February 20th, 2019

Diversification wanted

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on February 7, 2019.

Albertans have heard and will hear a lot over the next months about the waning days of the “desperate” New Democrats. It might as well be the unofficial campaign slogan of the United Conservative Party which is similarly advertising itself as the government-in-waiting, ready to undo the damage caused over the last four years.

The governing party will take issue with this, and a spirited debate is expected.

But current opposition parties would be wise to co-opt the issue of economic diversification that the New Democrats are clearly championing and which resonates with Albertans.

Besides, despite being a NDP plank—— and the UCP tactic is to oppose all NDP planks all the time — it’s simply the right thing to do.

In this line, this week the UCP announced they would review recent announcements by the provincial government, and cancel them if warranted, should they form government.

This would have likely happened anyway with a new government, but its clear the UCP is playing to their cultivated base of voters who won’t be convinced otherwise that Alberta since 2015 has seen a string of unmitigated disasters.

That’s hardly true in any objective sense, though politics are largely subjective.

In the eyes of the beholders, the biggest issue is the economy, and for many they won’t be satisfied until the oilpatch comes roaring back.

Accomplishing that is a tricky problem, not just for Premier Rachel Notley but for any politician governing in an era of rock-bottom natural gas, mature conventional oilfields and landlocked production in the oilsands.

Jason Kenney will face the same situation, and a planned reversal of a two-percentage-point tax increase on corporations and the highest income earners won’t change that.

There’s no doubt some damage control from the New Democrats began late last year, following the Trans Mountain expansion court decision.

The province announced a doubling of the petrochemical diversification grant — which has already seen $500 million in royalty credits lead to $9 billion in chemical plant construction.

Another $2 billion in credits is slated for award “soon,” assumedly before the election writ is dropped. Recent green power supply contracts will see billions invested in southern Alberta by 2020.

What some Albertans see as desperation translates to “long time coming” for others.

These are mostly existing plans scheduled to come to fruition late in the term.

Politicking? Perhaps. But hardly shocking or a scandal.

The NDP have also notably upped their mentions of Peter Lougheed as a justification for more directly intervening in industrial development through grants, programs and enticements.

Hatters of a certain age may recall that the methanol and fertilizer plants here are a direct result of the Alberta Gas Chemicals Corp. that Lougheed launched in the mid-1970s.

Not mentioned is Don Getty, who presided over Crown Corporation disasters during the recession in the late 1980s, arguably the province’s worst.

Fast forward to today and one can only speculate what sort of soul searching would be taking place among this province’s undecided voters had the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion moved ahead.

But, for a federal court ruling, the New Democrats would be riding a string of economic wins into this spring’s vote, new plants, new optimism for export potential, and a burgeoning utility sector.

But, what could have been, is not what is.

Many Albertans likely stopped listening full-stop after TMX was delayed. They like the idea of lower corporate taxes and want the carbon levy abolished.

The United Conservatives claim these steps will renew investor confidence and put the province on the road to prosperity,

The counter argument is that if low tax rates and $130 barrel of oil didn’t spark economic diversification in 2008 or in decades prior, why would it now?

The UCP might not have to work very hard to win over voters on economic issues.

But hard, thoughtful work is required if Alberta is to build a stronger, more resilient provincial economy.

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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