Rivers on what he thinks is happening to Alberta - the land of the free-spirited, land-centric cowboys.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

November 2, 2017



First we take Alberta then we take B.C. But not likely so in Ontario, even with all the animosity being heaped on current Premier Wynne from all sides. Still, who would have thought Alberta. And now B.C., where questions about the Site C and Kinder Morgan projects are making residents wonder whether their new leader, like the one next door, will be taking no prisoners.


Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta

Not everyone welcomes the changes Rachel Notley is delivering in that free-spirited cowboy-centric land, though most concede that after four decades of the Progressive Conservatives (PC) it was time for a change. Peter Lougheed ended almost half a century of rule by those unconventional, depression-era, and once anti-Semitic Funny Money Social Credit people in 1971. He ran such a good show over his years that a review by a panel of powerful and prominent political hacks had voted Lougheed the best Canadian provincial premier ever.


Peter Lougheed, one of the best Premier’s the province ever had.

Lougheed eventually was followed by Ralph Klein, a man loved by his electors despite his own love for the bottle and an occasional outrage. He lasted over a decade despite being ranked near the bottom of the barrel in that review of premiers, tied with his ole’ drinking buddy Mike Harris. But Klein, a former Liberal, had come into office a reformed man, determined to out-right the right wing of the Alberta PC party. He was the darling of the Fraser Institute, which cheered him on as he eliminated deficits and debt, cutting spending like a novice butcher, inadvertently removing a lot of the beef with all that fat.

His cuts to health care were massive, such that the province was faced with never before seen waiting lists for surgeries, and with the gurneys lining up on the corridors. It was a legacy of neglect on almost all fronts which would come to haunt his successors and eventually the NDP’s Notley, as she struggles to diversify the provincial economy after the last oil price shock.


Ralph Klein

King Ralph was the first Canadian premier to introduce a flat income tax, which together with reduced corporate taxes and oil royalties forced him to raid Lougheed’s cherished Alberta Heritage Trust just to pay the bills. So today, unlike other oil money endowments established in Norway and Alaska, Alberta’s trust fund is almost empty. And when that proverbial rainy day came there was almost nothing left in the kitty to help keep the lights on.

Notley has done some pretty dumb things too, reportedly dispatching civil servants to teach Albertans how to change their light bulbs and conserve energy. But her success in cooperating with the federal government landed her approvals for the pipelines the province so-badly needs to keep its oil sands extractions busy. Setting a limit on climate change emissions from the oil industry, phasing-out coal fired electricity, and introducing a carbon tax more generous that what the feds had been demanding have made her a kind of maverick in a province too often known to be a donkey on the environment.

Fire Alberta Ft_mac_evacuation

Evacuation of Fort McMurray during fire storm

But people will remember her for her passionate response to the wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray, the oil sands capital.  Eighty thousand people were forced to flee their homes as more than 6000 square kilometres were destroyed, including half a million hectares of woodland.  Costs, always suspect in something of this magnitude range into the billions, with almost $4 billion just in insurance claims.  Some will call this an act of nature, but others will say I told you so.  They will point to the irony of the devastating fire happening smack on the footsteps of Alberta’s immensely carbon-intensive oil sands operations, saying this is but a prime example of being hoisted with our own petard – wait for the second shoe.

Notley has also pushed infrastructure development to create much needed jobs, in the process necessarily expanding the deficit beyond what her immediate predecessor, former Harper minister Jim Prentice, had been forced to reinstate. She’s been getting flack over her $15 minimum wage for 2018, not unlike the flack Ontario’s premier has been earning on that file. And her plan for farm workers’ accident compensation has got the agricultural folks all riled up, regardless that it is there to protect them from tedious and costly injury law suits.

Jason Kenney arrives for a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 18, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Jason Kenney

Enter Jason Kenny and his recent accomplishment merging the PCs and Wild Rose parties under a new United Conservative banner. Kenny is much like Stephen Harper, another ex-Ontarian whom he worked for as Minister of Defence. His resume shows that, like his former boss, he is a professional politician who once headed a taxpayer lobby group. He is a social conservative, having voted in favour of limiting a woman’s right to choose and was one of those Harperites who voted against same-sex marriage – before he too saw the light. Those perspectives should do him well out on the prairie farmland, though he may need to moderate his views when he campaigns in the cities.

