02.09.2016 01:00 AM

In his week’s Hill Times: son, not the father

Growing up in Calgary, as I did, there were certain things you just didn’t do. If you didn’t you were just asking for trouble.

You didn’t, for instance, ever offer or accept two dollar bills (because those were bad luck, and sometimes even called “whore notes”). You didn’t ever try and raise a rat as a pet (because rats were illegal in Alberta). And you didn’t ever say, out loud, you were a Liberal (even if you were one, like I was).

Circa 1979-1980, being a Liberal in Alberta was worse than being a rat, actually. The reason for this was Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy program, or the NEP. 

The NEP was part of the Liberal Party’s first budget, after it won back power from poor old Joe Clark. On paper, it didn’t seem too bad. The NEP professed to be about three main things. One, it was preoccupied with security of the oil supply, and independence from the vagaries of the world oil market. Fine. No problem.

Two, it wanted to boost Canadian ownership and participation in the oil and gas business. In those days, when every single oil company CEO was an American, that one wasn’t so bad, either. 
And, three, the NEP wanted to do something about “fairness,” said Finance Minister Allan J. MacEachen in the House of Commons, “with a pricing and revenue-sharing regime which recognizes the needs of rights of all Canadians.”

Hmmm. That last one was a big problem, turns out. In response, oil companies stopped investing in Canada, and they started closing up shop, too. In Alberta, the bankruptcy rate went up by about 150 per cent from the year before. The real estate market crashed, and food banks started to open up in places like Edmonton and Red Deer.

In my Calgary high school, kids I had hung out with would be there one day, and gone the next. Where’d they go, I asked my friends. “Their parents lost their jobs and they had to sell their house and move away,” I was told. Heard that a lot. 

That was what happened to Albertans, pretty much: misery, ruin, disaster. For Liberals, the NEP eventually led to misery, ruin and disaster, too. By the time the 1984 election took place, the NEP helped to wipe out the Liberal Party of Canada in the West, reducing it to a rump. Thirty-five years would go by before any Liberal would be elected to the House of Commons out of Calgary.

Ironically enough, it would be Pierre Trudeau’s son, Justin, who would lead that Liberal renaissance in Calgary and other parts of Alberta. He did so, in large measure, by avoiding his father’s mistakes. 

 Over and over, he said the NEP had been the wrong thing to do. Over and over, he said Alberta’s energy industry was an important part of Canada’s economy. Over and over, he’d travelled to Calgary – like he did right after declaring his candidacy for the Liberal Party leadership in 2012 – to pledge allegiance.

Well, 35 years after the NEP, and – per the muse, Yogi Berra – it’s déjà vu, all over again.

Alberta is in big economic trouble, just as it was in 1980. Oil prices are down. Investments are way down. Bankruptcies are way up. Joblessness, up.

Justin Trudeau’s political enemies, consequently, giddily see opportunity. In yesterday walks tomorrow, to them. There’s another tin-eared Trudeau in the Prime Minister’s chair, and he doesn’t give the aforementioned rat’s ass about Alberta. We in the West propped up the economy of Central Canada for years, they say. Now, when we need help, all we get is rhetoric and re-announcements of infrastructure monies.

There is great, great peril in all of this for Justin Trudeau. There’s a trap. But this Alberta Liberal, for one, doesn’t believe he will fall into it.

Justin Trudeau may represent a Quebec riding, but he spent much of his pre-politics years in the West. He seems to understand the West in a way that his father never, ever did. And, in particular, he knows that NEP-style politics will only assist the Conservative Party, which is now busily banging away at the drum of Western alienation, looking for an audience.

In 2016, unlike in 1980, rats are making an occasional appearance in Alberta. Two dollar bills are cherished as collector items, because two dollar bills aren’t being made anymore. And saying you are a Liberal from Alberta – well, that isn’t such a big deal anymore. My hunch is that Justin Trudeau aims to keep it that way. 

Like the Akram Vignan’s Dada Baghwan once said: you are only worthy as a son when you remove all your father’s troubles.



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    Curt says:

    My wife says the problem with JT is he talks out of both sides of his mouth. She says boys that do that are not to be trusted.

