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DOUBLE WHAMMY


Energy price wars and global pandemics would be a challenge for any economy.  Price wars, pandemics and Jason Kenney’s budget are a recipe for disaster.

Kenney has come out with a budget that would have been bad for Albertans even if there were a strong healthy econony - cutting education, health care and care for the vulnerable, while doubling down on dependency on just the energy sector,  reducing the diversity of the economy.   Kenney’s budget is based on a  view of the world that could be called simplistic.   Events in just a few short weeks have shown it to be a hallucination.    Energy prices have tumbled and we suddenly need more nurses and doctors than ever to cope with a global pandemic.

ENERGY and the ECONOMY

We need to start investing in the future, not the past.  Energy prices have plunged due to Russian and Saudi decisions about their production,  making it very clear that Alberta, and Canada as a whole,  are not major players and will never be able to control the price of the product.  $100 a barrel oil turns out to be a temporary fluctuation,  and Saudi Arabia alone could produce enough oil at $20 a barrel to supply the world until the internal combustion engine is history.  

Subsidies, unpaid taxes and royalties rebates amount to some $1.6 billion to $2 billion a year just at the Alberta government level,  while leaving us holding the bill for orphan wells estimated at some $260 Billion!

Instead of ever increasing subsidies, tax cuts,  royalty holidays, and a free pass on polluting for oil and gas companies,  we need to hold them accountable for unpaid taxes and for paying to clean up their own mess, up to and including nationalization.   Enormous numbers of jobs could be generated by reducing the contamination in the oil patch,  in accordance with the international legal principle of "polluter pay".

For decades governments in Alberta have done virtually nothing to make our economy more robust in the face of fluctuating energy prices,  not even bothering to collect the rent.  Norway’s oil fund reached the Trillion dollar US mark in 2017,  amounting to
$235,000 for every person in the country,  Alberta's fund at the same time, with a twenty year head-start in the oil business, was  $17.2 billion,  or $4,150 per person in the province.  This contrast is equivalent to the Alberta government giving away about $230,000 on behalf of every individual in Alberta to corporations that take the money and run.

It is really time to divert the massive direct and indirect subsidies to the traditional energy sector into more job-creating sectors - wind, geo-thermal and solar power,  modernizing the energy grid, rebuilding transportation systems,  public housing programs,  retrofitting existing buildings for energy efficiency,  diversifying and processing agricultural products,  and developing manufacturing,  just to name a few.  That’s the way to guarantee good-paying jobs to Alberta workers, while also improving our quality of life.  

GLOBAL ECONOMY AND GLOBAL PANDEMICS

COVID-19 is not the first new disease to appear in this century and it will not be the last.  The globalization of the economy and world travel makes it inevitable that the normal, unending, and inescapable mutation of viruses will have world-wide effects.    What is different is that this pandemic has arrived when the global economy was already in a fragile state,  trending towards recession.  It is not surprising that a new disease is more frightening when working people are already feeling the stress of economic insecurity.

But it is also clear that in an interconnected world, cuts to health care are not a good idea - not just from the point of view of public health,  but even from the point of view of the economy.  We need a well-funded health care system with excess capacity to cope with emergencies like the COVID-19 virus.   It is now absolutely clear that "efficiency" in the healthcare system is not efficient at all.  If our health facilities are already functioning at maximum capacity,  any additional needs will overwhelm them.  Any new epidemic will be more severe and last longer than it needs to,  with more economic impact as well as more human suffering.     

Kenney has announced that he will delay firing nurses until the pandemic crisis is over.  How about not firing them at all,  so that we won't go into the next epidemic with a worse shortage of nurses?

Privatized services are not the answer.  A two tiered system, where the wealthy can afford more prompt and better care, will not help the great majority of the population,  and it won’t do the wealthy any good either,  when the virus is invited to remain in circulation by abandoning the care of much of the population.    In fact, an emergency situation like this makes it clearer than ever that health care is indivisible - it must be a public good or nobody gets any good out of it.  

CP - A July Statement



These are extraordinary times.  News feeds and ordinary working people, not surprisingly, are focussed on the pandemic, the need to combat its spread by physical distancing, and the daily struggle to maintain life and supply the health system under these unusual conditions.  We could be excused for thinking that the elected politicians would be similarly focussed - but it is very clear that they are carrying on with business as usual - and their business is to do everything to maximize the profits of the largest corporations,  no matter how severe the cost in human well-being and human lives.  

And no right-wing government in Canada has shown this more clearly than the UCP government in Alberta.  With complete disregard for human needs in an emergency and shameless disregard for their own election promises,  they have continued their plans to undermine,  uinderfund and destroy health and education,  creating more unemployment than necessary,  and refusing to close down the projects that rely on "man camps"  despite their dangers of spreading the COVID-19 virus.  

Nothing shows this more clearly than this past week’s major actions - laying off 22,000 education support workers (supposedly to save a paltry 128 million dollars)  while finding a BILLION dollars to bail out pipeline companies, supposedly to create 7,000 jobs.

And it gets worse - the Alberta tax payer down through the generations is on the hook for 7 BILLION more in loan guarantees for these same pipelines - at a time when it is not clear at all that the price of fossils fuels will ever climb back to a level that could make Alberta tar sands products profitable.  

Well, I guess we could say that when you are blinded by rightwing ideology,  and too busy bowing down to foreign owned monopolies to look into the distance,   math is hard.

But the right-wing ideologues are doing just what they would have done all along,  with the pandemic as an excuse - gut the public sector,  weaken the union movement, and pour billions of extra unconditional profit into the coffers of the largest corporations - incidentally catering to the far-right misogynist strand within their ranks by reducing employment in female dominated sectors, thus striking a blow against independence and equality for women.  

If any more evidence were needed, the most recent government move - suspending environmental reporting requirements - is obviously entirely driven by currying favour with corporations and cannot possibly contribute to the struggle against the virus.

The response of working people needs to be vigorous, united and swift.  Think of the improved quality of life and the diversification of the economy that could be possible if we are prepared to put that 7 billion dollars into totally different forms of infrastructure and raising the standard of living of the unemployed and the vulnerable.    Think of the freedom from insecurity that we could have if we break free of an economy dependent on fossile fuel price fluctuations.  

We demand:
 No layoffs in the public sector - put staff back to work on emergency pandemic support programs
 Rent and mortgage suspension for all residents  - no evictions
 Close construction camps - only emergency maintenance work
 Clean drinking water and high quality housing for all indigenous communities,  hiring local residents as much as possible
 An end to private home care service agencies and seniors’ housing - bring all facilities and services under public control,  hire more staff and expand home care services to minimize institutionalization
 Guarantee emergency income for all at least at a "living wage" level,  or at 90% of wages for previously employed
 Plan major Green rebuilding of infrastructure to begin as soon as quarantine conditions can be lifted,  to employ many more than 7,000

This pandemic emergency has shown that our society can rally round and take extraordinary measures for our common good.  We don’t have to go back to business as usual afterwards - we can apply the same cooperative energy to rebuilding the economy, reversing climate change and providing a decent life for everyone.


 
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