A Clean-Energy Hatchet Job

Re: Quebec Ink: As Hydro-Québec expands into cleantech, entrepreneurs cry foul
https://thelogic.co/news/quebec-ink/quebec-ink-as-hydro-quebec-expands-into-cleantech-entrepreneurs-cry-foul/

This is a hatchet job, with no pretense of being objective. It reads as a screed from the far right, depending on the argument that government-owned companies shouldn’t be in a market competing against private enterprise. This common argument is used repeatedly in other sectors to undermine essential services, and in this case, it’s being used to undermine Quebec’s substantial investment in clean energy.One one point of view is presented in this article.

Now while I’m no fan of balance for the sake of balance, it does appear that there is a very legitimate second perspective here that the author hasn’t even tried to represent. I representative from Hydro Quebec would probably point out that the people of Quebec are entitled to the best return on their investment, an investment all the more notable because it came at a time when almost all private investment was pouring (still!) into hydrocarbons.

And this is exactly why we need public investment in the energy sector. Entrenched private sector interests lobbied hard, and continue to lobby, against clean energy. They show little interest in doing the research and investment necessary, preferring to rely on profits from oil and gas, no matter how harmful they are to the environment. To the extent that they do invest, they do so in order to undermine competition from clean energy.

This is why I won’t be renewing my subscription to the logic. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this publication is practicing advocacy journalism, pushing a pro-business perspective while ignoring interests and issues that represent the broader concerns of the community.The Logic

On Justice and Open Debate

I support free and open debate. I support what the authors of A Letter call “good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.” What I don’t support are threats, harassment and abuse. And I oppose people who use their power and privilege to oppress the less powerful and less privileged.

I don’t think it’s too fine a distinction. Arguments are not hard to spot; they are based on reasons, ideally on evidence, and they support some point of view. The other sort of discourse looks nothing like this. It is – at best – dogma supported by more dogma. More often, it’s just a stream of verbal attacks. It is a pernicious form of dialogie, and it ought quite rightly to be censured.

Let’s just for the moment take the following as a given:

“Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts.”

Let’s think about what this means. Voices that have been silenced, often violently, in the past have now finally reached the point where they are being heard, and where some of the reforms they are proposing are actually being enacted. These arguments are based on concrete evidence, not the least of which was video of a man being murdered in broad daylight by the police.

But there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?

“But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”

I think we can agree that it has awakened a new set of moral attitudes, among them including things like “‘driving while black’ is not a crime”, “it is wrong to simply look away from sexual abuse and rape”, and “advocating for white supremacy is not acceptable”. From my perspective these are long past due, but in some circles of society, they have taken a lot longer to take root.

But these new norms, and others like them, do nothing to weaken our norms of open debate. There are and always have been many many things you simply cannot advocate and expect to keep your job or your publishing contract. Try selling some child pornography and see how your career fares, for example. Advocate for the use of hard drugs, and see what the reaction is. Support and campaign for communism. Call for the defenestration of the wealthy. Deny the Holocaust. You get the idea – nobody does or would support any of these things, and we would not be surprised if people did not vigorously respond, if not throw you in jail outright. And for good reason.

In recent years there has been enough evidence to convince people that this list should be extended, if for no other reason than that the right has been acting as though no such rules apply. From the Bush doctrine that (among other things) legitimized pre-emptive war and sanctioned torture, to the Trump doctrine of sanctioned racism, extrajudicial violence, recognition of Nazis as “good people” and a “grab her by the pussy” ethic, it has become clear that a fundamentally immoral set of values has taken hold in our elite.

I think the case against invasion, torture, racism, fascism, sexism, and LGBT rights opposition has advanced far beyond “ideological conformity”, because I think there are no longer (if there ever were) any good faith arguments to be made in favour of those positions. What the events of the last few years have shown is that support for them is based in nothing more than blunt assertion of power and privilege, and not reason and argument at all. And that opposition to them is an equally blunt – and morally just – rejection of them.

Jessica Valenti offers a nice recap of the behaviours that are being defended by the authors of the Letter. The professor who was investigated was a white teacher at UCLA who used the n-word repeatedly in class. The editor who lost his job ran a piece advocating the use of military force against peaceful protesters. An author published bigoted ideas and debunked myths about trans women. Another editor published an essay by Jian Ghomeshi, who has been accused by more than 20 women of sexual assault.