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    Ron Waller says:

    Ron has been whacked. I don’t need that kind of crap here. WK

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      The Doctor says:

      Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Liberal id, courtesy of Ron Waller.

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        Ron Waller says:

        Smarmy partisan drivel. You think only Liberals think little of the NDP? Why is it the party has accomplished nothing in its 80 year history? Because Canadians don’t think much of the party and its bush-league politicians.

        I am no fan of the Mulroney Liberals. All they care about is getting power and their revolving-door payday for tearing down the Just Society their betters created during the post-war era. Unfortunately, the only thing the NDP aspires to be is the Liberal party. And they do a terrible job of it on the off chance they weasel a fake majority most voters are against them having.

        BTW, anyone with any brains knows the NEP nonsense Albertans rant endlessly about is BS. But then again, partisans who waste their lives putting their brains in a cognitive dissonance shredder can’t tell the difference between BS and reality. All they care about is manipulating people with rhetoric to get political power. Dippers, in vain.

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    Peter says:

    Like the Akram Vignan’s Dada Baghwan once said…

    Namedropper! 🙂

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      Warren says:

      Guilty as charged

      Just loved the quote

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    Al in Cranbrook says:

    Apparently Justin didn’t convince very many Albertans…



    And clearly Albertans have just about enough of the left…


    In any event, no pipelines are going to be built going in any direction. The new review process pretty much guarantees this.

    Well, except for the Keystone. My guess is, a Republican president will approve this pipeline within about a week of taking office…but maybe quicker.

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      Al in Cranbrook says:

      I should add…

      What is really politically perilous about all of this?

      A growing recognition in Alberta that, within the space of barely 100 days, things have returned to same old, same old.

      Even if there were another Preston Manning in the offing – which there isn’t – to calm things down…

      It is highly probable that this time damn few would listen.

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        nobonus4nonis says:

        your theories have more holes in them than sonny at the tollbooth.

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          Al in Cranbrook says:

          You need to take up another hobby besides ankle biting. You know what I’m sayin’?

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    smelter rat says:

    Too bad the government of the day didn’t kick the oil companies out when they had the chance. The oil wasn’t going anywhere. Eventually Alberta and Canada would have got a better deal. We just weren’t as smart as the Norwegians.

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    Mark says:

    I’m just trying to wrap my head around the $2 thing. We’re close to the same age, Warren, but everyone in my Montreal of the early-1980’s was looking for a $2 bill, etc. One of the differences between the cities we grew up in. Agree with you about Justin understanding the west, BTW.

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      davie says:

      I think the different attitudes in the 2 cities back then had to do with different trick prices. Back then there were no federal price controls for that industry, so no equalization of cost of services.

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    Diana says:

    I agree with the TRUTH that was stated about ol’ TURDeau however the rest is just jaded drivel. TURDeau Jr. isn’t his father. EXCUSE ME!!! He’s just like his father only worse because he lacks any/all intelligence where exactly does he keep his brain is the burning question!! He’s just like his father only worse because he lacks the ability to know how to speak in public, (he’s become as annoying as fingers scraping along a chalk board) He’s just like his father only worse because he hasn’t a clue how to be a leader. Everything that comes out of his mouth is either an outright LIE, (typical LIEberal way to govern) a LIE by omission or a ½ truth. Rats ARE making an appearance in Alberta. Their back as thick as the thieves they’ve ALWAYS been. Interesting how history ALWAYS repeats itself and we ALWAYS fail to see it coming!!!

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      Warren says:

      Hey Diana, try and be intelligent and civil, or you’re gone.

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        Diana says:

        What’s wrong Warren was the TRUTH I spoke in contradiction to the LIES you believe. How was what I stated NOT civil??

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          smelter rat says:

          Has anyone seen Diana and Sheila Gunn Reid in the same room at the same time?

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            Diana says:

            I can assure you I’m NOT Sheila Gunn Reid. But then if you had a brain/intelligence you’d realize THAT!

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      nobonus4nonis says:

      Sarah… hey Sarah … is that you? ah hmmmm you’re in the wrong country again. now come along and oh this will only hurt a little bit. a little pin prick. there there now. don’t you feel much better. might be a good time to shut your piehole or that nice Mr Kinsella will revoke your passport but there’s always Myspace.

