Thoughts on Alberta’s economy

Jeff Burgar
(Reprinted from the High Prairie South Peace News)

It’s no secret the Alberta economy was in the tank the past two years. Store and restaurant sales dropped. Travel dropped. In fact, just about everything dropped, except perhaps collection agencies and auctioneers.
As usually is the case, the hurt was not equal. Calgary, as an oilpatch town, is still reeling. Businesses which rely on oil production and exploration are way down.
Today, actual numbers say gross domestic product, a general measure of business activity, dropped 3.6 per cent and three per cent in 2015 and 2016. That’s a shock from previous years when Alberta business was growing in the five to six per cent range and oil was trading over $100 a barrel.
But you know something? Right now, Alberta is the second best economy, per person, in Canada. Except for… the Northwest Territories! The only province that even comes close to producing as much per person as Alberta is Saskatchewan.
Ontario and Quebec, and even British Columbia, have more people. But despite having more than seven times as many people in those three provinces as are in Alberta, all of them together crank just a bit more than four times as much value in production. Albertans should be very proud of this. Of course, energy is the big player, here, but the numbers are still there.
Perhaps it is counter-intuitive, but despite complaints how the high-rolling oilpatch always steals the best and brightest (followed by government, which loves to use taxpayers’ money to pay itself), maybe this keeps everybody else on their toes. When you have to compete for people and ideas, you compete or die.
Without taking sides, consider this: Israel, a small nation of just over eight million people, produces as much per person as Ontario or B.C. (about $55,000 per person compared to Israel’s $50,000) and much more than Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia (about $42,000 per year).
Even more telling are the numbers from Saudi Arabia and from other countries in Israel’s neck of the sand, so to speak. Saudi Arabia cranks out $28,000, Turkey $13,000 and Egypt $5,000 per year.
Israel, of course, is surrounded by enemies vowing its destruction, surrounded by countries which are in their own civil wars, surrounded by failed states and friends which might not be so friendly.
But among just a few items, Israel makes its own jet fighters, its own machine guns, turns out a constant stream of computer innovations in software and companies, has a great secret service and has its own nuclear weapons. As they say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Albertans should keep this in mind. Alberta has great wealth in resources and people. We should not take this for granted. Instead, we should use every advantage, and treat every setback, as an opportunity to grow, expand in new directions, look at new ideas and be better than ever.

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