None of these constitutes a good faith argument. They are all, respectively, attacks on their targets of hate. They are incitements to violence, to social reprisals against the victims of these attacks, simply because the victims pushed back. As Valenti writes, “The only speech these powerful people seem to care about is their own: They want to be able to say whatever they want without consequence, and to paint themselves as the victims even as they wield more institutional and systemic power than anyone criticizing them.”

The push-back is not against dialogue or discussion, but instead against a wall of hard-right propaganda that seeks to undermine the fundamental principles of democracy. There’s no reason why we should accept that in a democratic society; being offensive isn’t the same as offering an argument in favour of it. It’s not that the proponents are arguing in favour of fascism, they are fascist, and expecting us to recognize that as acceptable. They are racist, they are misogynist, they are intolerant. And when we run up against them in the office or on the street, we won’t turn away, but we will confront them, and refuse them the power and the privilege they desire.

And let’s be clear, also, that none of the so-called ‘reprisals’ against those referenced by the authors of a Letter come close to actual illiberalism. Look at what the responses are – an editor loses his job, a writer doesn’t get a book published, a journalist is told not to write about something, professors are investigated, a researcher is fired, heads of organizations are ousted. These pale in comparison to actual illiberalism practiced by their ilk as recently as, well, this week.

The writers of the Letter cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that they should have carte-blanche to write and behave in any way they please, without regard to the people they harm, while at the same time saying that the people being harmed should not write and behave in ways that defend themselves against that harm. If they really think illiberalism is the danger, then perhaps they should look in the mirror. They are the danger.

Web

The Logic

I think there should be some way to respond to stories in the Logic.

Today’s drone story is a case in point. Why is it even being covered? As one person quoted states, “These cybersecurity concerns are being artificially created by the U.S. government.” Why is the stance taken by the author that we are not complying with U.S. policy?

It actually feels to me – given the Canadian government’s currently active RFP for additional drones – like an attempt to influence the government’s selection process, with the threat of creating a ‘made in China’ issue behind it.

I wouldn’t normally leap to such a paranoid conclusion, but the Logic’s journalism in general has exhibited a significant bias toward a specific industry perspective. This disappoints me, as I had been hopeful that the substantial subscription fee might be a guarantor of a more objective stance.

But that’s why there should be a way to respond to stories. The Logic’s authors need to be held to account, and right now there is no obvious way – other than this relatively obscure and unused Slack channel – to do that.

drone_080418gn_lead

The Covid Response

In these early days of the Covid pandemic in Canada my estimation is that our government has been doing the right things, taken the right tone, and made the right response. It has been a stellar example of good government.

I am relieved that we have competent even-handed people running the key instruments of public policy.

As the pandemic has progressed from a few cases in China to breakouts in Korea, Italy and Iran to widespread community contagion in the U.S., day after day sees evidence of a carefully considered emergency plan being rolled out in this country.

It has not just been a medical response. It has been a multilevel response.

When two presumptive cases hit our building, some of the earliest in the city, we had already taken the steps that we needed to ensure we could work online. Not just me – I’ve always been ready. But everybody.

When it began to look like people would be forced to stay home, immediate measures were taken to make sure they could collect unemployment insurance without delay. Finance minister Bill Morneau has been announcing progressive emergency financial aid packages.

A wave of panic buying on Friday barely dented our supply chains, as as people realized that the shelves weren’t going bare things quickly returned to normal. If you’re running your economy right at the limit of sustainability, that doesn’t happen, but we don’t do it that way in Canada.

Our Prime Minister is in isolation as his wife has the virus. He walks out, calmly delivers a press conference, still clearly on top of things, still clearly able to manage his responsibilities.

Our deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland has excelled, working with the provinces and various departments making sure everybody has the information they need and that everybody is working in the same direction.

Now this could change. The conservative opposition could prevail when the economic downturn really hits, convincing the government to cut back expenditures and remove the supports for workers both inside and outside of government. It could change as foreign-owned companies like Tim Horton’s apply foreign employment practices – no sick leave, no sick pay – on Canadian workers.

