Is Alberta premier Ralph Klein becoming a socialist?
Drought-stricken Alberta farmers say they’re being gouged by their own neighbours. “I’m getting the feeling … the price of it [hay] depends on how big a loan I can get from my banker, not what the hay’s worth.” said farmer John Bidulock.
Bidulock’s talking about the downright un-neighbourly way in which fellow Albertan farmers are jacking up the price of hay. Without hay, cattle are starving, farms are going under, and small town economies are drying up like the parched soil.
Needy farmers shouldn’t be surprised. That’s the way the free market works. If there is a shortage of hay, the price goes up. Markets have no heart. But that doesn’t sit well with premier Klein.
“I think now is the time to be neighbourly, and to rally, and understand with compassion the plight of those farmers that are indeed suffering,” says Klein.
Ralph is suggesting the socialist thing to do – – share resources and the market be damned. I’m not naïve enough to think that Klein will soon provide provincial control of public resources. But it’s a good first step.
The bitter irony for Alberta farmers is that the kindness of strangers is greater than neighbours. Farmers in central and eastern Canada are giving away hay to drought-stricken farmers. Now, that’s neighbourly.
The image of warm-hearted easterners takes a little getting used to. The feeling towards central Canada has been frosty in the past. Especially when the government of Canada tried to institute the National Energy Program in 1980. Bumper stickers in Alberta “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark.”
The NEP was seen as a plan from hell devised by those eastern Liberal fiends (to geographically challenged westerners, the east does not include Atlantic Canada). Energy producing western provinces saw the NEP as a money grab by the feds.
In the minds of the federal Liberals, though, Alberta’s energy was once theirs and revenue sharing was logical. Ownership of Canada’s resources is a matter of time and place.
Until 1930, the mineral, oil and gas of the prairie provinces belonged to the federal government . The oil and gas off the coast of B.C. still does.
Alberta’s economic prosperity is not a result of good fortune but good planning on the part of the government of Canada. Before 1930, when land was being settled by farmers, the federal government had the foresight to keep the mineral, oil and gas rights. All those rights were transferred to the government of Alberta.
The NEP was not all that diabolical. It attempted to make Canada self sufficient in energy. We already produce more energy than we need but we lack a national energy policy to price and distribute it.
Canadian-made prices for Canadian energy can’t exist as long as that energy is sold on international (mostly American) markets. As long as we sell energy to the highest bidder, we will be perpetually short of energy.
Capitalists would argue that energy is just another commodity. It is not. Energy is the lifeblood of a sovereign state. The saber-rattling of George Bush in the middle east is evidence of his belief in that axiom. He will go to war to keep the U.S. awash in oil.
Without control of energy, a country is forever hostage to those with the deepest pockets. The government of British Colombia has yet to discover this simple logic.
If B.C. Hydro is privatized and the price of electricity goes up, it will hurt not only low income citizens (who are expendable to the B.C. government) but also big tax producing industries. Like Highland Valley Copper, for example, one of the largest customers of B.C. Hydro.
It’s really quite simple. If the U.S. can dictate energy prices and in doing so put Canadian industry out of business, we will be the losers.
I want to hear Ralph Klein take the next step in his conversion and say “I think now is the time, not only to be neighbourly but to remember that energy is the lifeblood of all Canada, and that pricing of our own energy is not the compassionate thing to do but the responsible thing to do.”
I can dream.