#193: Bubbles in the Badlands – Alberta’s Nonsense Economics

Next up on the pan-Canada tour of shame is a province that the reactionary left loves to hate. Alberta, mockingly referred to as “Canada’s Texas” has little in common with the snarling nu-left jackoffs in Ottawa and Toronto. Indeed, outside of Quebec Alberta has perhaps the most reason of the caker provinces to consider itself aggrieved by senseless federal action and thus deserving of independence. Alberta is more tragic than stillborn provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba for one crucial reason: although it understands that the great eastern croupier stick isn’t to be trusted it has no meaningful prescription for its own salvation. Instead of looking to resolve its failures by considering the outsized role of extraction and speculation within itself, the reactionary core of the province calls for doubling-down on maintaining Alberta’s status as an extractive hellhole and what diversification exists is in the form of yet more speculation. Fucking Saudi Arabia has made a more sincere try of developing a post-extractive economy than Alberta has. But what really makes Alberta special is how its housing market serves as a portent for failures to come for the rest of Canada.

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(S) Here we see Steve and Martha looking at a room full of Canadian housing options.

Let’s start with the extractive present of Alberta, a province that is desperately hooked on oil and resource extraction. Nearly 20% of the province’s GDP is based on oil and mining (see page 10), with 15% more based on financial speculation and 11% built on something called “business and commercial services”, which is a bundle of bureaucratic mush that at best has a knock-on effect for the economy as a whole. Speculation, bureaucracy, and boom-bust cycles do not an economy make. And despite Alberta’s rocky history and weathering of bust after bust, as of 2015 it still hadn’t bothered to hedge its bets instead of “picking winners”. Why do that when you can diversity your economy by relying on two boom-bust cycles instead of one? Enter bubble number two: the housing market.

Speaking of Texas, that infamous left-sizzling state has actually gone ahead and looked at protecting itself from the kinds of fiscal shock caused by boom-bust cycles. Canada’s Texas is out-Texasing the real Texas in terms of half-assed planning and non-existent foresight.

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(S) The cow on this magazine cover has better plans for its future than Alberta does.

This is all so far pretty par for the course, albeit in the more tacky and egregious stylings of nu-monied morons than the traditional slapdash failure aesthetic associated with the rest of the country. But the uniquely malodorous cowpie that is Alberta has to offer us is its role as a canary in Canada’s real estate coal mine. As I mentioned, Alberta joined the rest of this fell country in overbuilding its housing market. What came after are data that should scare anyone looking to buy a home in Canada – after the one-note oil economy collapsed, housing sales in the province fell 8.8%…and prices in Alberta’s major cities haven’t fallen to reasonable levels yet. In Calgary, a city where 10% of the population is spending more than 30% of its income on housing, prices just aren’t coming down to a point where people can actually afford them. Just to add a special flavor of fuck you to the mix, Alberta has no rent control either. And those with the audacity to be poor in Alberta also get to enjoy being fucked around with and treated as subhumans.

So there’s your future, Canada. If you want to see where you’re living and how you’re pulling it off in the future, be sure to take a look at Alberta. The Icarian tale of a province that flew too close to a boom-bust cycle and decided to replace its easily-melted extractive economic wings with waxy new plumage founded in real estate speculation has a familiar end for Canadians now living in the worst of both worlds. Hooked by the long horns of low income prospects and high prices, Alberta’s bleak prospects reflect those of the country it loathes belonging to.

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#34 – Sports and Weather, Part Three: Forecasted Obsolescence

For being a country that incessantly bitches about the stuff, Canada sure fucking sucks at predicting bad weather. This comes to be a small problem when dealing with extractive industry, which frequently involves doing shit outside and which therefore typically needs a bit of a heads-up when shit is about to hit the proverbial fan. It’s a right shame then that Canada not only is home to an obsolete patchwork of equipment for forecasting but also frequently ends up shitting the bed by either failing or being late about providing information about extreme weather. And as per usual for caker country the response is to shrug at a problem for decades before decrying how hard it is to do basic shit.

A good place to start with this is a piece that I found from 2003 which references chaos, underfunding, and “literal rust out” as a sampling of problems affecting Canada’s meteorological infrastructure. An amazing example of this method of forecasting-by-fuck-it-whatever can be found at Mould Bay weather station, a long-standing and strategic asset near the Northwest Passage that was simply left to rot in 1997. Even more fun facts about that one – of the $8 million budget to decommission the place (which was nearly-new when it was abandoned) as of 2008, only $700,000 can actually be traced.

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(S) Even the fucking sign looks mouldy.

And it’s not like things got any better. This is a charming little report from 2012 which features such reassurances as “obsolete” radar stations and notes that available systems aren’t life-cycle managed. That’s a fancy way of saying that nobody’s keeping track of when that shit should be replaced and the only way we know that shit’s fucked is when shit gets fucked. Enter West Sea Otter, a vital offshore weather forecasting system that was down for seven months in 2014. When the place being forecasted on experiences hurricane-force winds you’d think fixing it might be a priority. Oh, and for those counting at home this is at least 10 years of chronic government inability to perform basic meteorological tasks.

But don’t for a second think that the fun stops there! Remember those non life-cycle managed radar systems? Yeah, those have gone down for months too! Here’s the story of the radar system out of Bethune, Saskatchewan, which kept going down during major weather events in the summer of 2015 and even prompted the MP for the area to call for an investigation. Which was probably the right call, seeing as Environment Canada fucking forgot to report on a tornado. Also in 2015 the radar station at Strathmore, Alberta went down shortly before a hailstorm came through. Not like anybody needs to know about that, right? And we can’t leave out Canada’s glorious telecommunications system, which is apparently the cause of this radar station failing to transmit information before and during a tornado touchdown in Taber, Alberta.

Even when they do modernize bad infrastructure Environment Canada manages to fuck up, as happened when the newly-retrofitted station at Exeter, Ontario still couldn’t convince the government to warn people in a timely manner about a tornado in Southern Ontario. It seems that the country can’t maintain a coherent standard for forecasting, which is in line with the 2012 report I cited above. Before anyone blames human error, Canada’s automated weather forecasting stations apparently also suck. A CBC report from 2010, citing the unfindable report titled “Degradation in Environment Canada’s Network, Quality Control and Data Storage Practices: A Call to Repair the Damage” notes that in a single month there are hundreds of cases of missing data and false reports from automated stations.

We’re supposedly getting new radar systems now, years after we were warned that the system was obsolete and years again after said system has demonstrated how shitty it is over and over again. We’ll see if Canada can do a proper fucking forecast after this, but here I’m seeing a 90% chance of scattered bullshit turning into a wave of complacent laziness in a few more years. One key piece of evidence for my forecast? There was no announcement for the new systems.