The Globe and Mail
In 1983, I started my journalism career in Alberta as an energy writer. It was a thrill. The oil sands were coming on strong, Calgary and Fort McMurray were boomtowns and stupid money was being thrown around. What fun, I thought; this otherwise dreary expanse of pasture was an energy superpower in the making.
The party was rudely interrupted by the commodities cycle. Even as hundred-buck cigars were being chomped at the Petroleum Club, oil prices went into free-fall, taking Dome Petroleum, Alberta’s oil and gas champ, down with them. The jobless rate hit 10 per cent and inward flow of workers from the rest of Canada reversed itself. A friend of mine handed his house keys to bank and hit the road – the mortgage exceeded the value of the property.
I left too, with the first big lesson in macro-economics drilled into my beer-soaked brain: Beware one-product wonders. Economies that are tilted towards a single industry are accidents waiting to happen, just like single-crop farms.
Three decades later, I wonder if Alberta – and Canada – have learned the risks of backing one industry at the expense of others. Exposing the Alberta economy, and to some extent the Canadian economy, to inevitable boom-bust commodity cycles is rather tedious and sporadically inflicts cruel damage on workers, bank loans and Canadian Tire sales.