We’ve let our en­ergy in­dus­try go all to pot

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - CHRIS NEL­SON

Ya­hoo. To­day you can take your le­gal pick: three grams of de­light­ful dope or a big bar­rel of lovely Al­berta crude.

It’s a de­ci­sion that will cost you a tad more than 30 Cana­dian dol­lars ei­ther way, which sums up how we’ve man­aged to dis­par­age and di­min­ish our most valu­able eco­nomic as­set — and no, that isn’t mar­i­juana.

Cur­rently, Al­berta pro­duc­ers are get­ting about US$26 a bar­rel for the heavy crude shipped to the United States, even though the North Amer­i­can head­line price on West Texas In­ter­me­di­ate sits snugly around $70.

That not only makes for tough sled­ding for Al­berta oil com­pa­nies but is also a nasty kick in the cu­mu­la­tive roy­alty and tax rev­enue bas­kets for both the prov­ince and Ot­tawa. Imag­ine the hos­pi­tal beds, class­rooms and se­niors homes that could be staffed and opened with those bil­lions of govern­ment rev­enues that have slipped away — our prov­ince alone is los­ing an es­ti­mated $7 bil­lion a year.

Yet, in this bizarre, it-could-only-hap­pen-in-Canada man­ner, our en­ergy in­dus­try is eas­ily the most im­por­tant driver of GDP growth. No, it isn’t wind­mills or so­lar pan­els and it cer­tainly isn’t the ticket rev­enue gen­er­ated from the world lec­ture tour fea­tur­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Al­berta’s en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence pro­fes­sors.

Where else does a coun­try, through in­ac­tion and down­right stu­pid­ity, al­low its No. 1 eco­nomic strength to be ground down and de­graded to such a de­gree that a few grams of le­gal mar­i­juana can ac­tu­ally be counted of rea­son­ably equal value? Heck, even Venezuela gets more for its heavy oil than Al­berta and that coun­try’s an in­ter­na­tional pariah, with many of its poorer cit­i­zens on the verge of star­va­tion.

And why is that? Maybe be­cause Venezuela sits be­side an ocean so its oil can mer­rily sail off to points across the world that belly up to the bar and pay a de­cent, global price.

Oh, but hang on. Canada isn’t just sit­ting along­side one ocean. Nope, we stretch to three of those geo­graph­i­cal wa­tery beasts.

Maybe if, as in to­day’s Cara­cas, there were more empty bel­lies across this coun­try amongst those who have waged a re­lent­less hearts-and-minds cam­paign against the evils of the Cana­dian en­ergy in­dus­try we might have avoided this cur­rent US$26-a-bar­rel fi­asco.

Yet those pro­test­ers who in­vaded the Na­tional En­ergy Board’s hear­ings into the En­ergy East pro­posed pipe­line in Mon­treal didn’t look as if they’d missed many meals, nor did the ar­dent B.C. folk vow­ing “we shall not be moved” in protest of the Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion.

That’s the prob­lem. When you keep get­ting cake re­gard­less, then you can en­joy all the moral su­pe­ri­or­ity you can eat. Ask our First Na­tions’ chiefs to ex­plain the finer points of that lit­tle equa­tion.

It would be nice to sim­ply hoist all the blame upon our cur­rent prime min­is­ter with per­haps a side dish for the NDP govern­ment here in Al­berta. But, hon­estly, this is a sit­u­a­tion decades in the mak­ing.

This pan­der­ing to spe­cial in­ter­est groups, along with a lack of fore­sight re­gard­ing how a bot­tle­neck in get­ting your ma­jor ex­port to mar­ket might even­tu­ally cause chaos, has been wide­spread, due to lazy, kick-the-can-down­the-road pol­i­tics in­volv­ing ev­ery party in power.

So now we have the hurry-up of­fence on the field. The lat­est en­vi­ron­men­tal re­views and court-man­dated con­sul­ta­tions about the Trans Moun­tain project be­ing pushed through at a blis­ter­ing pace (well, to have a fi­nal NEB re­port by Feb. 22 is blis­ter­ing in gov­ern­men­tal terms).

The penny has dropped. Oops, we don’t have pen­nies any more.

OK, those multi­bil­lions in lost gov­ern­men­tal rev­enue have dropped.

It should never have come to this. But it has. The Ti­tanic has some­how avoided the ice­berg and has slowly set its sights on a new course. That ves­sel is our ship of state and the crew is sud­denly awake.

Yes, we might now get pipe­lines built. In the mean­time, feel free and le­gal to chill out: hey, it only costs a bar­rel of oil.

So now we have the hurry-up of­fence on the field.

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