Alberta and the Great Depression

Alberta’s Economic Recovery: The UCP Want to Celebrate Like It’s 1937 and That Should Scare You

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UCP MLA Tracy Allard proudly defended her party’s COVID-19 recovery plan. In Hansard, dated August 27th, 2020, she is documented as saying, “During the Great Depression, North American governments stimulated the economy by investing in jobs and capital projects. This helped to get the economy back on track back then, and it will help us do so today.” We’ve heard them refer to the recovery after the Great Depression several times. This sounds like a great idea, right? Not if you’re an Albertan, and particularly not if you’re a woman.

Women in the 1930s and 40s Workforce

The Great Depression saw the first significant influx of women into the workforce. This is true. What Ms. Allard and the UCP seem to have missed in this history lesson, however, is motivation. Women entered the workforce in droves because they needed to feed their families, but that isn’t the only reason. And it’s not why they stayed in the workforce after it was over.

Employers often hired women because they could be paid substantially less than men. (In many instances, 50% less). This made for a significantly cheaper workforce and increased profits. Because many women needed the work, it cost very little for employers to work them far harder and longer. Today, you can’t deny that many businesses would flourish with a 50% reduction in labour costs. (When you consider the anti-labour and changes to labour codes, you might almost think that this is what they’re up to.)

Many of the jobs women took were in areas such as manufacturing and agriculture. And yes, many of these were made possible by government investment. However, many of these jobs are now automated or male-dominated industries. And when construction projects are done, so too are the jobs. Most of those people are only hired temporarily, and the chances of getting on with another project are low. The job market no longer resembles the one from the 1930s — You can’t just announce a few capital investments and consider the problem solved.

Today, businesses aren’t forced to hire a 75% female workforce due to a lack of male applicants. We didn’t just lose a large portion of the working male population to war. Again, the workforce looks nothing like it did 100 years ago.

Childcare wasn’t as much of an issue during the Great Depression, either. Contraception and divorces were scandalous. As a result, families were larger in the 1930s, and there were fewer single mothers. This matters. Often, the older kids would look after the younger ones or stay home alone, even if they probably shouldn’t have. Doing that today could get people arrested. Is the UCP suggesting we return to this childcare system? They’ve certainly not made this problem any priority.

UCP doesn't realize socialism drove Alberta's economic reform in the 1930s

Alberta Society Doesn’t Resemble the 1930s

Whether economists want to or not, they have to consider the effects of society and culture on the economy and its GDP. In the 1930s, there were fewer cars on the roads. You couldn’t just Facetime, your family. Electronics stores, malls full of clothing stores, and fast-food restaurants either didn’t exist or weren’t prevalent. Our basket of consumer goods’ economic landscape and makeup looked very different in 1930 than it does today.

More families had gardens. They canned and made jellies, jams, and preserved meat and fish that our families or neighbours raised. They picked fruit, butchered their own livestock, and openly traded with neighbours. Today, we import far more of these items and buy them from big businesses. Our grandparents and parents would be horrified by how much of this we’ve forgotten.

Markets and industry also looked very different between 1900 and 1950. The creation of public healthcare created jobs, including jobs for women. Co-ops began out of the basic need for cheaper products, which put profits and control on those who used and needed those services. Many of these organizations pumped life into rural communities, and women were closely involved. Most importantly, these types of businesses created jobs that kept the cost of everyday items down.

Crown corporations, many of them now dismantled and sold off, helped the provinces support their people and their economies. Socialism and socialist public safety nets were implemented to catch people who fell between the cracks while generating more jobs. This is the antithesis of our current societal trajectory. Right or wrong, the government’s current focus is all about privatization and relinquishing control to the hands of a few — not into the hands of the many. In fact, Alberta UCP and conservative thinkers often rail against the evilness of socialism. This matters when creating an economic plan.

capitalism and socialism in Albertas economy

The UCP Dreams of a Simpler Time that Leaves Most Albertans Out

The thought of relying on an economic recovery plan that doesn’t take all of the factors involved into account is terrifying. Attempting to compare the recovery from the Great Depression to today’s COVID-19 recovery is equivalent to comparing a rotary dial telephone to a smartphone. A Great-Depression recovery plan is a recipe for modern-day disaster, and it leaves women out of the equation. Alberta can’t recover without its women.

I believe the current Alberta Government doesn’t understand what a Depression-era recovery plan is. If they did, they would not use it to justify their current strategy. We’re not taking the socialist route that was popular in the 1930s. This leads me to conclude that the UCP is either lying or clueless, and that is the scariest realization of them all.

This isn’t the only policy decision the UCP have made that affects Alberta’s women (positively and negatively). You can learn about some of their other decisions in my overview on women and the UCP.