Alberta Government's Pay-the-Rich Schemes

Challenges Facing Working People from
an Economy They Do Not Control

The protests in Alberta since October and November of last year and the significant convoy of trucks from Alberta which reached Ottawa on February 19, and rallied on Parliament Hill raised the crucial question: Is there an alternative to the present direction of the economy?

The people of Alberta have been through many difficulties over the last decade. The global economic crisis in 2009 precipitated a significant drop in the demand for energy products. The fall in demand was accompanied with a huge surge of supply by U.S. producers of light crude oil using the technique called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The result was a precipitous plunge in the global market price of all grades of oil in 2014. Of course when the most significant sector of the Alberta economy goes into recession this affects all sectors, as jobs disappear and the circulation of social wealth slows to a trickle.

Working people have been stunned at the suddenness, severity and persistence of the downturn. Many towns and regions heavily dependent on the energy sector began a decline that has only slightly moderated over time if at all. Added to this was the catastrophic flooding in 2013 of Calgary and the surrounding region, and three years later the wildfires that swept through much of northern Alberta prompting the evacuation and significant destruction of the town of Fort McMurray and damage to much of the oil and other infrastructure in the region.

The now decade-long crisis in the energy sector is not the first occurrence but this one feels worse as more is at stake. To fulfill the requirement for workers in the growth of the sector, the population of Alberta has been on a steady incline from one million people in 1953 to 4.3 million today. A significant investment has occurred in the oil sands where projects now exist that dwarf anything from the past. To service this production, a vast working infrastructure has been created of roads, bridges, railways, pipelines and electrical transmission lines. Nothing happens without working people, so schools, hospitals, housing, retail outlets and other social infrastructure and public services have been built with much of it geared towards sustaining the energy sector and in return needing its social wealth for overall exchange of goods and services.

Signs and slogans on the trucks taking part in the convoy highlighted demands that the federal government ensure the well-being of those workers and communities, especially in Alberta,
whose livelihoods rely on the oil and gas industry.

This does not mean that Albertans only work in the energy sector -- far from it -- but the dominance of the sector and the number of people directly and indirectly connected to it is so huge the current downturn feels particularly severe and long lasting and without any real solutions in the offing. The cry for more pipelines from some and carbon taxes from others divert attention when something more substantive is required. Within this the most frustrating aspect just may be the lack of discussion on an alternative, including a principled plan to build an independent diverse economy secure from the problems, pressure and thievery of the globalized imperialist war economy, one that could play a positive role in showing how to combat climate warming in ways that do not harm the economy and working people. The human brain and work that gave rise to the current developments is quite capable of coming up with solutions to put Alberta and Canada on a socially responsible sustainable path.

Finding a path forward with a viable alternative is the tough part when the working people do not control either media disinformation or that of governments and political parties in government vying for election to form the next government. Most important, they do not control the economy, in particular the energy sector. Finding and elaborating an alternative means taking up the independent politics of the working class and ending the control of the sector by the global financial oligarchy. Ploughing the accumulated social value from the energy sector back into the economy to diversify and extend it would create a bulwark under the control of Albertans that may bend when international crises erupt but would not break in its commitment to guarantee the livelihoods, security and well-being of all. Control in Alberta would allow for a significant portion of the social wealth energy workers produce to be directed towards the development of an independent all-sided economy of which the energy sector would play a significant role but would not boom or go bust as is the case today. This also means using the resources and value workers produce as seed money to find solutions to environmental degradation and carbon emissions and to bring them under control in a planned scientific way.

Many Albertans scratch their heads and question how such massive amounts of social wealth they have produced over the years has given rise to so little stability and security. How could it be that a fall in the global price of oil and the price others are willing to pay for Alberta oil can have such a devastating effect on the entire economy and province after all these years of producing stupendous social wealth? A major problem the workers have to reckon with is that the private interests in control of what Albertans produce have absolutely no concern or even connection with the people who live here and have spirited away much of the produced wealth.

This is most markedly seen in the simplistic agenda that the ruling elite give as solutions to the crisis. The agenda can be summed up as "more of the same." The "more of the same" may change somewhat in its practical form but the essence remains the same: more production of energy in one form or another for sale outside Alberta at prices and demand under the control of the global financial oligarchy. In the current context the agenda has centred on the issue of transporting oil, especially bitumen, through pipelines east, south and west to tidewater.

The ruling elite, especially the global oligarchs in control of the energy sector and their representatives in government have set the agenda of "more of the same," which many characterize as a form of mental illness called perseveration. The working people are expected to be satisfied with this agenda of "more of the same" and are directed to stake their positions and even their futures on supporting it. After all the oil is there; let's get at it as fast as possible, for the only pragmatic and sensible thing to do is to put money in our pockets now without any notion of a future or the dangers involved when one forges ahead like a maniac without principles or a long-term scientific plan.

A protest of 150-200 people at the intersection of Wellington and Metcalfe Streets near Parliament Hill on February 20, 2019, prevented the United We Roll convoy and its scheduled speakers from addressing their rally from a hydraulic lift as planned. The action rejected the use of economic concerns to justify racist and misogynistic statements by some convoy participants and supporters. The action also affirmed the right of Indigenous peoples to informed consent to pipelines on their territories, including the right to say No.

Those who declare that the agenda of the oligarchs for "more of the same" is simplistic and without any guiding principles and want something more thoughtful to discuss are branded as outcasts and naysayers who oppose the oil industry and quite likely want carbon taxes and secretly desire to return to a horse and buggy economy. Similarly, those who are concerned about their livelihoods and think they can be achieved by building pipelines are called red necks, anti-immigrant and more. The oligarchs in control of the energy sector resort to this name-calling and shaming to divert attention from the fact that they are responsible for the economic crisis and they do not want to be held to account. They are the ones who put the economy under this cloud of control from outside leaving Albertans vulnerable and without any control over their own economy, future and security. The global oligarchs do not want to give up any of their control to Albertans and the most effective way of doing that is to declare with authority and conviction backed up with police power, "There is no alternative to the current direction!"

No alternative means no discussion, no investigation, no speaking, no thinking, no getting together to discuss the possibilities that exist in an independent all-sided economy that uses the great natural resources that exist for the benefit of the people. An alternative exists that leads to stability and prosperity under the control of Albertans and holds high the principles of guaranteeing the well-being of all and humanizing the natural and social environment. To get there it is necessary to break through the perseveration of the ruling elite that is meant to perpetuate their class privilege and control. By stating clearly that there is an alternative and uniting the people in action to find it, the control of the ruling elite over the economy and affairs of state can be taken over in favour of the people.

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 8 - March 9, 2019

Article Link:
Alberta Government's Pay-the-Rich Schemes: Challenges Facing Working People from an Economy They Do Not Control


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