Should Albertans Brace For the Wrath of the Have-Nots?

Alberta by Hugh Lee
Alberta by Hugh Lee

Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert warned that the province should be prepared for billions in revenue from the province’s oil sands that will lead to tensions in relations with other provinces.

“I don’t think any of us realize what kind of — I’ll call it a gusher — is coming out of the oil sands,” Liepert told. “If oil prices continue to stay very strong, we could be in a situation where a $5-billion surplus is literally nothing.”

That really sounds great, and surely Albertans will happily bear some consequences if the future promises them such growing wealth. However, it isn’t so easy to predict what will happen. Environmentalists are still trying to derail the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and the final decision remains uncertain. If it isn’t approved, Liepert’s predictions will be at least delayed until Canada finds another option to export its crude oil.

Moreover, Alberta isn’t the only province with promising surpluses: Saskatchewan’s wealth is growing as well. The "jealousy problem“ can therefore be split, and in the best scenario, even diffused, so ‘have-nots’ of other provinces will blame their governments for their situation and not waste their anger on other provinces. “Alberta’s spending benefits all of us, in ways,” noted Gerald Baier, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.

Pipeline by Ankakay
Pipeline by Ankakay

He also added that other provinces will have good reason to be concerned about Canada’s international reputation if protests against Alberta’s oil sands goes on. “This is the zombie pipeline (Keystone XL) that keeps lurching back to life,” said environmentalist Bill McKibben, who organized a 10,000-person anti-pipeline march outside the White House in 2011.

There is another problem that Albertans should be aware of. “Keystone is the project that makes the most sense, but we can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” Liepert said, adding that Canada is seeking to build a pipeline to the West Coast and ship crude oil to Asia by tankers. The fact is that Alberta really put all its eggs in one basket: energy. With increasing wealth coming from crude oil, Alberta will become more and more dependent on it. All foreseeable new projects will rely on the demand for energy. And although it doesn’t seem to fluctuate, the fact is that Alberta’s future will depend totally on the risk of energy demand.

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