, because people who’ve stopped receiving benefits, or have simply given up looking for work, don’t get counted in the jobless total.

Meanwhile, there are other rather unexpected stats in our province’s latest economic summary. They might even make a cynical person (yeah, just like me) wonder if indeed we elected a Conservative government last May. Maybe, just like Pamela, we dreamt the whole darn thing, therefore making Rachel Notley Alberta’s answer to Bobby Ewing.

Of course, the political rhetoric from the UCP has been hot and heavy for months. Listening to that alone you’d think there’d been a revolution in this province, following the justified removal of those Dippers.

Yet numbers don’t lie. So, if we’d been informed a year ago that in the previous month Alberta had lost 34,200 private sector jobs but added 4,500 in the public service many would have cursed the NDP. But wait: those changes came in January 2020, with the UCP firmly in control.

Year against year, it’s the same story: overall – January to January – a loss of more than 22,000 private sector jobs but increases of 16,200 in health and social assistance, plus a further 8,900 in education.

Yet we hear caterwauling from public sector unions and the usual echoes from a gaggle of special interest groups, accusing the Kenney bunch of decimating their ranks. Hey, calm down, they’ve been happily, but quietly, adding to them.

Of course the Tories will claim, with some justification, the changes they’ve invoked have yet to bear fruit. And, anyhow, it’s all the fault of those federal Liberals.

Well, it isn’t the Grits in Ottawa filling the health care and education ranks here in Alberta. So, keep a close eye on what this fellow Kenney actually does, as opposed to what he says. At least until we see a sizeable change in this economic picture.

Yet, ominously, there could be a more serious issue in play. Perhaps, no matter what any political party does, this province is sliding down the economic pole regardless. That’s the real and frightening worry.

Have we have reached the point where Alberta isn’t actually even being allowed to come back? That no matter the policies put in place provincially, the good times are gone for good?

Hopefully not: we don’t want to hear that water running and, when peering into the shower, see only the good times behind us.

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

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