NDP adventures in Westpolitik

Why does Paul Dewar want Alberta and Saskatchewan to stop doing what’s making them rich?

ULaval economist Stephen Gordon cracked me up on Twitter yesterday afternoon with his reaction to NDP candidate Paul Dewar’s “Western strategy”. In a CP interview, Dewar proposed “investing in strategic industries and developing ways to help Alberta and Saskatchewan make the transition from natural-resource based economies.” In a series of tweets, a baffled Gordon asked

Why does Paul Dewar want Alberta and Saskatchewan to transition away from resources? That’s where the jobs and money are!… Another victim of the Manufacturing Obsession. …I think Dewar has stumbled across why [the] NDP is weak in [the] West. “Vote NDP! We’ll make you stop doing the things that are making you rich!”

Brian Topp has also said that the NDP needs a “Western strategy”; he flew out to B.C. to announce one last month, but ended up making no discernible mention of it, instead becoming embroiled in controversy over his (and Thomas Mulcair’s) explicit advocacy of overrepresentation in the House of Commons for Quebec. Could “relatively less voting power for B.C. and Alberta” be part of a “Western strategy” along with insisting that we leave our hydrocarbons and minerals in the ground, not to mention whipping the hide off of gun-control opponents? Is all this “strategy” predicated on some perception of Western masochism, or is it just comic-book-style “reverse psychology”?

A natural place to look for the rudiments of an NDP approach to the West might be in the party’s single Alberta outpost—the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, currently manned by MP Linda Duncan. Masochism actually seems to work for Duncan: having been returned to the House of Commons by Alberta voters, she displays what looks a bit like contempt for them.

Linda Duncan, NDP MP for Edmonton-Strathcona, said she supported the spirit of the [electoral rebalancing] bill, but questioned what Albertans would gain from their new representatives. “What difference will it make?” she asked, making reference to a lack of federal funding for projects such as the Royal Alberta Museum, announced Wednesday. “Are we going to get six more Conservatives that don’t stand up for Edmonton?”

As Jack Layton’s environment critic, Duncan also upheld the “Stop doing the things that are making you rich” pillar of the grand Western strategy, calling for a moratorium on new tarsands development and for much heavier federal intervention in the sector. She did this because she thinks tarsands exploitation does more harm than good, which is at least coherent. Dewar apparently has some economic objection, with West Texas Intermediate around $90 in spot and futures markets, to the extraction and sale of oil (and presumably gas and uranium and potash and diamonds and coal).

I don’t know what he expects Albertans and Saskatchewanians to end up doing instead—baking artisanal bread? Writing folk songs?—but it should be noted that it’s the rest of the country that would be required to foot the bill for this “transition”. Either that, or we’re gonna need to recruit a few more “have” provinces somehow.

[UPDATE: A Dewar spokesman phoned this afternoon, hoping to clarify the wire story mentioned supra. What Mr. Dewar was driving at, Kiavash Najafi tells me, was “diversification” and the capture of “value-added” jobs “in partnership with the industries on the ground” as opposed to limitations on the output of raw-resource businesses. “We’ve heard from Westerners that they’re frustrated about sending B.C. logs to China, sending raw Alberta bitumen to the United States for processing.”

I’m sure Najafi is right about this: he is describing the philosophy by which Alberta was actually governed throughout the 1970s and ’80s. I’m also sure this is unlikely to placate Gordon, who gnashes his teeth routinely over this very philosophy. But Dewar, for those who are keeping score, is eager to set himself apart from candidates who would suppress resource extraction for its own sake.]

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