I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas… My ideas for Alberta’s Economic future
Well here it goes, I’m dreaming of a White Christmas just like the ones I used to know.
I “used to know” some incredible winter days as a young liberally conservative academic growing up in Southern Ontario, where we could basically jump off the roof of our house into a huge pile of snow. I used to skate and pretend to be Daryl Sittler on the rink my dad and I would flood, ok mostly my dad (until the wee hours of the morning, thanks Dad) until as long as my mom would let me. I built myself a “ski run” where I used K-Tel plastic skis to go downhill when I wasn’t trying to beat my “Olympic bobsleigh record” on my big wooden toboggan.
I didn’t know any kids that went to Private school. When I was sick we went to the doctor or actually the doctor (as was the case when a wild pony which escaped from the Italian neighbours across the road and came over to our paddock bit my ear after my mom specifically told me not to try and get close to it) came to the house. I knew some kids that had an ATARI, we just had a Pong. We had a B&W TV that was a piece of furniture, I knew some kids that had a colour TV. I’ve told you about my train already. I heard of kids going to Disneyland/World, we travelled in one of our family “arks” all over the US on my dad’s business trips. I got to go to some pretty cool places. I grew up going to Chicago, NYC, Montreal, etc. I didn’t care about “Hawaii” I knew I would go there someday “when we had enough money”. I actually never went until 2003. I always wanted to travel to Europe ON A TRAIN, I did that for the first time in 1987. My point being; is that I grew up as a pretty normal MIDDLE CLASS kid in rural Ontario. We travelled, went to church, hung out with friends, played in the snow, and imagined being a Toronto Maple Leaf on our outdoor rinks. I saw “poor people” when we went downtown for a Leaf’s game or on Yonge Street window shopping and eating roast chestnuts from a street vendor at Christmas when we went skating outside at Nathan Phillips Square, but they weren’t really part of my daily experience. Bill Davis, who I thought seemed like an admirable fellow, Joe Clark, even Pierre Trudeau (who was always a source of division in our family) for the most part seemed; when discussing “politics” in Social Studies and “Current Events” (always a highlight for me because I would devour the Toronto Star looking for news) to have a grasp on what we all needed to run our society. I knew my dad “paid taxes”, I was pretty sure everyone I knew did. I understood even at that age if I was going to have my outdoor rink and see the doctor and travel on the 401 that these things had to get paid for and my dad and all the other dads I knew, and some moms, had to do this. They didn’t necessarily like that, but apart from their mortality, it was inevitable. I never really heard of anyone trying to “cheat the system”. I didn’t ever hear of any of my friends’ dads BUYING A CADILLAC OR MERCEDES OR A HOUSE WITH CASH from their Christmas bonus. I knew some kids that had more than us but not a lot and seems to me that their parents were generous and gave to different things, “causes” as my parents used to call it. Everyone and everything seemed to function with “an order” to it. Kinda white, a nice Christmassy white, colours came from our imagination of things we wanted to do and be and see, not from a technicolour barrage of non-stop media.