But for now, it has been the right response at the right time.

covid

 

 

 

The Shareholder Primacy Rule

Like most others, I was dismayed by the loss of Ukrainian International Airways Flight 752 from Tehran, which was shot down by accident following an exchange of missile fire between the U.S. and Iran.

And so it is not with even the remotest of surprise that I read the comments of Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain condemning the attack and criticizing Donald Trump for his rash and ill-thought actions that precipitated the crisis.

However, according to this news report, “According to the business principle of shareholder primacy, there is an argument that Sunday’s Twitter attack on U.S. President Donald Trump by the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, Michael McCain, was dead wrong.”

The article explains, “the question from the business point of view is whether, as the boss of a company owned by shareholders, he should have spoken out at all. The question was especially relevant as the share price fell on Monday, closing down about one per cent on the day.”

This is how censorship works in capitalism. The restriction doesn’t just impact the CEO, but ripples through the entire company, as the sole motivating force of the company must be to increase shareholder value. Thus sayeth Milton Friedman.

This principle has been a thorn in the side of our society since its inception. It prevents companies from acting ethically, it prevents them from contributing to the social welfare, it prevents them from considering the environment.

Moreover, it commits corporations to a mythical ontology of cause and effect, one where the stock market (for all its irrationality) determines what is true and false, good and bad, and one where there is at the same time a completely mythical chain of causality drawn between a CEO’s statements and a one cent fall in stock price.

It also commits the company to a short term perspective, one measured in hours and days, rather than weeks and years, much less the long term life of both the corporation and the community it lives in. Far be it for someone to point out that McCain’s remarks were directed toward preserving society as a whole – there was a one cent price drop today!

Now I have no particular desire to actually listen to CEOs, as they tend to be among the most conservative of thinkers (though probably by necessity). But I object strenuously to the existence of a structural mechanism that eliminates even the possibility that they might contribute to the social good in a positive way.

maple leaf

 

 

The Mailing List

I’ve just unsubscribed from the NDP mailing list.

Explaining why, I said that it had become an unending stream of requests for money, with no engagement or consultation, while meanwhile the party can be hijacked at a convention.

This needs to be fixed. There needs to be a way to enable to have the party represent its membership. It’s almost 2020; there are ways to do this. And they would be a lot more effective and democratic than an in-person convention.

What would make this work?

There are various ways to design online forums, and we could try some different models, with the caveat that participants must be registered party members. That does not (necessarily) mean that every comment must be signed, but it does mean that we can conduct our conversations without the input of botnets and trolls from outside.

Within such a structure, we should be searching for the consensus that unites us. I think sometimes that political parties lose sight of what matters in the pursuit for power. That does not (necessarily) mean a statement of principles or any such thing – too much is lost in the search for exact wording.

We should also be seeking consensus on the issues of the day. Surely we can do better than a ‘pipeline versus no-pipeline’ debate. It was a significant failure that we could not have found common ground on an issue like this, one that recognizes the legitimate needs and aspirations of the people of Alberta, while also recognizing the need for safety, indigenous rights, and the environment.

The failure – in my mind – wasn’t simply the lack of a vision here, it was that we didn’t even try. There was no national dialogue on this, no attempt to draw upon the collective intelligence of the party as a whole. Rather, it was simply a retreat into media statements and political posturing.

We can do better. The party needs to use its online media to get members to talk to each other, to engage, to come up with ideas, and more solutions forward, rather than simply ask people for money.

The convention system of party governance should be abolished, the delegate system ended, and mechanisms put into place for the membership to reach agreement, point by point, on a comprehensive platform and strategy.

The majority of people in Canada are progressive-left. Yet we are constantly governed by parties from the right, because they have addressed the issues of engagement and identification with an idea in a way that we have not. The only way to change this is to bring people in, and make them part of the solution.

ndpb

The Arc Reactor

There has been a great deal of fuss in the right-wing press recently about a breakthrough deal announced by the premiers of New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Ontario – Tories all – “to fight climate change by working together on small nuclear reactors.”

“The Ontario government said Premier Doug Ford will meet with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs for an announcement at a hotel near Pearson International Airport on Sunday afternoon,” said the CTV press report. The exact same report (plus a few paragraphs) was carried by Global. Nobody else carried the announcement.

