Alberta is now in reverse gear and roaring backwards.
Given the decisive victory of Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party over Rachel Notley and the NDP in Tuesday’s election that’s the direction most voters opted for.
Back to the boom days of $100 a barrel oil. Back to a time when there were more jobs than people to fill them. Back to the day when a high-school dropout could earn $100,000 a year driving a truck for an oilsands giant. Back to a time when no one had even thought of climate change. Back to the days when environmentalists were simply harmless weirdos.
It’s all a delusion, of course.
Kenney may have promised to take Alberta back to the glory days but given oil and natural gas’s shaky future his chances of getting it there, are slim.
But give him credit for being able to stoke people’s anger about the downward slide in Alberta’s economy to the point that they came to believe he can actually turn things around; although he can do nothing about the price of oil on which the fate of Alberta’s economy rests.
He can’t stop climate change and thereby reverse the international trend toward decarbonization.
He can’t stop pension funds and other large investors from turning away from companies that are not socially and environmentally sustainable, such as fossil fuel producers.
Of course, he can threaten and brow beat the federal government, always a vote getter in Alberta, for not pushing through more pipelines. But the federal government now owns the Trans Mountain pipeline to the West Coast, so it is very likely going to get built anyway.
And he can hold a referendum on equalization payments as a way of stoking even more anger and feelings of victimhood about federal income tax revenue from Alberta going to other provinces even though the results of such a referendum won’t change anything.
And he can repeal Alberta’s carbon tax, which along with pipeline angst became a symbol of all the things that are supposedly holding Albertans back from prosperity.
And when the federal government imposes its carbon tax in lieu of the one levied by the former Alberta government, maybe Kenney will demand that gas stations put government authorized anti-carbon stickers on their gas pumps or be fined $10,000 a day.
Just like Doug Ford wants to do in Ontario.
Never mind that most Alberta households got significant rebates as part of the NDP’s Climate Leadership Plan and will continue to do so under the federal plan.
On Tuesday morning, Stephen Carter, a Calgary political strategist who helped elect Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, and former PC Premier Alison Redford, tweeted: “No government will return Alberta to the way it was. Natural gas prices fell over a decade ago. They are not coming back. The US does not need our oil as much as a decade ago. That is just reality.”
But Kenney won the day by promising that he can return Alberta to the way it was. Obviously, a lot of Albertans believe he can, or want to believe he can.
This suggests that Alberta is going to turn inward except, of course, when its politicians are fighting with the federal government or the B.C. government (Kenney has threatened to cut its oil supply as retaliation for B.C’s opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion), or environmentalists everywhere.
Back in 2001 Stephen Harper and other prominent Alberta conservatives wrote the famous “firewall” letter in which they urged Premier Ralph Klein to, among other things, withdraw Alberta from the Canada Pension Plan, from contracts with the RCMP so it could establish its own police force, and resume responsibility for Health Care Policy.
Not surprisingly, Harper was campaigning for Kenney during this election. He even recorded a robocall urging people to vote UCP.
Eighteen years later it seems Alberta conservatives still want a firewall.
But this time it’s not to keep out the rest of Canada but to keep out the rest of the world so it can go on pretending that another boom is just around the corner.
Gillian Steward is a Calgary-based writer and freelance columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @GillianSteward