Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009- The Year The Boom Died

The year 2009 is in our rear-view mirror, and most Albertans won’t be sorry to see its’ headlights disappear around History Bend. It was the Year The Boom Died II, and it was a mean, cranky, son-of-a -gun who left the lives and dreams of a lot of Albertans upside-down in life’s ditch.
Deepening its’ nasty impact is the quietly-smoldering realization that a lot of the damage was self-inflicted. We Albertans were victims of our addiction to boom-time culture.
What is boom-time culture? It’s a culture that believes that the laws of economic gravity are suspended in Alberta- that what goes up will never come down. Boom-time mean that we can change jobs more often than we change underpants. Boomtime means that if something appears to be to good to be true; just suspend disbelief and get richer.
Now, the party is over, and 2010 in Alberta promises to be the Year of the Hangover. Alberta’s small businesses- those that have survived- will struggle to find their footing. Alberta government spending is again in free-fall, creating a whiplash effect for those organizations and communities dependent on government funding.
I use the word “dependent” deliberately. Many Alberta communities- particularly in rural Alberta- have become addicted to provincial government funding. In these communities, very little happens if the provincial or federal government doesn’t fund it.
This lack of local self-financing takes two forms. The first is the reluctance of local governments to exercise their power to raise money for community investment through their power to tax. Their reluctance hobbles their communities, placing them at a disadvantage.
The second factor is the absence of local private-sector investment in these communities. Even though many have a personal wealth base dwarfing metropolitan communities on a per-capita basis, folks with bucks in smaller communities don’t often invest at home. Rather than invest in that which they understand and can observe on a daily basis, they choose to place their money in investments far away from home. They choose the bullwhiz patter of promoters promising them a 20% per annum return on something that they know sweet-diddly about.
Will Alberta communities consistently choosing not to self-invest survive the Year of the Hangover and the years of government spending cuts to follow? Will they find the political will and investment smarts to stand on their own feet, or will they expect provincial and federal taxpayers to bail them out? Should federal and provincial governments continue to prop up communities that choose not to be active, creative and engaged in determining their own destiny?
These are questions that will surface in the Year of the Hangover. How communities respond could- and should- determine their futures.
As 2009 departs, it might be fun to sing a song in its’ memory. How about a rousing rendition of, “Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone”? Before we start, however, could someone please pass the Aspirin?


  1. An excellent analysis of small town governence. I agree with you about the boom, people thought it would go on forever because Alberta was never touched by the other economic woes that hit the rest of the world in the late 90's and this past decade. What concerns me about Alberta is that so many people decided to forego their education in the pursuit of a quick buck. As we get back on our feet, I think it's really important to have a broad based training plan, and I think it's vital that we include rural residents in this.