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    patrick says:

    Justin will get by that Alberta can’t blame him for oil like using the NEP. Further on the wealth, the “entrupanurialism” that is in the Alberta birth way how cum there ain’t no alternation in the prospectablity of something other than what’s already there in the birth right. God damn Trudeau is just what is done expressing that truth. Ain’t no blaming the perfection that is in the Alberta way of spirit. Go Trump.

    Sarah Palin

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      nobonus4nonis says:

      sorry Patrick. I stepped on your lead solo. well said sir. It’s hard writin like Sarah isn’t it.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    It depends how effective Navdeep Singh Bains is over at Western Economic Diversification Canada.

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    davie says:

    My take on the 1980’s in the oil patch in Northeast BC and Alberta:

    Nat Energy Programme came out
    Reagan admin opened a lot of parks in Western States to oil drilling – lots of rigs moved down there
    World oil prices dipped considerably

    Industry and its Alberta PC government put out that bad times were all the fault of NEP. this has been repeated often by industry and its bought and paid for politicians and media…successfully effective repetition.
    Aim was to blame the Libs and Ottawa for it all (and let the industry do what it wanted)

    Today, dip in oil prices , oil glut, changes to renewables and a cap on carbon emissions…and plan is to blame bad times on Ottawa and Libs not building them more pipelines.

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      Mike says:

      I’m still trying to figure out what good pipelines will be when oil is $10/barrel as some are predicting.

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        SG says:

        Is energy independence for Canada not a worthy goal? Even if oil is $10 (inconceivable as that would be below even Saudi Arabia’s cost of production), it is still a needed commodity. Did you know that landlocked Alberta has to offer its oil at a discount to US buyers? It loses out on each and every transaction.

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      Kelly says:


      Early 80’s: Oil crashes in price due to over production. NEP. Alberta’s economy crashes. Ottawa blamed.

      Now: Oil crashes in price due to over production. No NEP. Alberta’s economy crashes. Ottawa blamed.

      Let’s all sing…”One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn’t the same…”

      If you can’t see it, you need to go watch the last 40 years of Sesame Street re-runs. This is pre-schooler stuff.

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    SG says:

    Warren, I think you know that there’s one way for Trudeau to prove he is different from his father on this score: take up the cause of Canadian energy independence and vigourously champion then Energy East pipeline. Not just vaguely pro-pipeline insinuations here and there. He should make the issue his own and present the case to the intransigent Ontario/Quebec Liberals. This shouldn’t be Alberta’s fight alone.

    I may consider voting Liberal next time if he makes real progress on that file. I’m not an Albertan nor am I employed in the energy industry, but this issue seems such a no-brainer to me. In hindsight, Harper should have ditched Keystone (it was going nowhere with a hostile anti-Canada President down there) and focused on Energy East.

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    Jack D says:

    Here’s why 2016 is nothing like the 70’s/80’s in political terms:

    1) Justin Trudeau is more western than the great Pierre Trudeau could have ever been. This is a new generation and Justin Trudeau has successfully developed a pan-Canadian understanding in a way that no other PM has ever done before. Trudeau has spent years crafting a balanced and thoughtful approach to provinces west of Ontario, laying the perfect ground work for what is happening now. It resulting in rendering the CPC’s criticisms utterly moot and reducing them into a whining stump of troglodytes.

    2) Rachel Notley – Her and the PM both share a similar, more amicable approach to provincial and federal relations. Having inherited a economic/fiscal mess in Alberta, and instead of pointlessly butting heads with Ottawa, her objective is to attain some sort of relief for her province. The PM just so happens to be on the same page, with real intentions of providing federal funding. Again, this kneecaps the Conservatives because the struggles of yore just aren’t there anymore.

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    Crescent Heights Guy says:

    Some people find it convenient to blame all of Alberta’s economic woes in the 1980’s on Trudeau and the NEP. In reality Alberta was hit by four horsemen of economic apocalypse of which the NEP was the smallest.

    The other three were: (1) Interest rates (set in the United States) at 12 or 15 or even 18 percent for some mortgages. Can you imagine what would happen today if people had to renew their mortgages at those levels? (Side note, interest rates were courtesy of Ronald Reagan’s war on stag-flation – which he won, but we were collateral damage. Thanks Ronny.)

