THE BLOG
02/28/2013 01:28 EST | Updated 04/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta - Canada's 'Banana Republic'?

Canadians are taking in the daily news stories out of Alberta and are seriously beginning to wonder whether the country's once-richest province is on its way to becoming a banana republic within the Confederation.

Canadians are taking in the daily news stories out of Alberta and are seriously beginning to wonder whether the country's once-richest province is on its way to becoming a banana republic within the Confederation.

To recap: Alberta is facing a major deficit, and even that is being underplayed by the provincial government, because it doesn't include the money drawn from the Heritage Fund. With things being murky out there at best, the deficit could easily be stated as nearing or, possibly, exceeding, $10 billion.

The Alberta government blames virtually all its troubles on the "bitumen bubble", a sharp discount on Alberta oil that forces oilsands companies to sell the precious resource at dumping prices.

As Alberta's economy is the very opposite of a diversified economy, when oil is in trouble, so is the entire province.

But this is only part of the truth, for Alberta doesn't just have a revenue problem, but also a spending problem.

For years, Alberta's politicians have spent money as if it grew on trees. Most infamously, the premier, Alison Redford, has gone so far in her belief that she's entitled to her entitlements as to expense her law society membership dues to the taxpayers.

Nothing was ever too good for MLAs and anyone considered a friend of the Progressive Conservatives.

Now that Albertans are slowly beginning to wake up, the scandals of the PCs are seeping into the public's view - almost daily. As a result, for example, there is now a realization setting in that the PCs may have been dirtier than even the federal Liberals at the height of their former scandals (Adscam, Human Resources Boondoggle, etc.).

Leaving aside any suspicions of government corruption, there are enough problems in Alberta that would make anyone shiver with fear of what the future holds.

Already the province with some of the longest wait times for medical procedures, Albertans will soon face a full-blown healthcare crisis, as doctors will move away, while a lot fewer doctors will be trained. Entire medical disciplines are vanishing from Alberta.

The lack of economic diversification is what will break this particular camel's back. There is very little anyone outside the oil and gas sector can do to make a decent living in Alberta. Premier Redford has now set aside some money to help drive a more diversified economy, but her thinking is flawed: the economy can't be diversified overnight, and even if that feat could be pulled off, it would require an investment of several billion dollars, and not a couple of hundred million.

Fearful that a decision by U.S. President Barack Obama against the Keystone pipeline will exacerbate the bitumen bubble even further, and result in even higher deficits, the premier has only recently begun to campaign for the pipeline at home and in the U.S. - literally at five minutes after the stroke of twelve, rather than before.

But yet again, short-sightedness has become the chosen approach: cancelling the carbon capture program removes one redeeming feature of Alberta's oilsands, which will make it even harder for Obama, the environmentalist, to approve the pipeline.

It's enough for anyone to pull out his hair. Whenever Alberta's government is faced with two choices, it invariably opts for the bad one.

Therefore, it shouldn't surprise Albertans, many of whom still carry a grudge over the National Energy Program (NEP), that the rest of Canada has decided that natural resources, such as the oilsands, should belong to and be managed by all of Canada.

It's no longer a question of if, but rather when, the next NEP will be implemented. There simply is no way around it. Alberta isn't an island, nor is Canada. In this globalized world of ours, we need to speak with one voice, not five or ten, if we are to stand strong and protect our national interests - particularly vis-à-vis an increasingly hostile neighbour to the south.