Justin Trudeau came to power with the goal of shutting down Alberta’s fossil fuel industry. He has been very successful so far, killing off the Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines and helping to delay the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. As a result, tens of thousands of Albertans have lost their jobs or suffered reduced incomes. And these tens of thousands more will never get these jobs back as private investment in the Alberta resource industry has fled the province.
In response to this direct attack on Alberta’s economy, many people have become involved in pro-energy activism in Alberta, including participating in demonstrations, writing to politicians, and even driving vehicles in convoys of energy industry vehicles to confront political and bureaucratic leaders making the decisions that are causing these job losses. New organizations such as Suits and Boots and Canada Action have been formed to organize and encourage this type of activism.
Besides protesting against the government’s anti-pipeline stance, a major focus is opposing Bill C-69 which proposes to overhaul Canada’s resource project assessment process. In effect, it will add even more onerous regulations than already exist, making the process so difficult that any future major development of Alberta’s oil resources would be impossible. This, of course, is and has always been Trudeau’s goal ~ making the process for approval of pipelines, and any raw fossil fuel product delivery mechanism, so costly and risky as to make the entire project economically infeasible. This is how you enforce an ideology in a democracy ~ not with a sledge hammer but with a step by step, incremental dismantling of the strength of the opposition.
It’s good to have these new groups form to defend Alberta’s interests and promote the oil industry. The question is, though, are they in it for the long haul or just until Bill C-69 is defeated or construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion begins? Are they simply using the grassroots uprising as a vehicle to gain their own short-term ends ~ for example, to stabilize or improve the commodities market or to complete an existing project, before they leave the playing field. Right now they are fighting for Alberta’s survival in the face of a hostile federal government, as they should. But it appears that their goals may be short-sighted and too easy to satisfy. Will they be there after their most immediate goals are met, to invest further in Alberta’s economy and regenerate those lost jobs?
Getting some beneficial changes to C-69 or getting work initiated on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion may be all it takes to have the new groups pack-up and head home. In such a case, Alberta’s economic well-being would still be at the mercy of a hostile federal government, and the province would be only marginally better off. Real change for the better would be short-lived and leave Alberta left to the whim of each new vote-seeking federal politician, regardless of political stripe, and no better off in the end. Trudeau certainly would get to claim his victory ~ the complete destruction of Alberta’s fossil fuel industry and the permanent silencing of Alberta’s most lucrative economic engine.
Genuine Alberta patriots will not be satisfied simply with a pipeline or a revised Bill C-69. We know that Alberta’s troubles are much deeper than that. People who are protesting the government’s current anti-fossil fuel policies are helping and are welcome, but if they abandon the fight after achieving limited goals, Alberta will continue to experience serious economic disruptions due to federal government policies. Albertans aren’t going anywhere; their lives are here and they are staying. And they need to know their future is safe and will not be disrupted by another capricious policy or action of one or other future federal government.
Ultimately, the problem is not getting a pipeline built or a government bill changed. It is much deeper than that. Alberta is an energy-rich province within a country dominated by central Canadian politicians who want to rob Alberta of its wealth, while at the same time shutting down the province’s wealth-generating industry. In other words, the problem is Alberta’s place within Canada. Jason Kenney is wrong: Canada is the problem.
If groups like Suits and Boots and Canada Action declare victory and go home after achieving their short-term goals, Alberta will continue to be vulnerable to mistreatment by the federal government. In fact, this sort of short-term, narrow-focused, self-serving support can be damaging to a grassroots movement. When influential groups with a conflicted interest co-opt a broader democratic movement they leave it demoralized and isolated when they leave the playing field. If this happens in this case, the same old problem of exploitation by central Canada will remain.
Alberta separatists naturally desire to support the pro-energy, pro-business groups, as they also want to have the support of these influential voices, but the goals of those groups fall far short of what Alberta needs. The only long-term solution for Alberta’s economic problems is to become independent of Ottawa. By avoiding this issue, the pro-energy groups may end up syphoning the time, effort and money of Alberta patriots into a cause with no substantial long-term benefits for the province. Will Alberta patriots just wake up down the road and realize that today’s friends had something other than permanent stability for Alberta and its economy in mind all along?
Sharon Maclise and Michael Wagner