Sunday, August 05, 2012
Time For Sober, Second Thought on Canada's Future
Several decades ago we cut out the middleman and settled down to an existence where "because I can" leads directly to "so I shall." What has fallen into desuetude was what once existed between the two, contemplation.
It was the sticky, moral middle ground that had to go. Within it lurked messy problems like posterity, meaning and purpose.
Take the Tar Sands for example. Their development has followed the very linear path of because I can/so I shall. Discussion of whether we should leave the stuff in the ground to await new technologies or to meet the needs of future generations are snuffed out like a discarded cigarette. Posterity? Hardly. Alberta and Ottawa are treating the resource as though it belongs to them, today and future generations of Albertans and Canadians be buggered.
Norway, which now sits atop one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, spent a good deal of highly productive time before passing from "can" to "shall." That led them to understand and accept that the country's non-renewable petroleum reserves belonged to the country, both now and into the distant future. Hence their oil wealth would not be taken into the treasury and doled out to the citizenry but instead would be kept separate, invested and preserved for future generations.
Norwegians, it seems, didn't get the message that, without those oil dollars, their country would be a backward, impoverished place with a second-rate economy. Canadians, by contrast, are continually fed that very story because it bolsters the "can/shall" dynamic. On the world stage, we can't cut it without those bitumen royalties - or so the story goes - so shut up and keep digging.
Canada, we rank 35th in population, 88th by population density (of countries with more than 9-million people), a very respectable second place in overall territory, and, by an enormous margin, number one in total coastline. And yet, with all these advantages and our country's vast resources and highly educated population, we'd be second rate without bitumen? Really? Shouldn't we perhaps have a little contemplative discussion about that? I know, maybe we should ask the Norwegians what they think of our bitumen boom and bust mentality.