Although Notley had won a majority of seats in Alberta’s first past the post (FPP) system last election (54 of 79 seats) she only obtained a little over 40% of the total vote. That is still a respectable mandate for a multi-party FPP election, but it will be an uphill battle to repeat that victory. There was unusual voter anger in the last election – a sense of betrayal over an empty Heritage Fund, a tumbling economy, corruption and a stale government in disarray without any answers or vision once the price of oil went into the dumpster.


The way Alberta’s cowboy culture likes to be seen.

Memories in politics tend to be short and many of these voters have spent decades only voting PC. Like any addiction that can be a little hard to kick. So the NDP would do well to take the threat posed by new Conservative leader Kenny seriously. Winning the next election won’t be nearly as easy for Notley as the last time despite the fact that Alberta is coming back. In fact the province is on the road to restoring its position as one of Canada’s leading economic powerhouses – in part thanks to Notley’s management.


Background links:
Notley After 2 years – https://globalnews.ca/news/3427870/timeline-a-look-at-rachel-notleys-2-years-as-alberta-premier/

Lougheed the Best – https://www.edmontonjournal.com/technology/Alberta+Peter+Lougheed+easily+tops+list+Canada+best+premiers/6562534/story.html

Klein’sTrue Legacy – https://www.vueweekly.com/ralph_kleins_true_legacy/

Klein a More Positive Obit – https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ralph-klein-70-the-man-who-ruled-alberta/article10569210/?ref=https://www.theglobeandmail.com&

More Klein – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Klein

Heritage Fund – https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/what-happened-to-albertas-cash-stash/article24191018/?ref=https://www.theglobeandmail.com&

Jason Kenny – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Kenney

Notley Challenge – https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/why-rachel-notley-will-need-an-even-bigger-miracle-to-win-again/

Kenny UCP – https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/10/28/jason-kenney-wins-alberta-united-conservative-party-leadership-race_a_23259503/?utm_hp_ref=ca-homepage

Alberta Economy – https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-conference-board-of-canada-spring-outlook-2017-1.4135837

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3 comments to Rivers on what he thinks is happening to Alberta – the land of the free-spirited, land-centric cowboys.

  • Stephen White

    The next Alberta election will be very different from the last one. For starters, Notley won’t be able to capitalize on the entitlement, idiocy and corruption shown by former Premier Alison Redford, or the stupid campaign run by Jim Prentice. This time, she’ll have to run on her record: high taxes, unemployment, grandiose promises and expensive government programs. Property taxes throughout the province are spiralling (up 52% in Calgary alone in 3 years), and Calgary is awash in “For Sale”, “For Lease” and “For Rent” signs. The business community has zero confidence in the NDP’s agenda, and jacking the minimum wage may appeal to barristas at Starbucks but not to the owners of small mom and pop stores, retailers, entrepreneurs and professionals who have to pay the increasing costs that ensue.

    Notley will be going up against one of the brightest, most accomplished and toughest campaigners in Jason Kenney. Hopefully, she’ll be dispatched quickly to the same political graveyard habited byNDP Premiers Greg Sellinger in Manitoba and Darrell Dexter in Nova Scotia.

  • Ray Rivers

    Thanks Mike – good idea. Quebecers of all people should appreciate the enhanced security of pipelines over the alternative.

  • Mike

    I think the biggest focus for Notley should be the pipelines i.e. not giving up. I appreciate TCPL shut down the Energy East project but I think she should team up with Ontario, think big and divert the line to somewhere on Superior or Huron and bring the crude to Sarnia and ON government should provide some incentives to build out/modify the refining capability there so we have our own capability to turn the oilsands crude into finished products. This would help AB and greatly help the SWO economy. If Notley and Wynn did that and got it going, you’d be amazed how many small ‘C’ conservatives would get behind them for the economic benefits. I think Notley has a chance to win again but not if she retreats to the comfort areas of the NDP. She needs to take on Ottawa in this regard or cast them aside and show Albertans she can make a ‘win’ on the economy for them.