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Alberta’s Hollow and Misguided Amazon Courtship

Brock Harrison

It’s difficult to witness Alberta’s fervent courtship of ecommerce retailing giant Amazon without experiencing at least a fleeting sense that you’re watching an episode of The Bachelor.

Alberta, playing the role of doe-eyed hopeless idealist, finds itself pitted against a field of equally smitten and ruthlessly competitive suitors to win the affections of a most eligible bachelor, promising a lifetime of economic bliss and all the perks that go along with it. There will be first dates and heart flutters and all the usual trappings of an awkward romantic pursuit before our bachelor, Amazon, hands out that final rose to The One special place.

Alberta kicked its wooing up a notch, announcing it had formed an all-star team of business and investment experts to advise Calgary and Edmonton on how best to prepare their respective bids for Amazon’s so-called HQ2 project that the company says will deliver 50,000 high-paying jobs and $5 billion in economic activity to the city in which it chooses to set up shop.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones. Well over 100 North American cities, including four others in Canada, have delivered their love letters to Seattle-based Amazon. Theirs is certainly a love worth fighting for, and you can hardly fault anybody for pursuing it.

Amazon’s stated list of desired qualities in a partner city are basic enough: Metropolitan population base over 1 million, on-site mass transit access, a highly-skilled workforce, and within 45 minutes of an international airport.

However, the fine print of Amazon’s RFP also contains six ordinarily boilerplate words that, given our current political and economic predicament, should throw a Seattle-sized bucket of cold water on Alberta’s Amazon daydream: “A stable and business-friendly environment.”

Um, yeah. About that…

In the two-plus years since the NDP were swept to power in Alberta, they’ve raised corporate taxes, capped energy production, dramatically hiked the minimum wage, hatched an economy-wide carbon tax, jacked up the locomotive fuel tax, radicalized labour law and employment standards, and are currently working their magic on Occupational Health and Safety and the Workers Compensation Board.

Oh, and they’re scrapping cheap coal-fired electricity in favour of what are sure to be heavily-subsidized renewables. Oh well, it’s not like an 8-million square foot office complex with dozens of buildings and on-site restaurants really needs affordable power, right?

Simply put, the Alberta NDP has, on virtually all possible counts, erased Alberta’s competitive edge and in the process, repelled the kind of seismic investment it is now oh-so earnestly seeking. And, absent the competitive economic conditions the company wants, Alberta will almost certainly be tempted to crack open provincial coffers in search of subsidies and direct incentives to win the business.

If the quest to capture Amazon’s heart devolves into an abject bidding war – which indications are it already might be – Alberta should think twice about throwing untold millions of public dollars at an American tech juggernaut, only to reinforce its global dominance. If not, and Amazon simply settles on where it thinks it’s easiest to make a buck, Alberta might be left heartbroken. It’s really too bad. There was a time when Amazon would have loved us for who we were.