Dumb luck Alberta
"Frankly, the Conservatives cannot shake the picture that they are a party centred on Alberta. That is not bad in itself, of course, but it causes a loss in translation. You can't claim for years that you are different and misunderstood and then expect everyone will get what you are saying when you ask for our votes. So much of that province's fortunes are tied to its blessings - the resource, the global price of the resource being well past the cost of extraction and the kindly division of powers that gives the province exclusive benefit to the resource - that holding it up as an example of anything for the rest of us is a bit of a leap. " - Alan McLeod
Nature is cruel
Graphic courtesy the Prairie Centre Policy Institute and presented to undermine the popular myth that the only factor in Alberta's success is an energy-based "fluke of nature" economy.
As you might have deduced from the graphic above, successful resource development involves a little more than sticking a pipe in the ground and standing back with a bucket to catch the falling toonies. Government regulation, taxation, royalty structures, labour laws, environmental policy - all influence whether or not fields are developed, or even explored.
Capital is a finite commodity - and a discriminating one. It tends to flow to jurisdictions that not only offer a good chance of returning a profit, but exhibit the willingness to leave as much of it as possible in the hands of the risk-taker.
There is no mystery as to why Prairie energy reserves seem to have been walled off at the Saskatchewan border - the much heralded Tommy Douglas chased the oil companies from their headquarters in Regina to Calgary with policies that were openly hostile to the industry.
The consequences were profound and lasting. From 1972 to 1999, for example, 700,000 Saskatchewan residents migrated, half of them chosing Alberta. Last week, StatsCan released a report predicting that the population decline of Saskatchewan is unlikely to reverse for at least two decades.
Despite wiggling into "have" status as a province (due largely to a late-to-the-game relaxation of petroleum royalties by the Calvert government), Saskatchewan's exportation of young adults and private sector employment continues with statistical employment growth largely the result of a ballooning civil service. Alberta enjoys three times the population and four times the GDP of Saskatchewan, despite the eastern province's demonstrably more diverse resource base (over 20% of the world's uranium), potash and other mining reserves, and massive agricultural capacity.
It hasn't always been that way. It's taken Alberta 15 years to fully recover from the catastrophic effects of the Trudeau government's National Energy Program. The exodus of drilling rigs to the U.S., the crash in property values and the cranes that disappeared from the Calgary skyline are burned to memory in the way that '30s-era Saskatchewan farmers still "live" the Great Depression - but with an anger sustained by the knowledge that the NEP was as much political manoeuvre by Trudeau to "put Alberta in its place" as it was revenue grab.
So, when articles such as this appear, stating "now is the time for the federal government ... to seize total control over all underground resources, especially energy resources under Alberta," coupled with the political reincarnation of NEP architect Marc Lalonde as Quebec Liberal campaign co-chair and the distant sucking sound of an approaching Kyoto "NEP-by-stealth" Protocol - Albertans are already on edge.
Should the Liberals find themselves backed into a corner in the second phase of the campaign, I believe Paul Martin is just stupid enough to introduce the red hot issue of energy policy to inflame the debate, hoping to drive an electoral wedge between resource-hungry, "vote-rich" Ontario and "greedy, fluke of nature" Alberta.
At that point, I predict times will become very interesting - in the Chinese curse sense of the word.