Having attended the organizing meeting for those who want to be involved in Whistler's effort to sponsor Syrian refugee families, I am ready, at this point, to form a new group — the Alberta Refugee Relief Group. ARRG.
Let us all pause a moment to feel the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters in Alberta.....
... That's long enough.
While I was aware oil was trading on the world market for something shy of, gulp, $30/barrel, a price at which the Alberta tar sands begins to look even more like a stinking hole in the ground, I had no idea things had gotten that rough for the poor Albertans.
Oh, I was aware events had spun so out of control they'd elected an NDP premier – a woman, no less – but I was blissfully ignorant about how dire the circumstances of the average Albertan had gotten.
Thankfully, CBC's The National — Motto: It May Not be News But It's Probably Not Entertainment Either — kindly clued me in when they ran a short piece about the Facebook letter written by a concerned oil patch worker from Lloydminster, Ken Cundliffe. Ken, whom I assume lives on the Alberta side of town, not the Saskatchewan side, Lloydminster being cleaved more or less down the middle by the provincial border, was inspired by the letter a B.C. woman posted to Justin Trudeau on Facebook shortly after the federal election.
Ken wants JT to do "something" to help poor Alberta before everyone is out of a job, loses their homes, cars and boats. He's a bit unclear as to what that might be but extending Employment Insurance payments would, he says, be a good start.
And he's not particularly impressed by JT's rush to help poorer countries deal with climate change, a subject several who have commented on his post still seem to believe is a left-wing conspiracy, not a scientific event. Ken isn't impressed much with JT's open arms policy toward Syrian refugees either, which is why I'm suggesting we start up ARRG.
There is just one teensy problem with Ken's plea. It comes from, well, Alberta. That would be the Alberta that responded to JT's dad's national energy policy with the bumper sticker, "Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark!" That would be the Alberta that spawned the Reform/Alliance/Conservative party and subjected us to a decade of the country's most unpopular prime minister ever. That would be the Alberta that pissed away its Heritage Fund instead of saving for the inevitable rainy day. The Alberta that more or less gave away its oil for a song. And, yes, the Alberta where the idea of imposing even a modest sales tax remains the province's third-rail of politics.
All this makes it easy for many in the rest of Canada to tell Ken to piss off. But not me. ARRG!
Ken makes the point that Alberta has never been the recipient of transfer payments from the federal government. Poor Alberta has always been the rich uncle those eastern bastards looked towards to keep kith and kin together. Ken points out that Alberta has done "more than its fair share supporting the East." He reminds JT how ready the feds were — notwithstanding it was Mr. Harper's feds — to bail out the auto industry when it was about to go down the tubes.
Can't argue with that reasoning. Or...
I seem to recall the International Monetary Fund estimated Canada provided subsidies to the energy industry to the tune of, oh, $34 billion each year in the form of direct support and uncollected taxes. Wow! That kind of puts the government's total equalization payments to all the provinces, estimated at just under $18 billion for 2016-17 in a different light, doesn't it? Of course not all that went to Alberta's energy industry.
And it is true the feds and Ontario governments invested $13.7 billion to prop up the Canadian auto sector. And it's true the federal government left taxpayers on the hook for about $3.5 billion when they sold their (our) remaining shares in Chrysler and GM. Oddly though, that sale was roundly criticized by many since it was done by, oh yeah, the Harper government, in a hopeless attempt to balance the budget before the last election so it could finally boast about running a balanced budget... something that it never quite managed to do.
And so we cycle back to that Alberta spawned and supported government breaking the hearts of poor Albertans.
I have to admit, on first blush it's hard to work up a lot of sympathy for Ken and the poor Albertans, especially if you live in B.C., another province that doesn't get transfer payments. They do seem to be the author of their own misfortune. And it was the stalwart folks of Alberta who, for decades, kept telling the feds to keep their noses out of Alberta's business which, apparently, largely consisted of blindly investing in the tar sands and pissing away a potential fortune. But like all good believers in free markets, Albertans aren't too proud to ask for help when their emaciated chickens come home to roost, or get caught in the tailings ponds.
So, heck, I'm willing to help. If Albertans are willing to swallow their pride, I'm willing to be magnanimous. I believe there are other Whistlerites who will pitch in, join ARRG, sponsor Alberta families, find them places to rent and good paying, secure service industry jobs. Hey, Ken, you want fries with that whine?
We won't force the Alberta refugees to start believing in climate change. Heck, if Ralph Klein could believe greenhouse gases were actually trapped dinosaur farts, the Alberta refugees can continue to believe that. We'll provide grief counsellors for the first time they visit a B.C. liquor store and see what the prices are. We'll be there to prop them up when they discover that is the before sales tax price. We won't mention the carbon tax we pay at the pump every time we buy gas. Well, at least not for the first few months. After all, they are our brothers and sisters and we care for each and every one of them.
So take heart, Ken. Like you say, things will turn around for Alberta. It will be a have province again. Oh, wait a minute, it still is a have province. Never mind. Details, details. We, and by we I mean the big-hearted boys and girls in Whistler, won't stand by and let your people turn to desperate measures as you fear. You don't need to worry about JT's leadership on this one. We've got your back.
By the way, can you cook Mexican food?