Both articles took pains to note that “All three of the premiers are opponents of the federally mandated carbon tax.” The CTV article ended on that note.

This plan has been in the works for years. It has nothing to do with carbon pricing, and nothing to do with this announcement the three Tory premiers.

GEH (a General Electric and Hitachi joint venture) licensed technology to Advanced Reactor Concepts LLC (a Delaware-based company with murky financing) and the two announced back in 2017 that they were going to set up shop in Canada, pending a regulatory review of the ARC-100 by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission through its Vendor Design Review process (which it passed in October).

In 2018 New Brunswick announced an agreement to deploy at NB Power’s Point Lepreau. And a deal with LA-based AECOM, an infrastructure company, was announced last March. Insofar as the three premiers are ‘investing’ (if they are actually investing anything at all) they are investing in American nuclear reactor technology is direct competition with Canadian vendors. The CEO on the Arc Canada team came out of the Bruce generating plant. GEC sold its business assets to BWXT Canada, which was also involved in work on the Bruce generating plant.

The Telegraph-Journal, an Irving spokespaper, says that nuclear is New Brunswick’s Next Billion Dollar Industry. Irving loyalist David W. Campbell, now of New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation, is involved. And there are Irving fingerprints all over this. This worries me more than the fact that it’s nuclear. Irving has a terrible safety record (c.f. Lac Megantic) and dumped the Canadian reactor’s turbine to the bottom of Saint John harbour. It also has a record of voiding taxes and systematically depressing the New Brunswick’s economy even while running billion dollar industries.

As for the ARC reactor itself, its main feature isn’t that it’s small and modular, but rather, that it uses sodium as a coolant rather than water. This is what makes it essentially meltdown-proof. The small size is only important because it means that parts can be shipped using regular transportation networks. It’s main competitor is Moltex, a crowdfunded Canadian-British-based company that uses molten salt instead of sodium. It also recently announced a demonstration project in New Brunswick. Obviously, though, it’s the Americans that have the support of the Conservative premiers.

This is all stuff that CTV News should have reported, but didn’t. Readers are invited to speculate as to why.

Sources

https://www.genewsroom.com/press-releases/ge-hitachi-nuclear-energy-and-arc-nuclear-announce-steps-further-collaboration

https://www.aecom.com/ca/press-releases/arc-nuclear-canada-inc-and-aecom-will-collaborate-on-new-brunswick-small-modular-reactor-project/

https://www.arcnuclear.com/company https://www.arcnuclear.com/norman-j-d-sawyer

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180709005830/en/ARC-Nuclear-Announces-Agreement-Work-New-Brunswick

https://www.arcnuclear.com/arc-100-reactor

https://www.arcnuclear.com/arcnews/nuclear-energy-insider-proven-technology-helped-arc-nuclear-canada-pass-initial-stage-of-cnscs-vendor-design-review

https://business.financialpost.com/pmn/press-releases-pmn/business-wire-news-releases-pmn/arc-nuclear-canada-inc-meets-a-major-milestone-cnsc-phase-1-design-review-completed

https://www.therecord.com/news-story/8565034-bwxt-canada-in-cambridge-awarded-642-million-contract-from-bruce-power/

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/lepreau-nuclear-energy-climate-change-spent-fuel-1.5063225

http://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Moltex-Energy-raises-USD7-5-million-through-crowdf

p.s. There’s probably more to this story that I don’t know. This is basically what I found out in a couple hours research while waiting for a flight at Pearson.

tory shills

Don Cherry

Let me frank right off the bat and allow that I am an unabashed Don Cherry fan. He, more than anyone, understands what hockey means to people in Canada. Let me capture that for just a moment.

Hockey is a game of total commitment. As the saying goes, you leave it all out there on the ice. You go in, play your 45 seconds as hard as you can, then let someone else take over. You play hurt. You sacrifice yourself for the team. It’s a hard, difficult, sometimes violent sport that sometimes rewards you with the silverware and where everyone’s career ends the same way.

