Retro Recession

Canada’s oil & gas industry is reliving the worst of the 1980s

by Lisa Bzdurreck

I am old enough to carry a vivid memory of the 1980s. At a time when big hair, blue eye shadow and shoulder pads were all the rage, a man named Pierre Elliot Trudeau was busy leaving his indelible mark on our nation.

I was born and raised in Toronto where I remained blissfully unaware of the devastating effects that Pierre Trudeau’s policies had on the west. But through my fondness for listening to adult conversations, I learned that the government’s propensity to tax and spend had led to exploding national debt levels, a high unemployment rate, and runaway inflation.

As deficits grew and debt levels continued to rise, the Bank of Canada was forced to raise real interest rates several times. One evening my dad and I were out in the front yard when we witnessed the neighbors lock their front door, leave the keys in the mailbox, and drive away with as many possessions as could be crammed in a Honda Prelude. I looked to my dad for an explanation but his grim look was enough to keep me from asking.

Several months later while watching the six o’clock news, I learned that bankruptcies and foreclosures were rampant. The prime lending rate had reached an epic 21 per cent and as a result families were losing their homes in alarming numbers. It dawned on me that my neighbors were among those casualties. I also knew who was responsible. It was perhaps at that very moment that I became a conservative for life.

When I left Toronto in the mid-’90s to attend university, I left behind a beleaguered city, still grappling with the effects of the high inflation era. Ontario’s Premier, NDP leader Bob Rae, was attempting to spend his way out of the recession. Though Rae Days meant that I didn’t have to skip school as often, it was a bloody depressing time that I was eager to escape. For the next four years I was lucky enough to live in a university induced cocoon.

A couple of years after returning to Toronto, I felt the call of the west. I was attracted by low taxes, a conservative government, the mountains, and a distinct lack of political correctness—though not necessarily in that order.  Those are the reasons I came, but I stayed because of the people. Alberta is what I fondly call, a “get crap done” province. Albertans work hard and play hard. Whether they are out skiing the Rockies in frigid temperatures or two stepping at the Calgary Stampede, they know how to have fun.

I wasn’t born in Alberta, I chose Alberta.  This has been my home for over 16 years and Albertans are my people. As I write this, my people and my industry are under attack.  We are being circled on many fronts and our numbers are dwindling as people are forced to leave in pursuit of jobs. Suicide rates have spiked alongside unemployment and the taxes just keep coming. Every pipeline delay is a crushing blow, not only to the industry but to our morale.

The only other time Alberta suffered this badly was when Trudeau senior was in power.  Coincidence? I think not. Pierre Elliot Trudeau caused extreme economic hardship for Alberta. During the oil embargo Trudeau imposed a tax on oil exports to the U.S. and used the funds to subsidize oil imports to eastern refineries which prompted Alberta’s premier, Peter Lougheed, to call it “the most discriminatory action taken by a federal government against a particular province in the entire history of Confederation.”

Trudeau later imposed the National Energy Program in an attempt to control Alberta’s natural resources so that profits could be shared with other parts of Canada. Pierre Trudeau wanted energy self-sufficiency and sought to secure Canadian oil for Canadians by intervening heavily in the economy. He imposed federal royalties and taxes on Alberta oil that he used, in part to fund Petro-Canada, a crown corporation. These fees effectively took wealth from Alberta and favored federal coffers. Trudeau also imposed a national oil price which was considerably lower than the global market price. Once again this was to Alberta’s detriment and benefitted eastern provinces as low oil prices helped the industrial manufacturing sector. The culmination of these efforts resulted in massive layoffs, bankruptcies and economic hardships.

Fast forward to today. Albertans are experiencing the very same economic hardships faced by their 1980s predecessors. Many Albertans are reliving what their parents went through several decades earlier, while others are getting their first bitter taste of life in Alberta under a Trudeau dictatorship.

Justin Trudeau is on record as saying that Canada’s social and economic problems are the result of Alberta having power. His mission is clear—to destroy the Canadian oil and gas industry. Trudeau has imposed moratoriums on tankers, blocked pipelines, repeatedly moved regulatory goalposts, discredited the National Energy Board, pandered to U.S interests disguised as environmental acti- vists, destroyed investor confidence and provided tax funding so Dogwood could hire students to protest pipelines—his version of free speech, which really isn’t free is it? Most recently the Liberal Party is poised to ram through Bill C-69 which would render it impossible to get pipelines approved.

Pierre Trudeau believed in a centralized government. He didn’t necessarily hate Alberta, he just wanted to control oil revenues and make Canada energy self-sufficient, which was an understandable reaction in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo. Pierre Trudeau bled Alberta to benefit eastern Canada where the majority of voters resided, which was a strategic move that had strong logical grounds. Justin, on the other hand, seems to despise Alberta to such an extent that he would happily kill the industry altogether. I can’t for the life of me find any logic in his actions but perhaps there is no logic, only a perverse need to finish what his father started.

In 1979, when Trudeau lost the election, a reporter waiting at Sussex Drive asked if he had any regrets. He repeated none other than Nixon’s words, “I regret that I won’t have you to kick around anymore.” (David Frum, The Ottawa Citizen, September 28, 2011)

1 Comment

  1. Great article Lisa. There seems to be a similar pattern in college sports. Pride, Anger Jealousy contribute to the wedge between eastern and western Canadians. It carries over into business.

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