When did the “White Christmases” stop? When did the black and white become replaced with various shades of grey and “in the BLACK” or “in the RED”? 1980 was strange year. We moved from Caledon, Ontario to Calgary that summer. When I saw the Rockies for the first time (my dad stopped the car on the side of the Trans Canada) right around Strathmore I was in awe. When we went to Banff for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was “out west”, the “frontier”. I went to my first Stampede and I’ve been every year since. I remember my first steak at Caesar’s that summer. I also remember that Ontario CRASHED. Our incredibly beautiful 5 acres with 4800 square foot house, trout stream where I fished, my BUILT IN TRAIN TABLE, horse paddocks, gardens, etc was sold in a “guaranteed sale” I heard my parents say late one night with my mother basically weeping for less than $160,000. It was sold a few months later to a lady that bought it for a “weekend house”, she was a “broker”. I didn’t know anyone who was “a broker”. I knew kids, whose parents owned, and I grew up at my aunt’s cottage in Muskoka, but I had never heard of anyone having a 4800 square foot house as a “weekend place for entertaining” it broke my mother’s heart. I remember her crying. “Rural Calgary” was $100,000 an acre, we couldn’t afford that so we rented the house that to this day stands at the corner of Acadia and Southland and having my favourite bike I brought from Caledon stolen because I left it sitting out in the “back lane” without a lock. I never had a bike lock before. That year the Calgary school Board went on strike, my parents moved us to Okotoks. Everywhere was “booming”. We moved to Woodhaven on “the other side of the tracks”. I remember my mom and dad in tears again as they paid about $20,000 less than what our place went for in Caledon, for a place about a 1/3rd the size and on a “lot”. We hadn’t lived on a “lot” since I was in Grade 1. My school, Okotoks Jr./Sr. High was old. I came face to face with STRATHCONA TWEEDSMUIR, a private school, with really hot RICH girls. Suddenly at our church there was a huge gap between “the rich kids” and me. I didn’t understand this. My dad worked in oil and gas, BUT we didn’t live in Calgary. At that time many of the kids at Okotoks Jr./Sr. came from ranching/farming families. At that time Calgary’s infamous “horse racer” pronounced that the “Bums and scums” from the East needed to go home. Needless to say the kids in Okotoks knew I wasn’t born at the Holy Cross in Calgary, it wasn’t much fun. I remember the night John Lennon died; my sister and I were listening to CKXL 1140. That was shattering to me. It really seemed weird. A few years later “the broker” sold my parent’s place in Caledon for well north of a million and everyone on our street except my parents and a couple of other families lost their homes to foreclosure. Alberta was bust.
Something happened. Something went very wrong. At 45 years old this February, I’m not naïve enough to think that even while I was growing up in the “White Christmas” of my youth that there weren’t issues, but I’m sorry the world seemed like a much different place. We seemed to be much different as a society. White Christmas has been replaced by black and red Christmas, “Black Friday”. Boom, bust, boom, stagflation???; recession, record high TSX/DJIA then record lows on the same exchanges. Balanced budgets, surpluses, followed by record deficits. Really, what happened to those silent, starry, snowy nights of fiscal responsibility, living within your means, “paying cash”, balancing the budget BEFORE the budget is being TABLED! In a previous blog, by my friend @ppilarski he saw me as “looking to the past” the “progressive” Conservatives are the way to the future. So let me state here and now I simply look to the past to move us forward into a much more responsible future. I want white again, no more black or red. No more labelling economics as “Liberal red” or “Conservative blue”. I want a WHITE CHRISTMAS,
I’ve heard from real, live breathing Albertans that we need to start over. We have lost our way. The old “colours of the past” that have defined and divided us aren’t working. So on Christmas Eve/early morning as I was wrapping presents and eating “Santa’s snack” my little daughter left out for “him”, and watching the Classic Film “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney I couldn’t help but think about a “White Christmas” for Alberta. For white is what you get when you start with a clean, fresh new sheet of paper, and even though it isn’t a colour it is what needs to happen in this Province. We need A Plan for Alberta, and All Albertans. When you’ve got a ZERO on a page there’s white in the middle, no black, no red, no streets paved with gold, pure beautiful white. It is time to introduce zero and white to Albertans. Government is not a profit making corporation, and it is not a company. It is the guardian of the hard earned dollars of its citizens, hard earned dollars that it has been entrusted with to manage and provide a standard of living for ALL of those same citizens that is commensurate with its revenues, in other words long before the end of the year the goal should be ZERO balance sheet. Income matches expenses. If there is a massive amount of income at the end of the year; a surplus, and there are people sleeping under bridges, increased wait times in ER rooms, food banks, overcrowded classrooms, massive student loan crisis, the government has mismanaged its finances. If there are all of the above and corporations are paying massive bonuses, making record profits, playing “flavour of the month” pump and dump on the stock exchanges, allowing local Alberta businesses to go under while large multinational, food, energy and retail business prospers, government has failed its citizens. How do I know this? I speak for thousands of Albertans who’ve had enough of the “boom and bust” the “in the black or red” reactive economic policies because we have lived it for too long. We have as a society allowed ourselves to become slaves to debt and deficit, spend, spend, spend; borrow, borrow, borrow when times are bad because that will stimulate the economy, when times are good because it is the “economic engine”. We need to WHITE it out!