It’s Bobby Baun scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal on a broken leg. It’s a concussed Maurice Richard facing down goalie Jim Henry – himself playing with a broken nose – to score the series winner. It’s Bobby Orr flying through the air to score a Cup-winner in overtime. It’s Paul Henderson and Phil Esposito getting up off the mat to face down the Soviets in 1972.

I love baseball – always have, always will – but it’s hockey that’s in my blood, hockey that defines my ethos as a Canadian, and hockey that defines for me what it means to play the game. You play hard, you play hurt, and you leave it all on the ice. I hope that that’s what they’ll say about me when I’m done, and I know that that’s what they’ll say about Canada.

That’s what Don Cherry understands, and what has made him over 37 years in the game one of the most powerful voices not only for hockey but for Canada as a whole.

Don Cherry was also conservative to the core. At 85 years old, coming of age up in the 1950s, he could hardly be anything else. The 50s were a gritty decade, but also a beautiful decade, an era rife with suspicion and mistrust, but effused with the heady fruits of victory in a hard-fought world war and ongoing conflicts to hold the communists in check.

As society changed, and as hockey changed, through the 70s and 80s and even now into the late 2010s, it was pretty easy to see this image of Canada and the victories won by our parents beginning to fade. Cherry, the hockey commentator, could see it in the stone-cold emotionlessness of the Soviets, the smooth-skating but non-contact mode of the Swedes, the tic-tac-toe tactics of the Czechs. None of this was real hockey, and to the extent that this was influencing the game, it was diluting hockey, and with it, diluting what it means to be Canadian.

That’s why he railed against the use of face-masks. It’s not that he wanted hockey players to lose an eye, but that he felt it encouraged cheap shots and attacks with sticks, rather than the direct confrontation you would see in the old days. That’s why he promoted fighting and rock-em sock-em hockey. He felt you should face the opposition directly instead of doing something behind his back. In Don Cherry’s world – and, for that matter, in mine – you respect your opponent, you respect the game, and you respect the outcome.

Now despite Don Cherry’s best intentions, hockey has changed, and it has mostly changed for the better. After all, it’s no longer acceptable to celebrate a sport that requires its participants to beat each other senseless, nor should it be. I remember after the lockout one year the NHL came back with a renewed emphasis on speed and skill and respect for the players and for the game and it was (for a time) a lot better, showing it could be done, and I guess, eventually would be done.

The same, maybe, could be said of Canada. We’re evolving into a faster and more skillful version of ourselves, which means that some of the grit from previous eras is lost. For many of us, getting along in the world is no longer a matter of staring down our opponents with steely-eyed determination, but instead, of finding ways of living with them.

This is also true internally. It brings to mind some of the Don Cherry tropes of the past – opposition to the RCMP wearing turbans, opposition to women in the dressing rooms, dismissal of women generally,  attacks on left-wing pinkos, criticism of David Suzuki, and of course, criticism of Russian hockey players. He railed against the metric system, offered to bring back the last for domestic abusers, criticized Canada’s decision to stay out of Iraq. He complained about “some French guy” carrying the national flag at the Olympics, attacked Bloc Quebecois members removing Canadian flags, criticized multiculturalism and even railed against ballet.

But none of that is who we are. I’m not sure it was ever who we are, not even in the 1950s. It’s a vision of Canada that has become smaller and smaller over time, even as we as a nation have embraced the wider world to become faster, more skillful, and indeed, stronger. I love Don Cherry, I love how he understands what hockey means to us, but I could never love a the small narrow-minded vision of Canada he has come to embrace over the years.

And, at a certain point, his sort of rhetoric becomes dangerous. Look at what’s happening in the United States, where the faltering privilege of the white and powerful is leading to a backlash that threatens American democracy itself. Look at the United Kingdom, a nation that is tearing itself apart over the question of whether outsiders can be allowed to challenge their status quo of a society based on elitism and privilege. We have to be smarter than that.

Don Cherry’s comment usually appear with ellipses in the news media, but let’s quote his remarks in full:

You know, I was talking to a veteran, I said “I’m not going to run the poppy thing any more, because what’s the sense, I live in Mississauga, nobody wears… very few people wear a poppy, downtown Toronto, forget it, downtown Toronto, nobody wears the poppy, and I’m not going to…” and he says, “Wait a minute. How about running it for the people that buy them?” Now you go to the small cities, and you know, those… you know, the rows on rows…  you people love, you know, they come here, whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys pay for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys pay the biggest price.

