Alberta’s Strange Sinking Sensation, Why can’t Canada’s wealthiest province break even? Blame the paradox of plenty

Alberta’s Strange Sinking Sensation, Why can’t Canada’s wealthiest province break even? Blame the paradox of plenty by Andrew Nikiforuk, February 21, 2013,
But the invitation to converse is disingenuous. Petro states, which are studies in the abuse of power, engineer monologues for their citizens, not dialogues. …

Truth in short supply
Now here’s what Redford forgot to tell her dear petroleum stakeholders, er, citizens. First and foremost, Alberta has an integrity problem.

Oil between the ears
Last but not least, petromania makes governments grossly incompetent. Easy wealth seems to discourage hard thinking, the same way scarcity stimulates innovation. Alberta’s idea of governance consists either of throwing money at a problem or making the problem bigger so more petro dollars can drown in ever larger pools of stupidity. To solve a crisis in health care spending Alberta created a Soviet-like superboard which, of course, delivered less accountability and more bad service. To deal with the province’s growing carbon liabilities the province proposes an even larger insanity: it recommends that taxpayers fork over $50 billion over several decades to subsidize carbon capture and storage schemes — that will waste energy and money in equal proportions and solve nothing. The government has so botched electricity transmission with a sweetheart deal involving corruption-plagued SNC Lavalin that is has created a multi-billion scandal more significant than the so-called bitumen bubble. And on it goes.

Oil has dumbed Alberta down. The bitumen republic now gives away its resources. It doesn’t save any money. It neglects ground water protection. It has no responsible tax regime. And its calcified one party state represents hydrocarbons instead of citizens because that’s what petro states do. In the end petro states are as incapable of reforming themselves as the Canadian senate. So take note citizens of British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland: you’ve got a problem. In a petro state politicians and business leaders become so tied to the perverse incentives of mining oil, says Terry Lynn Karl, that they “develop networks of complicity based on the classic exchange between the right to rule and the right to make money.” Such thinking, says Karl, “links economic and political outcomes in a manner akin to former socialist countries — a reality that seems to elude most observers.” No matter. Redford, who might someday hold the Exxon Mobil Chair in Political Studies, has encountered “a bitumen bubble,” and like every other petro leader she doesn’t know how solve a problem of her own government’s making.


How do you know when you live in petro state? Here are some key signs:

When Alberta Health says it can’t comment on the public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing because Alberta Energy is responsible for “sustainable energy development.”

When the government approves 100 bitumen projects over a ten-year period without a cumulative impact assessment.

When government officials ban the use of the word “tar sands” the same way the U.S. military forbade the use of the word “insurgency” in Iraq.

When your government fires the Chief Elections Officer, Lorne Gibson, in 2009 for doing his job and reporting on widespread electoral fraud.

When your former premier, Ed Stelmach, advises the Ukrainian government on how to sell shale gas development to a skeptical public concerned about groundwater contamination.

When most university research chairs acquire boutique petroleum brands such as the Enbridge Research Chair in Psychosocial Oncology; the Cenovus Chair in Canadian Plains Mitigation and Reclamation, the TransCanada Chair in Regulatory Law and the Talisman Chair for Sustainability and the Environment.

When prominent scientists such as David Schindler are vilified and slandered for reporting on documented water contamination from tar sands development in top science journals.

When your government estimates that cleaning up toxic waste in the tar sands will cost more than $20 billion but asks industry to set aside only $1 billion.

When politicians describe bitumen, a badly degraded tar enmeshed in sand, as “the jewel of hydrocarbons.”

When the province’s oil and gas regulator argues in Queen’s Court that it owes “no duty of care” to Albertan landowners or the province’s groundwater.

When a bunch of Calgary lawyers decide that the best market for their self-branded “ethical oil” are Chinese national oil firms directed by the world’s leading moral philosophers, the Communist Party of China.

When other Canadians arrive in your province not to make a living but to make a killing.
[Emphasis added]

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