Excerpted article was written by DON BRAID, CALGARY HERALD  

There is no comparison between what happened in Ontario on Monday — the announced closing of a General Motors assembly plant — and the massive pain in Alberta’s oilpatch since 2014.

Before getting into it, let’s be clear that Albertans take no joy in other Canadians losing their jobs.

Scores of thousands of energy workers know how it feels. The individual pain is the same, whatever the impact on society at large.

About 2,500 Ontarians will be unemployed directly, and another 30,000 or so are expected to either be out of work or have their jobs seriously affected, because of GM’s Oshawa plant closure next year.

This is not trivial, especially after the Harper government put in more than $13 billion in 2009 to save GM and Chrysler.

Since 2015, the Liberals have added another $393 million in incentives to Ontario’s auto industry, according to federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.

That kind of public cash, it appears, will buy you less than 10 years of auto industry loyalty.

Consecutive federal governments have tried their best, both with policy and money, to keep the auto plants viable in vote-rich southern Ontario.

There’s always been debate about whether the bailouts were wise. But many other Canadian regions would love to have such instant attention from Ottawa on any pressing problem.

The political and media focus on the closure was overwhelming Monday.

Nearly every significant political player commented within a couple of hours, with Andrew Sheer, the Conservative leader, even implying he’d be willing to cough up more money. The CBC gave it full national-crisis treatment.

Albertans often ask themselves how Ottawa would react if our provincial crisis suddenly hit Ontario. Reporters and politicians would probably collapse, frothing in hysteria.

By some estimates, more than 40,000 workers lost their jobs after the 2014 oil price crash began. Up to 100,000 people may have lost direct and related work in Alberta and other provinces.

The losses were spread over many companies. Unlike the auto workers, nobody got a year’s notice before layoffs actually began. It was put down tools or pack up the briefcase, and out the door you go.

Because Alberta’s layoffs were so general, the media attention was less intense. Certainly, there were no teams of national reporters waiting for workers at the gates.

Ontario has 14.1 million people. Alberta’s population is 4.2 million. This province suffered a much larger hit across a far smaller population.

Calgary’s downtown office towers were hollowed out. The vacancy rate in a once-booming sector is now 28 per cent. The city’s towers have lost $12.6 billion in assessed value since 2015.

This has shifted the property tax burden in a city of 1.4 million to near and outer suburbs. The city has subsidized the tax hikes but that can’t go on. Businesses of all kinds face a serious threat for years to come.

Oshawa, a city of 170,000, will certainly face similar pain. But it’s unlikely that the whole Greater Toronto Area (6.4 million) will feel more than a ripple from the GM closure.

Since Albertans own oil and gas in a general constitutional way, the provincial treasury was also slammed with a massive cut in royalty payments from companies, a crisis that’s deepening even now with the disastrous price differential.

Ontario doesn’t face that problem. The province will lose corporate and personal tax revenues because of the GM closure, but Alberta has seen lower tax revenues too, on a much larger scale.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to Calgary last week, he offered no help for the massive gap between world prices and the cost of Alberta oil.

He and his ministers constantly point out that they already bought the Trans Mountain pipeline project, as well as Kinder Morgan’s other assets, for $4.5 billion.

That’s all we get, but so far it’s been a dud for Alberta. There’s no guarantee the expansion project will even be built.

But Ottawa has earned $70 million in revenue from the existing pipeline in just a few months.

If you’re counting money in Ottawa, that must sound pretty good. In Alberta, it doesn’t mean a thing.


Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.


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