In explaining his remarks, Cherry says he meant “everyone” by “you people”, and that he didn’t think the remarks were that bad. But they were that bad, as not only his history, but the full version of the quote makes clear.

Cherry is clearly talking about immigrants – people who “come here” and enjoy “our way of life”. But more, he specifically references Mississauga and downtown Toronto, two regions known for large populations of visible minorities. Maybe he just meant immigrants in general, but the clear statement here is one that references people not like us.

But it’s Don Cherry, and by “not like us” he probably includes Europeans and pinkos and environmentalists and feminists and the French and all the rest of them. Which means he is not a racist Properly So-Called (so Bobby Orr is probably right), because he has grounds in addition to race for his attacks. But that was never the question. The question is whether this view of Canada – narrow, exclusionary, elitist, belligerent, militaristic – is one deserves a platform any more.

And – of course – it does not. It’s not about whether Don Cheery is a bad person, or about whether he deserves to be fired, or about freedom of speech. No, it’s about whether we, as a nation, are willing to continue to allow ourselves to be defined in such terms. And – peripherally – it’s about whether we are willing to allow hockey to be defined in such terms. And we’re not. Because they’re not what’s best about us. They’re not what’s best about hockey. They’re what’s worst.

You see, Don Cherry really did capture the best of us, which is why we love him so. You play hard, you play hurt, and you leave it all on the ice. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve thought about that, and thought about a Doug Gilmour playing through enough pain to make a grown man cry, and pulled up my socks, and carried on. Because this does define what it means to be Canadian. We’re not afraid of hard work, we’re not afraid of sacrifice, and we’re willing to commit everything.

But, like the game, we’re so much more than that. Everybody‘s on the team, including the newcomers. People contribute in different ways, drawing on their different strengths. We don’t need enforcers any more. We’re smart, we’re fast, we’re skillful. We can play with the best in the world, because we’ve drawn from the best in the world. We not only face adversity, we learn from adversity.

So while Don Cherry has our thanks and our love, it’s time to move on. There’s a whole new hockey game out there, it’s beautiful, and it’s time to let it in.

Zdeno Chara
Boston’s Zdeno Chara suffered a broken jaw in Game 4 of the Finals, then played Thursday in Game 5 of the series.Photo: Michael Dwyer / Associated Press. https://www.sfchronicle.com/sports/article/In-NHL-broken-jaw-doesn-t-necessarily-mean-13961412.php

Alberta’s Fair Deal

I lived in Alberta for a long time – more than 20 years. I worked in the oil patch, doing seismic processing. I went to university there. I split my time between Edmonton, Calgary and the north. Alberta was very good to me.

So I want the best for Alberta. The people were open to me as a newcomer, embracing my contributions to their growing economy and thriving western culture, and I in turn worked hard to make the communities in which I lived better places.

I cut my teeth in Alberta. It was here I learned computer science, learning as I worked for a division of Texas Instruments, taking night courses at SAIT, developing my skills and building applications. I also became an ink-stained wretch in Alberta, honing my skills as a journalist working with the Gauntlet for six years.

There’s more, but you get the idea. And I preface this post this way because I want to warn Alberta against making the sort of mistake it has made in the past.

I lived in Alberta in the 1980s, and for Albertans, that date means the (Pierre) Trudeau government and the hated National Energy Policy (NEP). Spurred by successive provincial governments, Albertans saw the NEP as a raw deal, and never forgave the Liberals for trying to implement it. And, of course, when the Conservatives were elected in 1984, that was the end of the policy.

Now this is important: what the NEP attempted to do was to establish a Canadian market for Alberta oil, building a coast-to-cost network, and stabilizing the price to protect Canadians – especially eastern Canadians – from another oil price shock as was seen in the 1970s.

Albertans – rightly – saw the NEP as an attempt to define Alberta oil as a national resource and as an attempt to help all of Canada benefit from the bounty found underneath Prairie soils. What they didn’t see was what it would do when the other shoe dropped. Which it did. Which it always does.

