Divided We Fall: Why Supporting the Unemployed in Alberta Was Ok in 2016, But Not 2020

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Why was it ok for Albertans to accept government help in 2016 when large portions of our population were laid off, but it’s not acceptable in 2020 when the entire world has experienced massive job losses? This question has bothered me for months. And I think I have the answer.

The NDP, UCP, & Attitudes: Government Sets the Tone

Attitudes matter. To explain, I want to share a few videos. You only need to watch the first 30-60 seconds. The first video is Rachel Notley’s famous (or infamous) kitchen table address. She gave it as Premier when the oil industry tanked in 2016, resulting in massive job losses.

This next video is a UCP government statement four years later when thousands lost their jobs due to the economy and COVID-19.

I bring these videos up not to debate the actual content, but the language they use and the tone they set.

When you listen to the address in the 2016 video, the positive nature of the delivery focused on working together. Genuine or not, there was a feeling of compassion, strength, and unity. She could be calmly telling us that we’re all going to die, but you don’t care because we’re going to do it together.

When you listen to the UCP address Albertans, there isn’t a lot of compassion or feelings of strength. The MLA clearly defines “us” vs “them.” People should be ashamed, and it’s about time they start doing something for their money like the rest of us. And if you think this type of talk is just the MLA’s speaking abilities or word choices, it’s not. Take this video from the budget announcement, for example:

This video doesn’t have a message of unity and working together in its introduction, either. The message is, “Albertans have gone through this. Businesses are suffering this. Here’s what we have done for you.” (In marketing, we call this a pain point. This method works by identifying a problem and demonstrating how you provide the solution. “We make the pain go away.”) It very clearly separates everyday Alberta residents from businesses. Us versus them. They take money, but you make money—language matters.

Here’s a piece a journalist wrote who had driven around with Kenney at around the same time as the Notley address during his blue truck road trip, which he used to unite the right:

“It’s a full 10 minutes before he gets to Alberta, but within the next 10, he blasts the NDP’s carbon tax, Bill 6, the minimum-wage hike and school curriculum changes. He says low oil prices are one thing but accuses the government of doing nothing to stymie the province’s flood of job losses. Dubbing today’s economy “The NDP Recession,” he says the party will destroy Alberta if it secures another four-year term.”

Right or wrong, the message is still obvious. “The NDP Recession” – A clear “us” vs “them.” Words like “destroy” are intended to play off the fears of everyday Albertans. It’s very much an “If you don’t elect us, everything you know will be gone. They will kill us all.” type of message. Quite funny in a not-good way when you think back on it, but I digress.

Back to my point, how you say something is almost more important than what you’re saying.

Alberta Women & Low-Income Families Needed CERB and They Should Be Ashamed?

A majority of low-income households are women. So, when the pandemic came along, and many women lost their jobs and childcare, CERB was a saving grace. Even if these households weren’t on the brink of going bankrupt, the security and knowledge that next month’s bills were covered was the huge relief they needed. It made dealing with everything else somehow feel more manageable.

Take childcare, for example. If your kids can’t go to daycare because of the virus, and you can’t bring a stranger (babysitter) in to look after them, you need to stay home with them. Now, employers don’t take kindly to you not showing up. This was (and still is) a common excuse for not hiring women. If you start taking too much time off on short notice, they simply aren’t going to keep you. I don’t blame them. This would be problematic for any business.

And it’s worse for a single parent. It’s not like you can share the childcare burden with a spouse so you can take turns staying home. Tightening your belt while you go down to one income isn’t an option, either. If your kids are sick or stuck without care, you likely won’t be working.

CERB made it possible for moms and single parents to stay home. However, accepting this money now means that you’re lazy and entitled. You are openly shamed and looked down on. One big conservative fan told me, “You libtards stand there with your hands out, ass on the sofa, and wait to get handouts from guys like me who worked hard for a living. You guys do nothing but live off the prosperity generated from our backs.”

I want to point out that this individual has been looking for more work than he’s worked since the 2016 oil disaster. I bring it up because one of these people angry about the “handouts” even when it isn’t their money, and they’ve been collecting handouts, too.

The province’s leadership echoes these sentiments. “Because they make more on CERB, eating Cheezies and watching cartoons, I guess,” UCP MLA Shane Getson said in a town hall meeting. The sad part? The Conservative (UCP) didn’t always think this way. Let me explain.

Alberta and the Alberta Government Stood Together in 2016

In 2016, the oil and gas industry was devastated. Workers who had ridden the boom were making good money, lost their jobs. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimated we lost 44,000 of them. Stats Canada believed 33,049 were lost in Alberta. Cities across the province immediately felt the pain. Every Albertan’s face was tainted by worry.

Many people laid off were able to collect EI, but it made things tight. Talk on the coffee row was filled with stories of long-time oil and gas guys selling their homes, vehicles, and other things to make ends meet. Or, they were foreclosed on or went bankrupt waiting for their jobs to come back. Suicide rates jumped by 30%.

The industry did begin to recover, however. To ensure that, the government began giving subsidies to big oil and gas companies to the tune of an estimated $2 billion per year. Since then, investment in this industry has gone into overdrive. There’s $7.5 billion for KXL, the $30 million war room, massive loans they can’t pay back, and Alberta’s government is eager to give them even more loans, in addition to grants and tax cuts. These investments (subsidies) kept workers employed and making comfortable wages (certainly above the low-income threshold).

So, in addition to EI, the industry they had experience in received generous support from the provincial and federal governments and Albertans. Again: Albertans and Canadians were encouraged to rally around them and the industry to ensure they knew they were supported. And they were.

I think we all supported this. I feel that support was extremely important in keeping the province (and confidence in our markets) strong. My question is, Why did we not react the same way this time?

With very little investment focused on female-dominant industries, there is no guarantee these jobs will return or how much time will pass before they do. And if the government isn’t investing and supporting these workers, why would the Alberta population? And if the government is more interested in fighting the NDP than looking after the people and using social supports as a weapon to stab them with, how can we convince others to support CERB help?

To be clear: I’m not asking why Alberta supported those who lost their jobs in the oil and gas sector. I don’t want to debate who had it harder or got bigger handouts. I want to know why we can’t support other Albertans and Alberta industries in the same manner now? Why was this ok in 2016, and CERB was not in 2020? It’s the virulent attitude spit out of the mouths of Albertans and the UCP that, quite frankly, pisses me off. It is a direct strike against Alberta’s women. And that’s your answer.

Gender, money, and the attitude of leadership.

Is this the only area the UCP fail women in? See what I found out in the main article on women and the UCP.