Alberta Premier Alison Redford earnestly explains the “Bitumen Bubble” to TV viewers last night.
By David Climenhaga
When Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s $55,000 fireside chat wrapped up after eight thoroughly unsatisfactory minutes last night, Albertans didn’t know anything substantive they hadn’t already known the night before.
Surely I wasn’t the only Albertan thinking, “That was it?”
OK, we’re going to have to make some hard choices – or have them made for us, more likely. But that much has been obvious for days.
But the information that really matters? To wit: what those choices are going to be. No sign of it.
So, after all that fuss, we don’t know anything we didn’t know the day before the suppertime TV broadcast but for a ballpark estimate of how much Ms. Redford’s brain trust thinks we’re going to be in the hole – $6 billion – and that the premier’s speechwriters don’t understand the bubble metaphor.
OK, let’s get that one out of the way right now. The problem isn’t a “bitumen bubble,” if in fact such a thing ever really existed expect in the feverish imaginations of the Progressive Conservative government’s scriptwriters. It’s that the bitumen bubble has burst.
So, let it be said here, the billion-dollar bitumen bubble metaphor, while mnemonically alliterative, is not going to go down in the Annals of Speechwriting – you know, like the “Axis of Evil,” which was a load of malarkey too, but had a ring to it for all that.
So what was missing from the premier’s one-sided “conversation” with us from her Calgary living room during what was officially billed as the State of the Province Message was any suggestion of what these tough choices we supposedly face might be.
“We have to put Alberta’s finances on a more stable footing,” Ms. Redford asserted. “A province as prosperous as Alberta should not be as susceptible as we are to the swings in the price of oil and gas.”
Well, no kidding! But since Ms. Redford and her government won’t consider the obvious tough choice, a modest increase in taxes and a restructuring of the provincial tax and resource royalty systems to restore some sustainability and fairness, it’s safe to assume the tough choices and sustainability measures she’s talking about involve cuts to government services Albertans value, and likely broken promises as well.
We’ll see, I guess … eventually.
Not any time soon, though, because it’s now apparent Ms. Redford and her strategists are not going to give us any hint about where those cuts will be made – at least until the March 7 budget – for fear, presumably, that we’ll organize effective campaigns to thwart their plans.
It also gives the Opposition no visible targets at which to snipe while the government figures out what to do next, so I suppose in that regard the effort can be described as a tactical success, if only for the moment.
Beyond that, though, about all we know is that the fact volatile commodities turned out to be … wait for it … volatile also came as a matter of astonishment to the Redford government. Indeed, Ms. Redford put some effort into making excuses about this – who could have known? – something that the local media to its credit actually picked up on.
But this is hardly anything new to Alberta Progressive Conservatives either. Who can forget Premier No. 13 Ed Stelmach’s gobsmacked wonderment that there’d been, of all things, a recession?
Not getting it that economies are cyclical, and that you can plan for the cycles, seems to be something that has eluded Tory big thinkers in this province for generations. Which is why, of course, we’re always plunging from the best of times into the worst of times, from the spring of hope into the winter of despair, when the least we should have been able to expect was the lingering summer of global warming!
So if you thought that selecting the brainy and well-educated Ms. Redford might bring a degree of economic competence to Alberta, you’re obviously facing a big disappointment. But you will get an economic summit!
When all was said and done last night, and Ms. Redford’s fireside chat was over, about all we could tell you is that there was no fire, and as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, there was no there there.