The NEP was not only a price ceiling. It was also a price floor. It would protect Alberta if the bottom ever fell out of oil prices. But this was a hypothetical benefit. Since the 1970s, oil prices had only ever gone up. And in any case, there was the Heritage Trust Fund to protect Albertans from the impact of variable prices.

So Mulroney was elected in 1984, the NEP was killed, and you know what happened next.

oil prices
Source: https://www.macrotrends.net/1369/crude-oil-price-history-chart

The bottom fell out of oil prices. A steady slide became a plunge, eventually reaching levels not seen since the 1950s. Alberta, instead of being able to rely on a steady Canadian market, fell victim to world prices. The economy plunged into recession.

Ralph Klein, Calgary’s popular mayor, governed through the worst of it, navigating the province through the severe cuts needed to survive. He also preserved what came to be known as the ‘Alberta advantage’ – a zero percent sales tax, low income tax, and generous corporate concessions, all in the name of preserving Alberta’s economy.

The effect was to gut the Heritage Trust Fund. Instead of being invested, and taking advantage of a world economy that boomed while oil prices plunged, it was spent keeping Alberta afloat during the hard times. Contrast what became of the Heritage trust fund in comparison with how Alaska and Norway managed their funds:

HERTIAGE-CHART-1007x768
Source: https://albertaviews.ca/heritage-trust-fund/

So, in essence, Alberta not only discarded income security at the exact moment it would have been most useful, it used its savings to take up the slack, squandering what could have been by now a 169-billion trust fund.

So why is all of this important?

Alberta’s new premier, Jason Kenney, is about to make the same mistake. He wants to jettison the security that comes with being a part of Canada’s social safety net, and throw the province under the fiscal bus.

He wants to renegotiate Canada’s equalization payments plan, wherein the rich provinces subsidize poorer provinces. He wants Alberta to collect its own taxes, to manage its own Alberta pension plan, and to ensure municipalities and school boards do not enter directly into agreements with Ottawa. Source.

He can do this, of course. It’s similar to what Quebec has done for decades. And Quebec – partially as a result – has been a net beneficiary from national equalization programs over the years. But the question here is whether he should do it.

What Kenney should be doing right now is asking “what if oil prices don’t go up?” What if the bottom falls out of the world oil prices as a combination of alternative sources and a global demand for zero-carbon energy courses takes hold? What if the bottom falls out of Alberta’s economy and there’s no floor?

The reaction from Alberta politicians suggests that the rest of Canada should be grateful to have it as a member of confederation and ready to bend over backward to support Alberta’s needs. After all, Alberta contributed $611-billion to Confederation between 1961 and 2017. Source.

But paying money is not by itself enough to generate a feeling of gratitude. For one thing, Ontario – the province where I grew up and where I live now – paid $723 billion in the same period of time – and even more between the years 1905-1961, when Alberta was a basket case. And Ontario made these contributions without the benefit of pool of oil sitting just under the surface.

And Ontarians (like Quebeckers, and the rest of the country) pay their fair share of taxes. Conservative news coverage depicts equalization payments as some sort of hypothetical ‘cost’ to individual Alberta families, but take no account of the free ride Albertans have granted themselves as a result of the oil boom, and take no account of the benefits Albertans could have accrued had the province not thrown away the opportunities offered by Canada in the past.

If Jason Kenney decides to cut the province out of the benefits of the Canadian tax system, pension system, health and education benefits, and presumably other benefits as well, it will be difficult to find a sympathetic ear when the province really needs Canadian support to make the Alberta-first approach work.

British Columbia, when being asked to support an expanded pipeline to salt water, cannot be faulted when it recalls that Ralph Klein’s solution to provincial poverty was to provide poor people with one-way bus tickets to Vancouver. Source. Provincial governments have been happy to export Alberta’s problems and to lay the blame at Ottawa’s feet, but in fact, most of their misfortune has been the result of their own short-sightedness.

Even so, the rest of Canada will still lend a sympathetic ear. That’s why Justin Trudeau spent $3 billion of our money to buy a pipeline project for Alberta, even though he probably knew it would not gain him a single vote in the west. And it’s why the rest of Canada continues to support economic basket cases in eastern Canada, not because they are particularly well-managed, not because we think that they will One Day become successful, but because they are part of us, and that’s what Canadians do.

