Smith’s win will make it harder for Alberta to recruit workers

“Alberta is Calling,” is the province’s marketing campaign. It hypes lower taxes, housing affordability, shorter commutes and proximity to the Rocky Mountains.

Image: The Narwhal

Unfortunately, young professions from other parts of Canada are getting mixed messages from Alberta. It’s a great place. I lived there for 40 years before moving to Kamloops. But the politics lean a bit too far to the right for my tastes and with Danielle Smith’s win of the UCP party, they tilt looney libertarian.

On one hand, young professionals from downtown Toronto and Vancouver get the message that Alberta has high-paying jobs and a considerable dose of “honest, it’s nicer here than you think.”

On the other hand, the province is often seen as a backward bastion of conservative values; an unrepentant champion of an environmentally unfriendly oil industry; and ill-suited, if not outright hostile, to the progressiveness and multiculturalism by which many people from downtown Toronto and Vancouver define themselves.

Now Alberta will be seen as backing freedom convoys.

Toronto’s busiest downtown subway station has been recently plastered with bright baby-blue posters on walls, pillars and even staircases, making sure that commuters get the message in the midst of their daily trudge. “It’s mountain time somewhere,” reads one of the posters.

In Vancouver one of the displays reads: “What did the Albertan say to the Vancouverite? You’re hired.”

It’s all very clever but enthusiasm for Alberta will be dampened by Danielle Smith’s message. The cornerstone of Smith’s leadership campaign was the proposed sovereignty act which purports to give Alberta the power to ignore federal laws that the province believes intrude on its jurisdictional territory. She intends to introduce the legislation this fall.

Smith’s cranky insular tone is hardly inviting. How comfortable would young professionals be knowing that if they came to Alberta they would be walled off from friends and family back home?

Even members of Smith’s own UPC party argue that the sovereignty act would destroy Alberta’s economy by injecting instability. Constitutional experts largely pan the idea as illegal.

Smith wants to tie her leadership to federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s talking points that appeal to a populist libertarian base.

Parts of Smith’s platform are straight out of Poilievre’s videos –that inflation is primarily caused by the fiscally destructive policies of what she called the federal NDP-Liberal coalition.

Many of voters in the cities targeted by Alberta’s marketing vote either for the NDP or Liberals.

Smith will link herself to the federal Conservative’s demand that the Liberals freeze further increases to the carbon price.

She has embraced unproven “therapeutics” to treat COVID-19. Smith campaigned on no more COVID lockdowns, restructuring the province’s centralized health care authority and bringing a bigger fight to Ottawa over provincial rights.

Do workers who come from other parts of Canada want a fight with the provinces they left?

After winning the leadership of the UCP, Smith has said she will double down on her promises, ensuring an even more intolerant mood than her predecessor Jason Kenny.

In her victory speech she crowed “I’m back.”

I can imagine workers considering Alberta replying “No thanks.”


SARS reaction out of whack, but it does serve as a warning

“It’s bioterrorism without bioterrorists,” says Michael Bliss, professor of history at the University of Toronto.  He was referring to the recent SARS scare in Canada.  Reminiscent of September 11, 2001, North America was terrorized by an external force – – this time a deadly foreign microbial agent.


The disease with the redundant name, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, resulted in terror beyond reason.  Although it killed 23 Canadians, other respiratory infections kill far more. What was it about SARS that had the ability to generate such fear?

Other biological attacks since September 11 have been home-grown.  The Anthrax scare, for example, originated through letters sent in the U.S. mail.

Like the Anthrax scare in the U.S., a relatively small outbreak in Canada created national panic. Of the 11 Americans infected by Anthrax inhalation, 5 died.  Most of the Canadian SARS victims were already weakened by underlying medical conditions.  SARS may be as common as the common cold and Anthrax is not contagious. But that didn’t diminish the terror.

Other severe respiratory infections kill more.  Why weren’t we more concerned that 8400 Canadians died last year from pneumonia,  760 from  influenza and 125 from tuberculosis?  The SARS scare cost our economy millions, threw thousands out of work in restaurants, hotels and the airline industry.  The reputation Canada’s biggest city – – Toronto the Good – – was sullied.

That’s the nature of terror.  Terror creates unreasonable fear.  Fear strips away the veneer of civilization and we revert back to primal reflexes.  We hide in fear.  We blame foreigners for our misfortune.  We superstitiously cling to misconceptions.

The front line of public health protection barely held.  The cuts to funding for health care that were initiated by former federal finance minister Paul Martin in the early 1990s almost did us in.  By the time that SARS was under control, public health was breaking down.  Nurses were burnt out and resigning.  If the SARS infection had a slightly stronger foothold, we would have lost the war.

Health care has been cut to the bone.  There is no surplus capacity for the unexpected.  We have been seduced by politicians into thinking we can reduce deficits by cutting health care.

It’s a similar naiveté that befell North America prior to September 11, 2001.  Terrorism, like infectious disease in the majority world,  is supposed to happen elsewhere.  One million children die world-wide each year from a preventable infectious disease, measles, according to the international agency Doctors Without Borders.  Do we care?

It’s not supposed to happen here.  So, when a few dozen Canadians die from a mysterious disease, all hell breaks loose.  The deaths of thousands that resulted from the attacks on New York and Washington were tragic but the frenzied reaction was out of proportion.  Thousands of Afghanis were collateral damage in the U.S. cleansing of the Taliban.  But the deaths of thousands of foreigners was met with a shrug.

Our public health care workers heroically gave their lives in fighting the SARS.  They demonstrated the same spirit of public dedication as the firefighters who climbed the stairs of the doomed World Trade towers on September 11.  As those rescuers climbed up, office workers ran down to safety.

As our doctors and nurses treated the sick and dying they became infected by those they tried to cure.  Some died of the disease given to them by patients.  Unlike New York Mayor Rudolph Guilliani, no politician stepped forward to give a voice to public heroism and Toronto’s sick and dying.

There were no grand funerals for Canada’s fallen health care heroes.  No politicians stood in line to eulogize doctors and nurses. No monuments have built to their dedication.

While the threat to public health and safety brought out the best in health care workers, it brought out the worst in others.  Some Canadians shunned fellow citizens because they looked Asian.  Some infected Canadians selfishly refused to quarantine themselves and spread their misery to others.

North Americans better get used to biological and political terrorism made easy by globalization.  Capital moves at the speed of light down an optical fiber, and bio-terrorism and terrorists move at jet speed.

SARS should serve as a wakeup call to those politicians who would cut health care funding further.  Next time,  our first line of public health defense might not hold.