Expect the bayonet
I, like many millions of people in many hundreds of jurisdictions, am experiencing regional decline. I experience it when I go to bed at night. I experience it putting on my shoes and playing with my infant daughter. I experience it when hugging my spouse. I didn’t want to live this way. That’s why I turned to twice-monthly Newsletters™
for my regional decline. The side effects are mild (some spots of racism, and the occasional oligarch), and I went from daily economic anxiety to relief overnight. For more information on twice-monthly Newsletters™,
consult your local podcast to see if Newsletters™
is right for you.
Decline starts with the young and the professionally mobile. While the population of Alberta continues its net increase though rural to urban transition, inter-province and international migration, and of course, births, some current residents are making good on threats to leave.
Why is this? One could answer by gesturing broadly, uttering the cursed name, “Hellberta”, and then pointing to Premier Kenney’s two crushing austerity budgets in four months. Kenney and his government are resolved to wage war on the working class. The political pendulum has swung wildly to the reactionary right, and it’s likely that every forward-looking person within Alberta’s borders has thought, at least once, “I’m just going to go.”
Still, Alberta is in a different situation than in years past. When ruled for four decades by a single political party that most people weren’t enthusiastic about (but tolerated), the province experienced its boom and bust cycles, but always leveled out. There seemed to be enough jobs to go around and most people didn’t have to think twice about it. It wasn't necessary to weigh the decision to leave for work against the comforts of home, and no need to contrast individual obligations and fulfillment with community-generated expectations.
Those coming to Alberta from elsewhere, especially the economically disadvantaged regions of Canada, have long had to process the contradictions of an unequal society in deeply personal ways. From the 1970s till the mid-2010s, waves of workers from Atlantic Canada felt the pull to Alberta, to work in oil and gas extraction or a spin-off industries. These folks, especially those from Cape Breton, P.E.I., or Newfoundland, would be steeped in regional myths. The most powerful among these was the myth of return, holding that by working and prospering out west, one could return to the east later on. According to the myth, “real” residents of these rustic oceanside communities knew they were just better places to live than anywhere else - more authentic, more kind, more connected - although “outsiders” from probably just-as-good towns (or better, and not economically blighted) might have been puzzled by this indoctrination.
As the years rolled on and industry changed, it was a case of diminishing returns, literally, for the Atlantic workers. Regular company-paid flights back home ceased in the late 2000s. Those used to healthy pay cheques found themselves less well remunerated for specialized skill sets. More and more family members from different generations moved west to find work themselves, since one earner could no longer support others. Plans to stay out west “just a few years” became indefinite intentions to move back “someday”, since it was hard to save and get ahead on payments. The reality is that most people never came back apart from short, seasonal visits.
These days, the myth of return to the Atlantic provinces might have run its course, since it’s no longer required to perform the ideological heavy lifting needed to drain labour out of part of Canada for use in another. If the Atlantic and Alberta have similar unemployment rates, there’s not much point moving from one place to the other, as things are no better for individuals. That said, there’s no shortage of mythology still wafting about the country, and Alberta’s public figures are eager to invent some of their own.
The Buffalo Declaration, unveiled online on Feb. 20, 2020 by Calgary-Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner and signed by the additional, forgettable Conservative MPs, is a laughably bad document, full of typos and odd phrasing on launch. Indigenous leaders describe it as an insult. Much can and has been said about how the Declaration is out of touch with economic reality, mischaracterizing the basic mechanics and purpose of the equalization program. But the project also falls down as ideology, since it’s just not appealing as a way to explain Alberta’s economic decline to most people who aren’t already right-wing, angry, and conspiracy-minded. It posits Alberta as a “culturally distinct” “colony”, which seems absurd to most people, as does asking workers to align their interests squarely with oil and gas companies or any other employer.
If the Buffalo Declaration has any useful purpose, it’s to reveal that a lot of nation and region-building myths are entirely phoney. It doesn’t matter if these faux-truths have been kicking around since Confederation (in fact, Canada is fake) or the post-war era, because they have certain overlapping characteristics: reverence of place and geography (with offputting colonial overtones) and belief in the special traits of a people (“real” Albertans or Maritimers or whatnot) who “get ‘er done” and achieve great things (prosperity, profit, world-class destinations).
