Why the UCP keeps misleading voters on the economy

Alberta’s health minister and seniors minister recently tweeted about Alberta exports. Except what they said was misleading.

Earlier this month, Jason Copping, Alberta’s health minister, tweeted out a comment about international trade.

While it may seem odd to the average person that the health minister is tweeting out economic data, it’s not out of the ordinary for the UCP. Their cabinet often tweets out stuff that has nothing to do with their individual portfolios.

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For example, here’s a recent tweet from the minister of seniors and housing.

It’s a way for them to boost rhetoric to make it seem like more people are discussing the things they want people to hear.

But let’s take a look at Copping’s tweet.

In it, he shares this graph that was originally part of an article by Siddhartha Bhattacharya, an economist with ATB Economics.

And sure enough, Alberta’s exports to outside Canada to appear to be up significantly between February and March 2022. In fact, it looks like it’d bee rising for almost the last two years. To be fair, though for the first year (March 2020 to March 2021), it was all recovery growth, with nearly every month being below pre-pandemic levels.

Also in his tweet, Copping claimed “Alberta’s exports are at their highest point on record.” and that “We’re sending more energy products, building materials, and forestry products than ever before.”

However, while the graph does seem to show this, there’s a pretty big caveat.

You see, the graph shows the value of exports, not the volume. And while increased volume could also increase aggregate value, it’s not the only thing that can lead to higher export value.

For example, in his article, Bhattacharya claimed that the value of energy exports “climbed $3.2 billion (+30%) from the previous month.” yet, he also claimed that production levels were “holding”.

In March 2022, Alberta produced 18.4 million cubic metres of oil. In October, however, we produced 18.9 million m3. Yet the value of our energy exports was $8.8 billion in October and $13.6 billion in March.

So, what gives? Were we just hoarding extracted oil so that we could increase exports by 54.5% over a 5-month period?

Well, take a look at this chart.

This is what oil prices looked like over the last 6 months for West Texas Intermediate, according to Business Insider.

At the end of October 2021, WTI sat at $83.57 a barrel. At the end of March 2022, it had jumped to $100.28, but hitting a maximum price of $123.70 in the first week of March.

Same goes for February 2022, which closed at $95.72 a barrell on the 289th.

While it’s possible that Alberta did indeed export more cubic metres of oil in March, it looks like the price of oil might have influenced the value of energy exports that month.

As well, the consumer price index went from 151.5 in October to 156.5 in March. That means that inflation for Alberta was at 3.3% during that period.

So, again, while it’s possible our export volume for oil might have increased, it seems as though higher oil prices, as well as inflation, may have had more of an effect.

Either way, the chart doesn’t prove what Copping thinks it does. And he’s misleading the public by making it seems as though it does.

Related to this, Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier, sent out this tweet earlier this week.

This is misleading. It’s a quarter of Canada’s exports based on value, not volume. And as I pointed out, that’s driven by oil prices being higher than they were in February.

This isn’t the first time this has happened though.

Last month, Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s economy minister, did something similar for February manufacturing sales, yet the graph’s curve nearly mirrored the curve of inflation for the same period, as I showed in another article I wrote on this subject.

Also last month, Schweitzer released a statement on the government website regarding the state of Alberta’s economy, but he cherrypicked the economic data to make it seem rosier than it actually was, which I contextualized with the missing data.

Pon also tweeted about March’s exports, nearly matching Copping’s tweet word for word.

And there are plenty of other tweets and statements that aren’t specific to the economy, like Sonya Savage’s comments on pipelines, oil production, the oil industry, and energy capital investment.

But why do they keep doing this? Why do they keep spreading misinformation—or at least, misleading information?

Well, it’s anyone’s guess who isn’t sitting at the cabinet table, but there’s a provincial election next year, and the UCP are desparate to win again, especially considering that for years, poll after poll, show the NDP placing above the UCP in popularity.

The UCP’s campaign slogan was “Jobs. Economy. Pipelines.”, so using positive rhetoric around the economy might convince the public that they’re keeping that campaign promise, even if the economy isn’t actually that much better than where it was 3 years ago.

Finally, after Alberta was hit the hardest, economically, during the pandemic, the UCP really want to show that we’ve recovered from that and are on our way to prosperity again, especially after two back-to-back recessions.

Except, while the latter is definitely true, that we’re recovering from the pandemic-fuelled recession, we’re not even close to being ahead of where we were before the UCP took power. At least not in any significant way.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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