rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Let's get off the boom-bust roller coaster

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

rabble is expanding our Parliamentary Bureau and we need your help! Support us on Patreon today!

Keep Karl on Parl

"Please Lord, give me another oil boom, and I promise not to p… it away!" said a popular Alberta bumper sticker in the 1980s.

Another boom and bust have since come and gone, and Alberta's Heritage Fund has less savings in constant dollars than it did 30 years ago. Alberta's economy is no more diversified and is now precariously dependent on a carbon energy resource -- sands oil --that the rest of the world has turned against. 

More than 35,000 oil patch jobs have been lost in Alberta since last November, when international oil prices tanked. Job losses continue, especially for construction workers. Late last month, Shell pulled out of a sands in situ project, citing a lack of pipelines to get crude to global markets.

When will Ottawa and the provinces realize that their obsession with exporting carbon energy is reaching a dead end? Former prime minister Stephen Harper had bizarre energy superpower pretensions, portraying the tar sands as "an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the pyramids or China's Great Wall. Only bigger."

Justin Trudeau will likely dial down the hyberbole, but signs point to his government's continued interest in exporting carbon energy. We need to get energy resources to export markets, he has declared. He's been non-commital on exporting bitumen via the Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick, but visited Washington to steadfastly support the now-dead Keystone XL pipeline. He supports the ban on crude oil tankers on B.C.'s North Coast. That rules out Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline, but leaves the door open to Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to Burnaby, east of Vancouver.

Supporting tar sands-exporting pipelines is a mistake. Trudeau will find that Canada cannot shake its international environmental rogue image if his government leaves the greatest source of greenhouse gases untouched.

It's the production of oil and natural gas, not in their use in transportation in Canada (cars and trucks), that is this country's biggest source of greenhouse gases. And Alberta's sands are both Canada's fastest-growing source of the gases and the main roadblock to meeting the nation's 2008 and 2011 pledges to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent from our 1990 level by 2050.

Our country's emissions will plummet when Canada phases out carbon energy exports and Alberta's tarl sands.

Canada will have to do this for economic reasons, too. With the U.S. market no longer a sure thing, Big Oil has pinned its hopes on getting pipelines to a coast, any coast, to export oil to China. But China is slowing and turning from a manufacturing economy to one that's more service-oriented. Its demand for Canadian carbon energy exports is lessening.

To get to a low-carbon future, Canada needs to turn to self-sufficiency -- end Quebeckers' and Atlantic Canadians' risky reliance on imported oil, and supply them with domestic, conventional, non-fracked oil.

Once it stops exporting oil, Newfoundland can supply all Atlantic Canadians with conventional oil. There's no need for the Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick.

Canada has just enough conventional, non-fracked oil to supply all Canadians, but not to continue oil exports. Besides, opposition to pushing pipelines over aboriginal and provincial lands is fierce. As Trudeau has said, it's not just up to governments to grant permits -- we have to get communities to grant permission.

Rather than pray for pipeline approvals and another boom, now's the time to get off the boom-and-bust roller coaster. 

The key to transitioning to the low-carbon future is to recognize that a unit of carbon energy saved creates more jobs than a unit of carbon energy dug up, burned and emitted.

Laid-off construction workers in Alberta's tar sands can be better employed building high-speed trains between Calgary and Edmonton and along the Windsor-Toronto-Montreal-Quebec city corridor, or retrofitting buildings across Canada, or constructing new light-rail transit and renewable-energy projects.

The Liberals in Ottawa and Rachel Notley's NDP government in Alberta are promising to spend billions on infrastructure. This should be the start of a larger plan to quickly convert Canada to a low-carbon, socially just society. Laid-off construction workers from the tar sands will likely be happy to work on projects closer to home.

Big Oil is curbing investments in Alberta's sands, and Conservative governments in Ottawa and Edmonton are gone. Now is the time to dream big again.

Gordon Laxer is the founding director of Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta and the author of After the Sands.


Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.