    (2) 12$ a barrel oil. It collapsed from the post Yom Kippur War floor of 24$. All the wells drilled in Alberta in the 70’s based on 20$ oil had to be shut-in anyway, NEP or no NEP.

    (3) A horrible, horrible housing bubble. All of the homeowners in my parent’s new neighborhood of Rundle lost big. It took down every Credit Union in Calgary. The NEP didn’t cause that.

    For some people anger is a necessary energy. Some people need to nurse a grudge. Some people need an excuse to stay angry. Heck, I’m still bitter about what the Catholics did to my Huguenots ancestors 400 years ago. Next time I meet the Pope I’m going to give him an earful. It wont fix anything, but it’ll feel good.

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      Michael Bluth says:

      The NEP was one of a number of issues that contributed to the collapse of the early 80s.

      It was as symbolic as anything else. In a time when the market was cratering and rigs were moving wherever the owners could get the best deal, the NEP was another straw that hurt the Alberta oil industry. Oil companies saw a big closed for business sign on the Canadian oil patch.

      This collapse took place shortly after Keith Davey was famously quoted as “Screw the West, We’ll take the Rest” during the 1980 campaign. Trudeau didn’t make any changes to the NEP after the collapse in oil prices. It was during this period Trudeau gave all Western Canadians the finger through the window of a Via rail train.

      Nothing symbolized more the utter disdain for a region in the Canadian federation than those three actions. 1. All Western Canadians were told screw you (by a senior staffer) 2. Give us more of your money 3. Then Western Canadians were again told screw you (by the PM).

      Any wonder why Mulroney won the biggest majority in Canadian history in the first election after the NEP was introduced?

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    lance mclean says:

    Thing is, Albertan’s know that having new pipelines won’t bring the price back up to pre 2015 prices, but they do know that pipelines will help them gain back the $10-$15 discount to WTI that western Canadian oil sells at due to the inability to transport it to market. They just want some help on that from the Feds, and why not. Why not transport our own oil around Canada rather than buying higher priced mid east/African/South American oil. Lets keep those dollars in Canada, so they can be used for the betterment of Canada.

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      Kelly says:

      The difference in price between WTI and Brent is only $3. The problem is that those prices are both about $30 give or take a couple of bucks. Canada needs oil to be at least $60 a barrel. We may never see those prices again. Pipelines won’t help at all. Even if the pipeline were built the oil would be priced at world prices and we wouldn’t save any money anyway. This conflict is all manufactured Con spin. Don’t fall for it. Cons didn’t plan for this day. They were incompetent managers and were duly dismissed.

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        lance mclean says:

        western canadian oil sells at a 10-15$ discount to wti, that is what pipelines will help with. Then when oil does increase, and it will, Canadian Oil can be sold at a better price. And as a friend of mine from New Brunswick said, “what difference does it make if the tankers sitting off of New Brunswick shores are full of our oil as opposed to Others oil, it is still oil in a tanker. So we may as well be the beneficiary of that”. The money currently spent on foreign oil could then be spent on our oil. It would stay in our country and re-invested in our country not offshore to benefit someone else. We have to remember that alot of Canadians through our RRSPs and pension investments hold a great amount of shares in these oil companies and benefit when they actually make money. This isn’t an us against the big bad oil company scenario , as many of us own, in one way or another, part of and benefit from these big bad oil companies. People let their hate of a politicians and political party’s cloud what makes sense, we as Canadians may as well benefit from our resources until a time comes when we can move away from them to a cleaner technology. Hopefully we can benefit from that as well.

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          Kelly says:

          I don’t disagree with you, exactly. I’m just skeptical at this point that the price of oil is coming back up to where Canada needs it to be. Saudi Arabia is actively trying to bankrupt North American heavy oil and shale oil producers. There is a lot of junk financing in that sector (the shale oil side in particular) and when it blows it will be a long time before money pours back in.

