Let’s face it, 2016 was not a good year for a lot of reasons and it’s not because a lot of famous musicians and celebrities died.
This past year was a hard slap in the face to many. Now that hard whack has got your attention, brace yourselves for an interesting 2017 in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In Alberta, a lot of people struggled financially as the markets sagged, unemployment was high (nine per cent in November in Alberta, the highest since 1994, including the loss of 46,000 jobs in the petroleum in the last two years), and there was talk of higher costs.
These costs are due to a number of different factors including a higher minimum wage which restaurant owners say they cannot sustain and will pass the costs to the customer through higher meal prices. There’s also the fact the dreaded carbon tax will start Jan. 1. Now while Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau have defended each other with the implementation of the carbon tax , the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it will cost Alberta families an average of $600 extra per household with rebates from the government ranging from $300-$420, depending on household income. The talk is $20 per tonne in 2017 and $30 per tonne in 2018. What this means in 2017 is that there is a carbon levy to consumers on fuels which release carbon, so for example, gasoline is charged an extra 4.5 cents per litre, diesel is charged an extra 5.3 cents per litre, propane an extra three cents and natural gas is over a dollar per gigajoule.
To those who can afford it, it is a pain in the behind, but not really an issue. Where it becomes an issue is for those who are struggling to make ends meet each month. Notley has made comments in the media that people will just start having to take the bus more, walk or buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle, which of course is great comfort to those who live far away from their low-paying jobs and can’t afford to buy a new vehicle in the first place.
That’s just personal use. Consumers, and those in the agriculture-based industries, will undoubtedly have to pay extra for a lot of items which need to be delivered, including goods and services.
While Trudeau and Notley defend the carbon tax and other policies, Albertans have to adjust. There were a lot of people caught off guard by the downturn and weren’t necessarily prepared to change the status quo including their spending habits. While for some it isn’t their fault they are or soon will be short-handed as they have never had high-paying jobs, the lure of a consumer-driven society and materialistic gains and of course Christmas will also cause an extra shock to the system in January 2017 for many.
Then there will be the high credit card bills already adding to their debts. The average debt load according to Equifax Canada earlier this year was $28,000 per household — not including mortgages. Spending will have to be curtailed.
Throw in the bovine tuberculosis situation in Alberta where there is still some uncertainty regarding the cattle industry. There seemed to be some encouraging information regarding the containment of the disease Dec. 21 as the Alberta government and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said no new cases had been found.
However, the bovine TB situation isn’t over yet and with testing not starting up again until after the holidays, there is the possibility it could flare up again. Hopefully this isn’t the case as the petroleum industry’s world prices are beginning to recover and a hit to agriculture at the same time, will mean not a lot of driving around the province.
In Saskatchewan, Brad Wall faces the same issues with petroleum. He is opposed to the carbon tax so will have to figure out a plan as the federal government insists on implementing legislation in 2018 no matter what. Wall has said repeatedly there will be no carbon tax implemented by him. Then what?
Unemployment is at 36,700 (latest numbers from November) and there was no health funding agreement with the federal government during mid-December meetings with all of the provinces.
Saskatchewan is mired in debt and it has to get paid off somehow. Tax increases or program cuts. Yuck. 2016 difficult? Sure, but going into 2017, people in Alberta and Saskatchewan — residents and politicians alike — will have to find a way to make things work and become even more efficient than they have ever been.
It won’t be easy.