This is not only going to be a rant about the Beef Crisis – in part, because everybody else is writing about the Beef Crisis, and also because I promised you a couple of rants ago that I was going to write about what Alberta is going to do for a living after oil and gas.
But the monumental mishandling of the E. coli contamination at XL Foods’ giant Lakeside meatpacking factory in Brooks serves as a useful parable about our need for a Plan B.
There are two things we do for a living in this province for which Alberta is known around the world: oil, and beef. Until very recently, Alberta was known around the world for being very good at both.
But our reputation now? Well, turn on the radio or TV, open up a newspaper, go to the blogosphere. Alberta’s reputation is mud.
The “tar sands” have become Public Enemy Number One.
And our magnificent beef, the best in the world (which it is, when it’s slaughtered and dressed and packed with care)? Recalled, from Hong Kong to Halifax. Recalled in all ten provinces, in 40 US states, and in Hong Kong – so far the only place of the 20 offshore markets to which XL Foods exports beef to issue a recall notice. But with the list of recalled products expanding daily, you know it’s only a matter of time before Alberta beef’s reputation is damaged in other countries.
Let me repeat. The two things for which we have been known worldwide for doing really well are fossil fuel production, and beef production….and our reputation for both is now in tatters.
Why is that?
It’s because Alberta’s become a victim of its own success.
Yes, we the people have to take some of the blame for taking our eye off the ball. But it’s human nature. It has to do with living in a province where we’ve had it so good for so long. This is by no means a universal Albertan experience – ask the fifteen percent of Calgarians who live below the poverty line. But as a province, when the rest of the world fell off a cliff in 2008, Alberta experienced a brief slowdown. They said at the time that there was such an inventory of unsold inner city condominiums that there wouldn’t be another condo tower built downtown for ten years. Construction started up again in ten months. With 4.4 percent unemployment, Alberta’s problem isn’t a shortage of jobs; it’s a shortage of workers. While the rest of the world struggles to regain its footing, we just sail along, not quite booming but doing very well, thank you and feeling rather good about it. It’s been smooth sailing, with only the odd patch of choppy water, for well over a decade now. In Calgary, where the Olympics started the turnaround, times have been pretty good at worst and un-frickin’-believable at best for a generation.
We’ve not only gotten comfortable; we’re used to feeling comfortable. When one is comfortable, the status quo seems just fine until that day when one discovers that that status quo not only wasn’t quite so fine – it changed while one was otherwise occupied.
While we were otherwise occupied, Alberta utterly lost the public relations war on the oil sands. Alberta is now well on its way to turning the Beef Crisis into another public relations war lost. In both cases, the wars were well underway before Alberta even showed up for battle.
What do we do now?
We’d better develop our own Plan B, because it’s clear neither the Harper Government federally nor the Redford Government provincially has one.
We’ll pick it up from this point in my next rant.