Blessing turning into a curse

This holiday season was marked by grim news occupying the print media headlines and top news on TV screens

This holiday season was marked by grim news occupying the print media headlines and top news on TV screens informing the audience of killings, stabbings, gun fights etc.

The abduction of a Ponoka resident just before the Christmas break looked like a curtain raiser for all the bad news we have been receiving since then.

It may not be very pleasant to know but, as the residents of this oil-rich province, we might want to be prepared for an extended wave of crime and violence in the weeks and months to come in a textbook case of how a blessing is transformed into a curse by the change of circumstances.

What I have in mind is again, what else, the decline in the oil prices.

As we entered the new year, the price of oil kept falling and many wise experts say the low prices are here to stay. We have yet to hear officially any operation being suspended or shut down in the oil sands region, but the impact is already being felt with the news of at least partial layoffs in the Athabasca area.

And that is where the biggest problem for our public safety is likely to emerge from.

When one looks at the profile of the workforce manning the oil patch, it is easy to see many young people, many from outside the province, some of them being new immigrants, most of them single and without family responsibilities, some either high school or college dropouts, a majority of them without any additional skills that could make them employable in other sectors. And most of these young people, thanks to the relatively high wages paid by the oil companies, have developed expensive tastes and, one could assume, wasteful spending habits in the years they spent working for the oil companies.

Once they are laid off, it is safe to expect, at least some of them will be easy targets for recruitment by criminal gangs while others may jump on the opportunity voluntarily to be able to continue to put their hands on some big bucks so they can keep indulging in their spending habits.

And there you have the makings of a new crime wave involving everything from drugs to human trafficking, theft to killings.

We have already been receiving information of increased number of car thefts and robberies in the Red Deer area; while we have no definitive evidence to prove that the rise is directly linked to the increasing unemployment among the ranks of oil patch workforce, it would not be totally unreasonable to establish a link between the two trends.

And one should not forget that the oil production in this province is also supporting many other sectors from construction to transport to services. Once oil businesses go down, a lot of others will follow suit, thereby adding many more people to the ranks of those without a paycheck, potential recruits for or victims of crime.

It is safe to bet that none of our provincial (or federal) politicians has ever thought of the potential harm that could come from any reversal of fortunes when they so enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon of quick and easy money promised by oil.

Our newly installed premier has already proven his recruitment skills by luring nine Wildrose MLAs to his own caucus. Shouldn’t we expect him to pull out a rabbit or two from his hat to find a solution to the unemployment problem by creating some recruitment miracles?