Restoring Alberta, Canada’s Wealth

By Esir Prente

Edmonton Journal columnist, David Staples caught my attention last week with his article HERE  on the findings of Vivian Krause, founder of the Fair Question Blog.  She revealed that Americans have been funding NGOs in Canada contributing to locking up Alberta’s oil sands. Astounding!  But what if anything can be done about it?

Vivian Krause’s recent revelation is that corporations of Robber Baron status have for the past ten years been funneling funds through charitable foundations (“money laundering operations”) to control the economy of a small geographic area of Canada called “Alberta”. The vulnerable target is site of the world’s third largest oil and gas reserves, the largest yet known in the Western Hemisphere – and right in the backyard of the U.S.  Under a unified system of “law”, the 21st century Robber Barons have managed to isolate, landlock, and control Alberta, Canada’s source of mega wealth.

Should anyone be shocked?   This is happening with most of the other prominent elements of the Canadian economy: education, health, finance, natural resources, politics and more recently technology. Consider the corporations now overseeing Canada’s economy.  Is any one of them Canadian?  Canada’s economy is not under it’s control. Development of Canada’s carbon assets and associated supply chains has been financed by U.S. corporations for serving U.S. interests in return for royalties and taxes. These chains are largely under their control, secured for the most part through long-term corporate and international trading agreements that also constrain the diverting of Alberta carbon for value-added processing of: wheat, meat, fibre, timber, oil and gas. 

Canada to the world is viewed as cold – it’s defence, sparsely populated by intelligent, well-educated people who are polite, “apologetic”, naive, docile, hard working, and prosperous thanks to it’s bounty of carbon resources and receptive U.S. market.

Our politicians have little leverage to rectify the situation. And the public sector is expected to maintain a “risk free”, “make no mistakes”, “cause no commotion”, safe and secure operation in delivering Government policy.  That is not to say, they do not have ideas, but their ideas must, if they are to be acted upon, be endorsed by their political masters and trade agreements.  They have little if any leverage over the forces shaping Alberta, Canada’s future.

Canada’s party system exists to get votes, offend few and get elected. It is not a system for change – unless shocked, but rather – at best, tweaking the status quo. No shocks thank you!

Alberta has appeared unshockable. In Alberta with an economy dependent on oil and gas, diversification gets lots of government talk. But to diversity is not a quick fix and requires sustained voter support. If anything, political decisions have made the situation worse  – in the east, in the south, in the west, plus in the courts to the delight of many interests: NGOs, indigenous peoples, environmentalists, and several US and Canada integrated oil and gas companies profiting on the huge oil price differential.

Oil and gas economies are particularly problematic. Only Texas can be cited as successfully diversifying an oil and gas economy. Even though Alberta’s economy is admittedly vulnerable and in need of diversification, nothing has triggered change. As long as Alberta was prospering and even when not, little was done.  Alberta knew 50 years ago it would be an economic engine.  And it knew it came at a price on the environment – air and water quality, polluted land, wildlife impact, plus considerable economic turmoil and volatility. The Heritage Trust Fund proved untenable for mitigating the social and economic consequences. But citizens prospered, public institutions grew, and handouts became routine and expected. A new culture emerged, Alberta, Canada were blessed – entitled.

What to do? Can a strategy be formulated?

Collaborate. Is it possible to engage the oil and gas producers, the politicians and their bureaucrats, unions and professions, and special interests together for the purpose of developing a promising long term strategy?

A Sales Tax. What about introducing a sales tax? First, that is not a strategy, it is a tactic. And a sales tax does nothing to solve THE problem of diversification, it only serves to perpetuate spending and sustain the status quo.

Innovation. What about Innovation? It can help, but sustained change will require more than innovation; a realignment of VERY divergent interests is necessary and that is political! (See also – Innovation Nation).  If an alignment of interests cannot be achieved, then how long can even the status quo last?

Learn from Others. In the early 1900’s a few “Robber Barons” controlled the United States economy with monopolies over oil and gas resources, transportation, and finances.  It took an act of Congress to break up Standard Oil and others. We also learned 25 years ago that U.S. charitable foundations (“for the public good”) were being used to influence: politics, governments and to segment the population – societies within societies, thereby setting people against themselves using the monies purloined from them in the first place – in the interest of powerful and well-heeled Robber Barons. Some of the old faces are still involved but there are new faces – powerful, all-knowing corporations worth $Ts that are larger, and multi-national. Today thousands of public and private foundations and associated societies are serving corporate interests that may not align with the public’s interest. Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Lessons from China?  China’s economic “miracle” is attributed to increased involvement of the private sector with several lessons that  Alberta, Canada might consider: the release of former constraints on it’s economy, promotion of entrepreneurs and innovation, and the capacity to contain multi-national interests.  Plus the extraordinary enterprise of people who had suffered through decades of suppression.

Recognize the urgency.  The requisite sense of “urgency” and follow-on political action for diversifying Alberta’s economy has been missing. Nothing has seemed to trigger action: not low oil prices or the shrinking price differential, not government debt or deficits, or reduced corporate investment or unemployment – that is currently growing outside the public sector. Can the combination of the horrific oil price differential and the revelation that multi-nationals are locking up Alberta’s oil sands be the long awaited shock?

If not now, when?

Source: ABC Tech