The price of oil has plummeted. The oil patch is reeling. The Governor of the Bank of Canada has slashed interest rates. Social programs will have to be shelved or cancelled altogether.
Have we heard any of this before?
I recall 1981-82 when the world as we know it was coming to an end (the economists told us so). Houses were being sold for a buck so people could rid themselves of crushing mortgage debt. The unemployment rate was spiking because of job layoffs. And hundreds of geologists were wandering the streets of Calgary trying to find work, any work, to tide them over until the next boom came along.
Since the first “gusher” of oil in Leduc gave birth to the “oil patch,” we, the citizens of Alberta, have lived through the chaotic cycles of boom and bust which are so typical of resource based industries—just ask those folks who work in the pulp and paper industry in British Columbia. And, each time, there is this overriding sense of deep gloom that pervades everything. The word “crisis” becomes a part of our everyday vocabulary.
Let’s cool the rhetoric for a moment and ask some questions that need to be asked:
- The Province of Alberta has been governed by one party for 43 years. Over that long period of time, that particular political party and its members have lived this scenario over and over and over again. Would it not have become apparent, at some point, that “boom and bust” cycles are a part of doing business in the oil patch?
- Knowing that, what policies could be put in place that might soften the highs and lows of such a cyclical source of revenue?
- Why is it that social programs are the first to suffer on the “bust” side of the cycle?
- How is it possible for the country of Norway, itself dependent on oil revenue to fuel its economy, to have $900 billion in a reserve fund to deal with the cycles and Alberta has a mere $15 billion which, by the way, is consistently plundered to cover budget deficits?
- Why is “sales tax” a dirty phrase in Alberta when such taxes provide stability to offset boom and bust cycles?
- Why is a progressive form of taxation not being implemented when we know that a flat tax harms the poorest in our economic spectrum?
I am no economist. I am a theologian. But even I get to ask some penetrating questions—all of which need answering as we live through this latest cycle of panic.
A theologian named Isaiah wrote some pretty powerful words a few hundred years ago. They seem so relevant today.
Is this not the path that I choose? To loose the bonds of injustice. To undo the thongs of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free. To share my bread with the hungry and to bring the homeless poor into my house. Then, says Isaiah, your light shall break forth like the dawn and healing shall spring up quickly.
Let’s get on with the business of creating a more just and equitable society, with all of us working together for the benefit of everyone.
Shalom and blessings, Linda Hunter