Friday, August 3, 2012

The BC obstruction

Western Provinces have always gotten along fairly well despite significant cultural differences.  These differences are based on the micro-settings many of us live in. For example, a Vancouverite lives in a much milder climate along the sea. A setting many people dream of, but apart from headquarters of mining companies, most of Vancouver‘s economy is service and transport oriented.  It is a lifestyle city depending heavily on tourism and there is no question, Vancouver is a fantastic city with over 3 million people living in an around it in the Fraser Valley.

The rest of B.C. is mostly empty. Its population counts 4,4 million people of which over 60% or 2.8 million live in the Greater Vancouver Area.  B.C.s population grew on average by 7% (close to Canada’s average of 5.9%) compared to Alberta’s astounding 10.8%. However, the Greater Vancouver Area and Fraser Valley grows by close to 9%.  Not many in those areas have much to do with mining or oil and gas.  Oil and Gas in B.C. is mostly in the forgotten corner of NE B.C. on the Alberta side of the Rocky Mountains where people often feel closer aligned with Albertans than with the rest of B.C.

Only 14% of the B.C. population or around 616,000 live in a rural setting with the rest in smaller towns located mostly in the interior and southern part of the province where ‘cities’ usually are in the 7,000 to 179,000 (Kelowna) population range. In the Okanagan many people live of tourism, mining, forestry and agriculture. The latter mostly fruit and wine. That is quite different than in the Vancouver area where agriculture entails dairy, vegetables and some grains.   Thus the culture here again is quite different from Vancouver and NE BC.  Not to mention the numerous First Nation communities and Fishery areas. All this disparity is glossed over by the Vancouver colossus which basically dictates the political terms of the province.
Alberta is approaching rapidly the 4 million population mark. Its population is mostly located in the central and southern part of the province. Nearly have the population is located in the Greater Edmonton and Greater Calgary areas. Edmonton with a large ‘blue collar’ and civil servant population is quite different from Calgary which is a financial headquarter area dominated by the oil and gas industry. Edmonton’s population grows at 12.1% and Calgary’s at an astounding 12.6%. All these numbers are collected by the Canadian Census in 2011 and compared to 2006.  Alberta has several larger cities and communities spread out through the southern 2/3 of the province. The northernmost large community is Grand Prairie with a population of 55,000 although on the eastside of the province and not much further south is the Wood Buffalo Census Area with 66,000 people.  Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat are all cities of 100,000 and over.
No matter where you go in Alberta, the oil and gas industry are large employers. Agriculture in the form of wheat and grains along with cattle are an important part of Alberta’s heritage. Forestry and to a significantly lesser amount tourism also contribute significantly to the economy. While B.C. is known as a pleasant lifestyle province with grow-ops as a sideline, Alberta is a more rugged province with the Rockies in the West, prairies in the East and forests in the North. There is a lot of economic mingling in this province where agriculture and oil & gas live side by side. Entrepreneurship is an essential ingredient in a province where one can start an oil or gas company with a few neighbours or friends.
So really, it is not Quebec’s sole claim to have a distinct society. Yet, in general Alberta and B.C. get along well until the era of the pipelines. Alberta is the area any product from BC has to cross to reach the large markets of the continent’s east coast and Alberta does not claim any of B.C.s tax revenues as compensation. Lots of Alberta grains and oil and natural gas is transported to the ports of the West Coast and B.C. does not ask for a part of Alberta’s tax revenue. Now this has suddenly changed and B.C. want to claim part of Alberta’s tax revenue in return for allowing a significant pipeline expansion. This is an unheard of demand. No other province in Canada tries to hold their neighbours hostage in this manner and thus it is not surprising that both Alberta and Canada’s federal government are in uproar.  Nobody denies B.C.’s rights to demand revenue from industries active in their provinces; nobody denies that BC demands industry funded money pools to pay for the environmental risks they incur because of said pipelines and hazards from other sectors of the economy. Many other jurisdictions do not interfere in the taxation powers of other provinces; it is not appropriate and cannot be on any negotiation table because, as Alison Redford, Alberta’s Premier pointed out it goes to the hard of Confederation and our Constitution.  Next we see Alberta demanding a part of BC tax revenue because of the TransCanada Highway and Canadian Pacific rail road. 

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