Jim Prentice tried to warn Alberta. Now it's finally time to look in the mirror - 2020-02-29
When Teck Resources Ltd. announced it would be withdrawing its application to build a new oil sands mine in Northern Alberta, the immediate response from the most vehement defenders of the province's status quo was a predictable mix of blustering indignation and rent garments. Premier Jason Kenney and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer both ladled the largest share of the blame on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government's hated environmental regulations; Mr. Scheer called it "devastating news for Alberta and our entire country." Business Council of Alberta president Adam Legge, meanwhile, said the decision showed how Canada was "a nation that cannot find ways to work together." There was talk, inevitably, in the darker precincts of social media, of revolt and separation.
But I found myself thinking of Jim Prentice. In the early months of 2015, Mr. Prentice was a neophyte premier preparing for an election. As he surveyed Alberta's finances, he saw little but deepening disaster. The price of oil, which had hovered at or above US$100 a barrel for much of the previous five years, was in freefall, racing down toward US$50 on its way to a trough last seen in the early 2000s. The flow of royalties that had kept taxes low and services lavish in Alberta was shrinking by the day, and Mr. Prentice had also inherited the burdens of a decade of roaring population growth and his own party's loose approach to public spending.
He responded with something quite remarkable for a politician facing imminent re-election: He told Albertans all about the mess he'd discovered. In an interview mere weeks before the campaign began, he outlined the general contours of Alberta's grim finances. He explained that his government was working on a long-term plan to get the province off what would soon be referred to as the "resource-revenue roller coaster."