Alberta’s Brain Drain Goes Deeper Than Just Cuts – A Response
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Earlier today, the CBC published an opinion piece by Max Fawcett on the risk of brain drain in Alberta. He argues that the UCP government’s austerity measures have turned Alberta into a province that no longer appeals to professionals, families, or young people. While I agree with the piece, I think the problem is more multifarious.
Alberta Is No Longer Stable
The fall of oil and gas in combination with COVID and global economic contraction has devastated Alberta. Of that, there is no doubt. However, recent cuts to institutions that lie at the core of being an Albertan and a Canadian are no longer stable.
Let me explain it this way: Routines are our adult security blankets. We know what to expect and what we need to do. With these in place, we can take on the challenges of the day (school/program changes and closures), knowing we always have our routine to fall back on.
When COVID started, it was like putting that security blanket in the washing machine. We suddenly had to find a hasty replacement routine until we could get our old routine back. Now, Premier Kenney and the UCP came with cuts to school, healthcare, and social programs. Combined with rising COVID numbers that could close schools and businesses at any time, it’s clear our old routine — our security blanket isn’t coming back. The premier didn’t wash it. He threw it out.
The increased financial strain means that there is no normal left to go back to. It’s easy to see why some Albertans see nothing but a struggle and little reward ahead. Why would I do my children the disservice of encouraging them to stay in a province where services and programs disappear in an instant? I’ve lived through the Klein cuts. I’m not comfortable asking my son to do the same.
Alberta Keeps Looking Back
Young families and new businesses move to regions where governments are flexible, adaptable, and forward-thinking. They seek cities that are open-minded and willing to entertain new ideas and concepts. They look for communities that match their ideals. Social beliefs such as being environmentally responsible matter to them: daycare and the support of technology and entrepreneurship matters.
The Alberta Government has had to be strong-armed into doing anything in terms of green energy and environmentally-friendly industries. They’re so proud of their new idea to make Alberta Canada’s Silicon Valley.
First, I’d hesitate to want to be any Silicon Valley. While it had substantial benefits and changed the way the world works, there were also some significant downsides to the phenomenon. I want to think Alberta is smart enough to learn from those experiences and do it better, but we can’t do that if our government fails to reflect the same values and priorities.
To make matters worse, they chopped themselves off at the knees by gutting the post-secondary system just as it had almost fully recovered from Klein’s cuts. This sector is where innovation, training, and new ideas come from. And they’re homegrown – we don’t have to invest outside the province to get the technology and expertise needed to get ahead.
Alberta — Where Trust Goes to Die
I’ll openly admit that I’m a bit naïve when it comes to the real world. I grew up in a small town where you meant what you said, you told the truth even if it meant doing so came with a personal cost, and you did what you said you were going to do. I approach all personal, professional, and academic interactions with these same beliefs. I don’t think our government has a similar set of standards.
We have seen time and time and time again that many of the Ministers cannot be honest. My list so far includes:
- Firing an elections commissioner who was investigating them for fraudulent election practices
- Party ties to the ethics commissioner
- Highly biased surveys that they use to support supposedly unbiased policies
- Claim they’re making massive investments while hiding massive cuts made just before that
- Biasing “independent” reports
This combination of behaviours and actions not only fails to inspire any trust in my government. It stifles innovation. Why would you risk the wrath of the Alberta Government to introduce a new idea when it could result in one of them yelling at you in your driveway? But mostly, it disillusions the public. Why bother trying when politicians are all the same? They’re just going to fill their pockets and leave.
Dishonesty in government reduces spending. Here’s an example: The UCP says it will not lay off nurses. Next thing you know, there are all sorts of bills and reports that they use to fire huge portions of the healthcare system, including nurses. (Whether AHS or the government orders the layoffs is irrelevant. It’s still job losses.)
If jobs like nurses aren’t safe in a healthcare crisis, and the government has reduced overtime, minimum wage, and removed other labour code standards, how do I know my job is safe? With no job security, I’m not going to buy a house, car, or other items. I’m going to save in case the world goes to hell in a handbasket.
To make matters worse, we’re harming future development by putting out tainted reports and data in the name of making a government policy look good. This practice will taint and bias decision-making for decades to come. Again, if I cannot trust my government, how can I have confidence in their decisions? What about my decisions?
The Refusal of the UCP Government to Acknowledge the Concerns of Everyday Albertans
I do not expect my government leaders to be perfect or have all the answers. I expect my government to talk to people who will be affected by a decision, make a policy decision, and then listen to the people of Alberta to make their policies better. This UCP government actively works to do the opposite.
Premier Kenney has repeatedly dismissed anyone who disagrees or raises concerns as “socialists” or part of the “NDP anger machine.” Are they incapable of understanding that Albertans without political labels have concerns and questions? If someone does get to ask a question, they immediately transform into campaign-style verbal attack ads. They attack and blame everything on the NDP or regurgitate the same details we’ve already identified as being not exactly accurate. Where’s the civil discourse? How about taking personal responsibility for their actions? “He who passes sentence swings the sword.”
Even if things aren’t going to get better right away — hard choices and cuts are necessary — we should do it as a society. If the UCP would stop dismissing everyone and communicate in a way Albertans could trust, we could find the balance we desperately need. It would ease the stress and frustration so we could focus on fixing what’s broken. At least then, the hard choices and cuts are made with us, not to us. We might not even mind the cuts so much.