I AM NOT ADVOCATING ZERO PROFIT FOR BUSINESS. I AM NOT ADVOCATING CLOSED MARKETS, I AM NOT A PROTECTIONIST. I AM NOT AGAINST CAPITALISM. I AM NOT A COMMUNIST. I am simply stating that when the economy is flourishing that if profits are not being turned into research and innovation, making this Province a WORLD ENERGY LEADER, leading edge healthcare and long term care, WORLD CLASS PUBLICLY FUNDED EDUCATION BOTH POST SECONDARY AND K-12, and massive profits are going offshore and into massive bonuses and stock enrichment schemes, we have a problem. For the next budget we must partner with industry to ensure this is taking place or if we continue to fail to arrest these issues, raise taxes, the choice is simple. We can no longer allow massive profits from this Province to flow south to a massive retailer in Arkansas and have local Alberta businesses struggle and go into bankruptcy therefore putting enormous drain on our social system. We cannot have massive profits from our once thriving agricultural sector be sent to the world headquarters of staggeringly massive factory farmers in St. Louis or Minneapolis while Alberta “family” farmers that have farmed this Province for generations gradually wither away or “sell out” to these entities, again putting massive strain on our social fabric. Gigantic oilfield service companies based in Texas swallowing up family run service companies that can’t afford to keep staff or rigs going when we “piss the next boom away”. And foreign energy companies sending profits far from Grande Prairie while the social underpinning of the Province erodes is not acceptable.
BUT when I talk of fair share, I talk of FAIR share. This isn’t just about oil and gas companies, the other examples above in agriculture, retail and many other sectors that leave Albertans “draining the system” while they are making massive profits are not “paying their fair share” either. Let us not be so disingenuous as to single out one “visible” and easy target, while leaving the “elephant unattended in the room”. Just raising taxes will bring everyone a very black Christmas, and I don’t mean a positive ledger entry. So that is why I am advocating a “blank, white sheet of paper”; a creative partnership between government and industry that fosters infrastructure development. Innovation and research. Strategic development and planning that will lead to a much more creative, dynamic and diversified Alberta that fosters both personal and corporate growth and truly makes the Province a sustainable, diverse economic powerhouse that has a quality based, proactive approach to growth and province wide development. Perhaps tax increases based on certain economic performance may be warranted BUT more critical is long term reinvestment into making Alberta a WORLD economic engine.
Again, if individuals are “taking from the system” we need to assess the long term ramifications of “building bigger personal empires” while the fabric of the Province unravels. Like it or not; we are ALL part of a bigger picture, and when certain segments of our population are left to their own devices while other segments of that same citizenry are able to benefit disproportionately with zero accountability, we have a problem. At some point in time we all may need some or ALL of the services that the government should maintain for its citizens to ensure that such a vast resource base is not squandered on anything less than world class care. One glaring and critical example is a “blank canvas” in terms of our relationship with our aboriginal citizens. If massive corporate and individual profits are taken from this province and the systemic issues which plague so many of our aboriginal communities remain, we have failed, for the downside cost will continue to create a massive strain on the social fabric.
2011 is going to be an exciting year. I am looking forward to the discussion, dialogue and sometimes I am sure, lively and challenging debate with Albertans from all corners of the Province. But I will hold fast to my dream of a “White Christmas”, a chance to begin again to create a partnership between Government and its individual and corporate citizens that encourages and fosters a climate of balance between profits and all Albertans profitting from a healthy, diverse, strategic approach to our economy and social fabric.