Back in December, hundreds of trucks blocked traffic on Edmonton's ring road, stalling afternoon rush hour traffic. The local CBC devoted entirely too much attention, then and since, to the truckers claiming they are defending the so-called Alberta way of life. Most Edmontonians I know — sincere Albertans, all — didn't quite know how to react at the time.
We are not so sanguine about the Yellow Vests Canada movement now rolling into Ottawa.
You won't see me calling this protest by its supposed name, "United We Roll," because too many participants are wearing a uniform that has been linked to hateful and un-Albertan attitudes. The organizers of the original convoy, aimed at raising pipeline concerns, quit their efforts when these Yellow Vests co-opted their movement, infusing it with negative attitudes on any number of "we-are-the-losers" issues, including discontent with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and immigration.
Regardless of political viewpoint, many of us Albertans don't want to be associated with such hyper-reactionary views.
The ironic thing is that despite a history of public opposition to excessive government intervention in the province, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has staked her political future on fighting for a pipeline. The federal government has even stepped in to buy the damn thing, probably overpaying. Edmonton-Millwoods MP and Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi has all cylinders firing to conduct better consultations with Indigenous peoples.
And, in the meantime, a bunch of people roll into Ottawa and decide they speak for all the province. No! We Albertans are not all Yellow Vests!
Some of us see the facts — that the Alberta economy is doing better, for a start. Investment in Canadian oil production has rebounded. We know immigrants aren't taking Alberta jobs, and many Albertans support immigration (although opinions both pro and con are strong). We care for our neighbours and the land, and have a sense of the public good.
This leads some to progressive politics — heck, we elected an NDP government, and it wasn't just because many voters were sick of the self-appointed monarchs of the province ruling for over four decades. We also love our mountains, flowing rivers, open prairies and wild forests, and know that pine beetles and climate change threaten them all. We value our communities and want good work for families. But an out-of-control oil-based economy has to change — and it is!
When the Yellow Vest convoy makes its claims, it doesn't represent a number of Albertans and other Westerners.
If these convoy truckers support pipelines, why do they have issues with quelling immigration and the United Nations' Global Compact on Migration? And what is their issue with carbon taxes, especially when the Alberta government continues to increase subsidies for outdated fossil fuels? The federal government hides the true cost of these subsidies from the public. These fossilized subsidies exceed any subsidies for renewables or a transition to other economic bases.
A big part of the problem is that Alberta culture has become based on being hewers of oil and drawers of natural gas. A former advertising campaign — since pulled from the internet — illustrates this well, pronouncing that "Energy is what makes us Albertan." As a social scientist, I have discussed that in scholarly papers, most (but not this one) of which are behind publisher paywalls. The point is that it is time to rethink that narrative and become something else in Alberta.
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The claims that pipelines are essential to the Alberta economy have been credibly debunked by solid research. The global markets for fossil fuels are changing in the face of U.S. supply and the extensive evidence that the climate is changing, even here in Canada. To fight for pipelines and Alberta's existing oil economy is to fight for a bygone era — and yet, Alberta doubles down on oil instead of diversifying.
This convoy is the Alberta oil industry's dying gasp, and if heeded would make Alberta an economic backwater. The world is changing and we would do better to follow along, or get ahead!
Randy Haluza-DeLay lives in Edmonton where he teaches sociology at The King's University.
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