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The Ampersand March 2019 – Rhetoric, meet Reality

March 4, 2019

My very first meal at the boarding school I was shipped to in September 1985 was memorable. I was seated with a mix of grade 10, 11 and 12 students, none of whom I knew, at a picnic style table at the head of which sat a prefect in the mold of Percy Weasley from Harry Potter. Shortly after we sat down to eat, I grumbled loudly about the food. I think my nuanced critique went something like “wow, this food sucks.”


The next thing I recall was my ear ringing from the SMACK I received from Percy and the accompanying sermon, that went something like: “Look, we all know the food sucks. But we have to eat it three times a day, seven days a week for the next 10 months. There is no point in telling everyone the food sucks. That’s not helpful. It’s not going to change anything. I don’t ever want to hear you complain about the food again. Just be grateful you’ve got a hot cooked meal. Understood?” 


I protested, gamely. Perhaps foolishly. “Is it not possible to have both a hot cooked meal and a meal that’s decent? Or is that too much to ask?”  SMACK.


Fast forward nearly 34 years to Calgary, in 2019, where the food sucks.  And people are grumbling.  Walking the streets of downtown Calgary these days is a daily Rorschach test where a casual conversation leads to one person testing their perception of what they are seeing against another’s perception of what they are seeing and each walking away pondering whose version they prefer.


Is 2019 worse than 2015?  Is the meatloaf worse than the creamed corn?  Does it really matter?  Is the benchmark one terrible year against another terrible year or one terrible year against what’s possible when we’re at our best?  Though we appreciate living in a free and democratic country, the proverbial warm cooked meal in this story, I submit that when surrounded by such amazing ingredients and world-class chefs and virtually limitless resources, it’s actually permissible to spare your gratitude for something grander.  Why? Because we deserve better and because we’ve proven capable of preparing incredible meals in the recent past yet we choose not to do soanymore.


For what it’s worth, I think the meatloaf of 2019 is worse than the creamed corn of 2015.  Back then the prevailing mood was fear; fear of losing a job, fear of where the bottom was, fear of what would happen next.  Now? The jobs have been lost, the bottom has been found and it’s a feeling of resignation, of having been abandoned. By our neighbours; by our leaders; by our country; a feeling of hopelessness for many.  And I submit that hopelessness is worse than fear because at least fear motivates.


Our old entrepreneurial fight appears to have given way to our new spirit of resignation.  We fumbled our way through a half-baked Olympic plebiscite choosing to forego the opportunity to host the world whilst literally kissing goodbye billions of dollars in leverage to lift us out of our malaise with absolutely no Plan B in the cue. Offices sit empty. Pipelines stall. Politicians dither. Taxes rise. Morale plummets. And for those who areworking, their titles, like their days, are getting longer; their tempers, like their nights, are getting shorter, as more responsibilities are foisted upon them with fewer people around to help.  We wrote about this two years ago in our post, The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.  It looks like the beatings will continue a little bit longer.


Ah, but only a little bit longer. And this is where the story gets good because this is where other people start telling it.


You see, I’m actually quite optimistic about where we’re headed.  Why?  Because, though barely perceptible, things are changing. The tsunami that hits shore is caused long before by the quake deep underground, miles out at sea. And the quake in this case is the steadily changing narrative. The coalescing of opinion into something coherent.  The polite, quiet, Canadian majority are beginning to speak out, stand up and they are changing the narrative one post, one speech, one tweet at a time.  In short, they are complaining about the food.


The rhetoric is running headlong into the reality and the reality is that a majority of Canadians – not just Albertans – are feeling the pinch in the pocket book; the realization that we actually need our resource industry. A majority of Canadians even think our pipeline capacity situation is a crisis. A majority of Canadians, I would surmise, have seen their mutual funds and investment portfolios, likely heavily invested in Canadian oil and gas equities, decline as the righteous talk of sunny ways is stripped bare and gives way to the reality that the entire country risks sliding into obscurity, or worse, if we don’t figure out how to get out of our own way; how to sell a product that we make better, cleaner and safer than any other country on earth that everyone consumes.  The entire Canadian economy is at risk and though Albertans – the canaries in the British Columbia style coal mine – are absolutely alive to the issue, the rest of the country is slowly catching up.


And this is where the waves of the changing narrative start to reach the shoreline. Here are but a few recent examples:





Because we can’t reach overseas markets, our landlocked oil is sold at a huge discount to customers in the U.S. Scotiabank economists estimate that the current cost to the Canadian economy is $15.6 billion a year. We may as well write a cheque today “to our friends in the U.S.” for $43 million. And do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And every day after that. What an incredible campaign. No less oil consumed, but the Canadian economy suffers massive losses.”



Sadly, for Canada, our collective response to this astounding global opportunity appears to be self-flagellation, continuous delay and an ever-increasing regulatory burden, rather than building great, well-thought-out projects, of which Canada could have many. It is no wonder the world’s energy investors are uniformly looking elsewhere – and will continue to.”




We are a forgotten appendage in the Canadian mosaic.”



This is an industry that provides employment.  Do you know what it’s like NOT to have work?  There’s no psychological stress greater other than the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a family.  There is nothing so damaging to a domestic arrangement than the loss of dignity that comes with the fact that you can no longer claim you are earning or your own and providing for your own.  A job is a core of dignity.”


Finally, in the best piece I have yet to read that captures the mood of my beloved city, we turn to Rex yet again.  In this well written and reasoned article he asks all the right questions. I dare say, he asks, in his own eloquent and nuanced way, is it not possible to have both a hot cooked meal and one that tastes good, too?


I would be asking of them: Why Us? Why, only us? Are there no other pipelines in the world? Are there no other oil economies? Are there not huge projects elsewhere to claim their self-aggrandizing attentions, projects of far more scale and far less regulated that the one in their own country – that supplied such relief to Canadians in terms or jobs, and to the national economy in that invisible pipeline that brought the equalization dollars from Calgary and Edmonton to Ottawa, Montreal and beyond?


I’d be asking why the production of oil, as opposed to the use of it – and it is used in everything by everybody, every other industry, every other product, all of our current civilization – why production is demonized by its (mainly) fanatic opponents?


How can something be so bad to produce which everyone uses and chooses to delightfully use? That’s the paradox of the whole green movement there, and Calgarians must find that paradox wholly exasperating.”


Rex, that is de-licious. And, yes, we do.


See, it’s not enough to just stare at the creamed corn and choke it down, as would appear to be the strategy of our federal leaders. There absolutely is a point in telling everyone the food sucks. It actually is helpful. It is going to change things. And I absolutely do want to hear you complain about the food.