Having extensively explored Edmonton, the centre of Alberta’s legislative activity, we had the privilege of concluding our trip with a few days in Calgary, the province’s economic hub. The opportunity to compare the two cities was extremely interesting. Both boom towns, both driven by oil, the economic profiles are nonetheless quite different. Edmonton’s economy is very blue collar, defined by its many processing facilities on “refinery row,” with a relatively quiet downtown. Calgary, on the other hand, is white collar, with skyscrapers housing oil company head offices towering over a vibrant, frenetic downtown.
The contrast with Ontario was also quite interesting to explore. Our political discourse for an entire year has largely been defined by job creation, austerity, deficit, and debt. In Alberta, the discussion was different. Discourse and debate revolved around prosperity, and making the most of the province’s wealth. With such prosperity, why are ER wait times so high? With so much wealth, why do our social services lag behind other provinces? With such a productive economy, why do we run a (small) deficit? These were the questions we heard, a pronounced change from the questions Ontarians are asking. Placing the issues and questions in juxtaposition gave a fascinating perspective on the fiscal realities of our federation.
After a great week in Edmonton, our Calgary meetings had a lot to live up to, and they didn’t disappoint. In our short time there, we were able to speak with several fascinating political players. William McBeath was Deputy Campaign Manager for the Wildrose Party in Alberta’s most recent election. He spoke very candidly about the issues faced both in the campaign and going forward in the current Parliament, as well as some unique strategies the party implemented along the way.
Ted Morton was able to draw both from his experience as a political science professor and as a former Minister and long-time political figure to provide a fascinating glimpse into Alberta politics and political culture, as well as personal reflections on his PC leadership and electoral campaigns.
Finally, we had the opportunity to sit down with the Pembina Institute. After spending a week hearing government perspectives on oil sands prosperity, it was refreshing to hear arguments from an environmental think tank that didn’t share the same views. Doing so, we were able to get a fuller understanding of the issue.
Our flight back to Toronto marked the end of our final trip as an intern cohort. It was certainly sad to see the end of the internship approaching so rapidly, but a comparative visit to a province as unique and exciting as Alberta was a perfect note on which to end our travels.