          Of course hoping for oil to go back up to $60 plus dollars a barrel doesn’t even address the reality that we will have to cut production in order to meet our international green house gas reduction targets. The point that environmentalists are making is that the bitumen has to stay in the ground permanently. The last thing we should be doing is building infrastructure that will facilitate an increase in production. The whole point is we want to decrease production and shift the economy to alternatives. I’m actually pretty negative on the Canadian economy looking out the next 20 years. It will take that long to re-tool.

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            lance mclean says:

            Agreed eventually we will need to move to another energy source. But until a secure source is available, one that does not require a redundant system to back it up, hydrocarbons will still be required. Last year alone oil use increased more than anticipated world wide, due to the low prices and it is estimated to continue to grow til at least 2030. This situation that the OPEC countries are creating has effectively eliminated new oil sand projects from being started for many many years. But the fact still remains that we in Canada produce more oil than we can use in the west (hence the discount to move it) but import similar or more in the east. Since we are already producing the oil, lets use it in Canada, cut off the imports. People screamed that we should not sell Saudi Arabia military vehicles but yet seem quite fine with buying their oil and giving them billions of dollars for that oil. If it is bad to sell them these vehicles then it sould be just as bad to finance those type of purchases through buying their oil? Irving refinery alone will give upwards of a billion dollars to Saudi Arabia for oil this year, thats 2.5 million a day. Other refineries in Quebec and Ontario also import. Just my 2 cents, I think we should benefit from our own natural resources. By the way our oil industry, Canada wide, contributes < 0.1% to the world CO2 emmissions, we can stop producing oil today, and it will not make one bit of difference. Should we not do anything, of course not, but we really need to be practical and make decisions based on reality. Implement the best practices and management of the industry that we can and allow all Canadians to benefit from it.

            This is direct from NRCAN.

            Pipeline Safety
            Between 2008 and 2014, 99.999% of the crude oil and petroleum product transported on federally-regulated pipelines was done so safely.

            GHG Emissions
            The Oil Sands sector represents 8.5% of Canada’s total GHG emissions and 0.1% of global emissions. GHG emissions per barrel of oil produced from the oil sands decreased by 30% between 1990 and 2013.

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    monkey says:

    He also benefits from demographics. Alberta has the youngest median age of any province (Atlantic Canada is the oldest where unlike Alberta his father was well liked) so it’s probably fair to say a large chunk of the electorate wasn’t born or too young to remember when the NEP happened. If you look at the results vs. 2011, the biggest shifts were in the two cities which have a younger demographic while the smallest shifts in rural ridings which are more heavily tilted towards older voters who do remember his father. I suspect the heavy regionalized voting patterns we saw in the 80s and 90s are becoming less prevalent and rather its more urban cores being progressive in all parts of Canada, suburbs back the winner thus swing ridings, and rural (at least west of the Ottawa River) going Conservative always.

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    cynical says:

    Interesting comments and analysis, except for the person with the sticky caps key.
    Warren, are you working this site as a honeypot for crazed basement-dwellers now? (he typed, from his basement)

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    John Lawson says:

    I don’t think JT will fall into the same trap as his father. I will add to the point Warren made about the Liberals being reduced to a rump in the West in 1984. They were actually a rump in the west when they won the 1980 majority. They only had two seats in the west ( both in Manitoba ) and no seats west of Manitoba even though they won a majority. It is problematic for a governing party to be shut out of a region to this degree and then subsequently introduce difficult legislation with no party seats on the ground. PMJT has balanced representation across the west. Ministers like Kent Hehr are doing a good job in Calgary at representing the party position on energy.

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    Cory says:

    I think JT’s comments about Albertan’s during that Quebec talkshow interview (Canada is doing poorly because an Albertan is PM) has predisposed westerners to be distrusting of him.

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    R News says:

    Yeah, but Saudi oil is so much better than Alberta oil:

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    Andrew Hall says:

    Look at the context of the global economy, the end of a 12-year commodity supercycle and the collapse of world oil prices, that has created a fair degree of misery and turned life in Alberta upside down. The new Liberal government can’t be blamed but they do need to step up and help Alberta when it desperately needs help. That means massive spending on infrastructure and BIG deficits. It will be a challenge for a new Government to either challenge the orthodoxy of balanced budgets or try to pretend its doing something different.

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