This type of myth is at best trite and naive and at worst, fascist, but can come to fill specific voids that contemporary life creates. Today’s workplaces and cities atomize people, who then look for purpose and belonging plus ways to rationalize the major personal decisions as more than just means of survival in an uncontrollable world.
The Buffalo Declaration, alongside its right-wing international counterparts like MAGA and Brexit, aren’t invalid because they’re myths (or imaginaries, or future directions) created from thin air. Rather, it’s their reactionary, exclusionary, paranoid framing and conclusions that should mean they get a hard pass. If the idea for industry and communities is “do more of the same but harder”, it’s not going to work since oil and gas prices can’t be collectively willed higher.
Fortunately, there are competing visions. Recent sizable protest events to protect Alberta’s public sector and ongoing efforts by green energy-transition advocacy groups are evidence that the Rempel Garner viewpoint isn’t universally held. The province doesn’t have to hitch itself to a sunsetting industry, and regional decline is not a story with one inevitable ending. Imagining and building a more sustainable and equal society here isn’t easy, but it’ll be anything but dull, and worth sticking around to see.
-Karen, Team Advantage
🙎🏻There is no sales profit margin on Canadian oil. Virtually all margin comes from subsidy.
🧠Foreign funded radicals are flooding social media trying to influence Canadian politics.
🕴🏻Pretty sure the Democratic Socialists are a cutout for CSIS? Parody satire allegedly.
🌟Repairing relations with Aboriginal people was never the real project, Evidence Exhibit #3455522.
🌂Climate change impacts in Alberta will be pretty minor, just bringing about some, uh, Biblical plagues?
🐲Nothing says “cartoon villain” like selling parks to rich people but hey, that’s what was on the tin.
🍄The bad news is property taxes are going up, but the good news is that if you’re reading this home ownership has been out of reach for your whole life and wait hold on
👩🏻🌾The gross profit of Alberta oil companies in 2017 was $46.6 billion. The overall orphan well liability is probably north of $100 billion. Oil companies will now be forced to contribute a whopping $9 million more to clean up those wells. That equates to 0.01957% of their 2017 profits and 0.009% of the overall liability. Progress!
🥩One cancelled oil sands mine is a tragedy, two is a statistic.
🎓Doctors are a luxury, to be honest. Who needs em’!
👑Turns out whitewashing the transfer of wealth to developers and riding liberal identity politics into a long tenure as gentrifier-in-chief is a little hard on your soul.
🍻SAIT and NAIT were some of the first to throw up their hands and be like “well if we have no money people are getting fired and programming will suffer, fuck it”. Gotta make sure everyone in the province is as angry and depressed as possible, especially kids looking to their futures.
🐔Ontario is going to give you free mental health care, but you’ll die before you get it.
👨🏼🍳A weird side-effect of the gig economy is an army of restaurants that don’t exist.
👴🏻Bernie Sanders ate shit with black voters across the board, which I’m told is, uh, bad for a Democrat.
👨🏽⚖️Are you saying that a socialist with brown skin was deposed over nothing while the Canadian government cheered? SHOCKED! I’M SHOCKED!
👩🏽🚀Turns out living on credit card debt in a fake country is tough on your mental well-being.
🐔All workers forced to get coughed on the rich can look at statues should walk off the job before drying of plague.
🍹Pittsburgh man seizes the means of alcohol production.
📉It’s fashionable to pretend the New York Yankees of your particular field don’t exist, but take your radicalization where you can and go to bat for comrades on the receiving end of hit jobs. This article was written by the romantic equivalent of Jason Kenney’s spouse calling us out in the Calgary Herald, were Jason Kenney capable of love and not powered by a fear engine stoked with the blood of the homeless.
🎧Ashes Ashes, our experts on the collapse incoming, deliver a huge opus on the oppression and criminality on the United States/Mexico border.
🔇Canadaland is making a podcast that is, on its face, about cocaine mules, but as someone who spent time in the free-journalism industrial complex the podcast is much more interesting as a piece about labour abuses at the hands of (future) billionaires.
🐯Not sure if you want to go this far south in Calgary (bring a parka) but if you’re feeling adventurous you could huck some chicken wing bones at our shitty Premier on March 7.