Before they cut too many economic ties, I would recommend that the people of Alberta look at the benefits of being Canadian. It goes beyond what we have – and world – provide by way of support, and equalization payments, and a stable and prosperous home market. We have shared both the risks and benefits of prosperity, and even though it is an approach Albertan voters have mostly eschewed through the years, it has nonetheless served them well.

Jason Kenney
Image: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/pension-plan-aimco-kenney-alberta-calgary-canada-1.5353186

Failing the Values Test

This article in the Gazette offers examples of five questions from the new Quebec values test. I confess that if I answered them honestly, I would fail. Let me illustrate.

1. In Quebec, women and men have the same rights and this is inscribed in law. True. False.

The same rights as whom? Each other? Other men and women?

In fact, the people with the most rights are rich old white men. There is plenty of evidence that the justice system is tilted to favour them. I have seen numerous examples of this with my own eyes, both in Quebec and elsewhere.

The people with the fewest rights are young indigenous women. Especially if they’re missing or murdered. Perhaps the mechanisms of the law will be moved to help them. Maybe. Unless a rich old white man is indifferent to their plight. Which is most of the time.

Maybe if the question had asked whether they have the same rights as each other in theory. Though even then, it’s hard to make the case.

2. Choose the illustration or illustrations that indicate who is allowed to marry in Quebec. The illustrations depict: two men; two women and one man; two women; a man and a woman; two men and one woman.

The putatively correct answers are those with fewer than three people. It is not explained why the cut-off is two. This is especially ironic coming right after the question suggesting that everyone has the same rights.

A more challenging question here would be to ask whether old men can marry children (whether one, two, or many). Or whether people can act as though they’re married even though they’re not. Things like that.

I’d probably get this one right because it asks a factual question about what the law states, not a theoretical question about how it’s applied.

3. Identify which situations involved discrimination. A job refused: to a pregnant woman; to a person lacking the required diploma; to a person because of their ethnic background.

They are of course all situations that involve discrimination.

The intent of course is to ask which of these involves discrimination prohibited by law. But of course there’s the law as written, and the law as applied, and these are two different things.

For example: the Montreal Canadiens refuse to employ a pregnent women as a power forward on the second line. Is this because she is a woman, because she is pregnant, or because she didn’t make the team? Bonus points if you can answer in the case where the player is Hayley Wickenheiser.

Discrimination takes place in fact, and is often sanctioned in law, even if it is the sort of discrimination that is prohibited in theory.

4. Since March 27, 2019 by virtue of the secularism of state law, all new police officers may not wear religious symbols. True. False.

So, this is false.

Christians may wear their small crosses under their uniforms. Jedi can wear their Star Wars underwear.

The only religious symbols actually prohibited by the law are the visible religious symbols worn by some minorities that make Christians uncomfortable – turbans, kirpans, yarmulke, Odin-horns.

5. What is the official language of Quebec? French; Spanish; English; French and English.

Canada is officially bilingual, and Quebec is a part of Canada, so the answer is ‘French and English’.

That’s why when you’re in an airplane in Montreal, as I was just a couple of days ago, all the announcements are in English and French. Also Arabic, which is what was spoken by 90% of the people in the plane.

French is the official language of the government of Quebec, but that (of course) is not the same things as Quebec.

———-

That’s the problem with a values test.

I get that the government wants to get the message across to new immigrants that women are equal, gay marriage is permitted, job discrimination is prohibited, there is a secular government, and there is a common (linguistic) culture.

But the way to establish this is not to put the values in a test, unless the questions in the test are very carefully worded. The test provided here requires the respondent to answer with known falsehoods in four of the five questions.

It’s also unreasonable to require that new immigrants share a set of values and attributes a large number of people already living in the country do not possess.

We should promote our values, not by forcing them on people, but by living them, and proving by our own example how tolerance and respect for others creates a better society.

Demonstrators hold signs as they protest against Quebec's  proposed Charter of Values in Montreal
Image: https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/why-a-canadian-values-test-for-immigrants-wont-fly-in-canada/