Commentary by Sam Arnold, Times & Transcript, 14 April 2020

In the April 6th Daily Gleaner (A6) Mr. Srebrnik asked why Alberta seems to stagger from one disaster to another. He included COVID-19 to the list of thieves who are out to destroy the oil and gas industry and the province.

Mr. Srebrnik’s arguments fail to evoke the sympathy he is seeking for Alberta’s current economic plight for a number of reasons. Among them, Canada’s transfer payment system has been very successful in distributing Canada’s wealth to all provinces, as intended. As well, it must be noted, Alberta did not continue to build up its rainy-day fund that former Premier Lougheed started, and that subsequent premiers have dipped into when they shouldn’t have. How was it that Alberta’s Heritage Savings Trust Fund amassed $17-Billion in assets by 2014, but now has replaced it with a $15-Billion deficit? Is not the provincial government responsible for the decisions that it makes?

Certainly, the blame cannot be assigned to environmentalists and Indigenous groups who oppose pipelines, or the fact that Alberta is land-locked, or to transfer payments made by Alberta to other provinces, or the Russia-Saudi oil price war, or even the threatening possibility of a depression caused in part by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Much of the blame lies at the feet of the present and former Alberta premiers for failing to diversify much more than they did in anticipation of the oil price decline, and their failure to address the well-known environmental realities. The true reasons for this bleak situation, and what Alberta can do to get its environmental and financial house in better order, are the following.

First, accept the fact that the heyday for all fossil fuels is rapidly coming to an end. Tar sands oil is particularly low in quality, is expensive to produce, and is the most environmentally damaging. The opportunity to invest in oil is done, and this can’t and won’t change. Rather than throw yet more money into the bottomless oil extraction pit, the focus should now be on phasing out the polluting fuel industry and replacing it with solutions that are not at the mercy of foreign manipulations and the global market, are much cleaner, less expensive to produce and bring to market, and are nearby. This includes solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources.

Secondly, the majority of skilled trades people working in the oil and gas industry with years left to work can be retrained to work in the rapidly developing clean energy sector that will replace the fading oil and gas industry. Funding for retraining workers can come in part from carbon pricing and from equalization payments, as it should.

Thirdly, the climate emergency, that is the result of human caused extraction and use of fossil fuels over the past 150 years must be dealt with head-on, right now. Climate change is an equal threat to human survival as is the COVID-19 virus. It must be tackled with the same determination and global zeal as the pandemic, once that threat begins to subside. Everything possible must be done to keep the global temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees to prevent uncontrollable climate change from happening. But time is quickly running out to do this – if, in fact, it can still be accomplished.

Diversifying Alberta’s economy to address the climate emergency while creating new jobs will best help Canada with its vast geographic, ideological and linguistic differences to succeed as a country, Mr. Srebrnik. This is the best hope the younger generations have left for a livable country by 2050. And, it is the best solution for Alberta to save itself from more avoidable disaster.

Sam Arnold
Sustainable Energy Group
Woodstock, NB.