Lessons from COVID 19 – Co-operating makes a Better World

What are the most important things to remember as this earth-shaking pandemic rolls through our communities?  The first is that every life is a sacred trust to be protected.  That the dignity of every person is to be respected.  These are not lofty and abstract ideas but ones that face us every day.  Especially during the pandemic.  These ideas are why I must protect the people you love.  They are why you need to protect the people I love.  They are why you and I should not be looking for the momentary pleasure by ducking our responsibility for physical distancing.   

It is tempting to say, “But surely just getting together with a couple of friends can’t really do any harm?”  But what if one of us has caught COVID 19 and does not yet have symptoms and we all walk away from our pleasant get together carrying the virus?  What if over the next week the three of us continue to be careless but only infect a couple of people a day.  One case has become 3 and 3 becomes 6 and 6 becomes 12.  Then  12 becomes 24; 24 becomes 48; 48 becomes 96; an by the end of the week 96 becomes 192.  All that in only one short week.   But with a death toll of 3% that is between five and six dead people that someone loved.  Perhaps someone we loved. 

But we might say, “But I don’t have symptoms.  No sore throat, no temperature, no cough.  It is safe for me to be with a couple friends with no symptoms.”  Alas, we have learned that once a person catches the COVID virus they can be symptom free, or have very mild symptoms for days, and some people never get very sick.  But they can pass on the virus.  So minimize any contact with people.  When we need food or medicine or something we can go out.  But helping others means never get closer to others than 2 metres.  If we have a non-medical quality face mask wear it, not to protect us but, to protect others.  When we touch things like door handles or shopping carts with our hands we need to wash them or sanitize them as soon as possible to protect ourselves.  Remember, keeping ourselves safe is a gift to others as well.      

We live in a society where winning and looking after number one is what we are told works best.  At the same time we know the disappointment of coming second or third or worse. Many know the depression of seldom or never winning. But we all know how good it makes us feel when we do something thoughtful for someone and see them smile.  We live in a world where most of the joy and well being we experience comes from helping each other.  We live in a world where helping each other gets things done better and faster.  Co-operation is the most important thing we do.  COVID 19 thrives with selfish individualism and is defeated by co-operation, by the desire to help each other.  Co-operation and doing things to help others is ‘socially close’ and can be done while ‘physically distant’.

196 new infections is just the start of the harm.  There are many people who are working in essential services.  They are the people we are most likely to infect outside of the people with whom we live.  They are risking their lives to insure we have food, many things we really need, and health care for the almost 200 people the little ‘get together’ infected.   Will a healthcare worker pay with her or his life for our get together?  A grocery store clerk? A janitor?

But we might ask, if physical distancing works why is the number of the COVID 19 cases still growing? Victory is not no new cases tomorrow. Victory is new cases at a rate that our wounded health care system can handle. Victory is being able to take care of people with COVID 19 and mothers giving birth and someone with a broken leg or a heart attack. The slower we can have this illness spread the more we will all be winners.

There are co-operative values we can live by to create a better world.  Co-operatives emerged in response to the excesses of the industrial revolution.  They grew out of brutal exploitation and a society rife with horrendous abuses. People sought a better alternative.  Today we face a pandemic made especially lethal by social and income inequality, hyper individualism, self-interest and greed.  Let us choose instead to live by a set of life affirming co-operative values:  Equity; equality; mutual self-help; self-responsibility; democracy; solidarity; honesty; openness; social responsibility; and caring for others.  These are the values of a healthy society.

If we can, we should find a small or large group and pitch in to help as much as possible.  If we have enough money we should look to find a local group like a food kitchen delivering meals to people and donate.  We should pick up the phone and call our friends and neighbors or seniors or people who are self-isolating to protect us, just so they know someone is thinking of them.  We can also tell health care workers or grocery store clerks or janitors or truck drivers how much we admire them for taking risks to help us survive this dangerous time.  Let’s co-operate.

Alberta and Canada: When Democracy Gets Sacrificed

We live in a quasi-democracy.  And it is eroding.  The October 21st unreformed election was simply not fair for at least half of those who voted.  The reality:  One Liberal MP for every 37,681 votes for the party; One Conservative MP for every 50,873 votes; One NDP MP for every 118,717 votes; One Green one MP for every 387,453 votes.    And that ignores the distortion caused by those who, because of the Trudeau government’s broken electoral reform promise, felt compelled to vote for a party they did not want to be the government.  Why did they do that?  Choose from the following list of how the First Past the Post (FPP) system of voting distorts the real voting intentions of millions of Canadians:

  • How many voted Conservative just to dump Trudeau as a result of his tarnished performance?
  • How many voted Liberal to ensure Sheer did not win and give us a return to a Harper like extreme right government?
  • How many wanted to but did not vote NDP to ensure Sheer did not win?
  • How many wanted to but did not vote Green to ensure Sheer did not win?

This raises serious questions about what the election results would have been if Canadians were free to vote the way they wanted.  How much less would the Liberal and Conservative votes have been?  10%?  15%?  After the so-called free democratic election where many people did not feel free to vote for who they really supported, we have no idea what Canadians really wanted.

This brings up the post-election use of the word ‘mandate’.  With the support of 33% or 34% of those who voted, the claims of both Andrew Sheer and Justin Trudeau to have a ‘mandate’ were preposterous and stunning power grabs.  Neither seemed to understand that the broken electoral reform promise likely meant that their real support was less than 30%.  Perhaps as low as 25%.  Both showed a wishful understanding of democracy.  In a parliamentary system the government needs to have the support of the majority of members in the House of Commons.  Neither Mr. Sheer nor Mr. Trudeau were close to a majority of votes, nor did either have a majority of seats.   They clearly had no mandate for the ideas and proposals they campaigned on.  65% of Canadians voted against both of them.

During the election Mr. Trudeau explained that he did not proceed with electoral reform because in his view it would be bad for Canada.  It would he suggested create a multiparty Parliament and unstable governments.  The reality is that the FPP electoral system is really only good for the Liberals and Conservatives.  Both Harper and Trudeau have reaped the benefits of FPP which allowed them to ignore the 60+% of the people who did not support them.  A Proportional Representation (PR) voting system would force the government it produced to listen to the diverse views of Canadians.   FPP is clearly a winner for the Liberals and Conservatives.  This time, as in 2015, the beneficiaries of the lack of electoral reform clearly was the Trudeau Liberals.  Of course, electoral reform did not happen. 

The other winners with FPP are the very wealthy and the corporations they own, like SNC Lavalin, big oil, big pharma, and other huge corporations with their powerful political funding ability and massive legal and lobbying resources.  Majority governments are what allows debate of scandals like SNC Lavalin to be avoided.  The last thing they want is to see minority governments that will be more difficult for them to control.  They do not want to have strong environmental or social policies.  They want to keep the lower taxes, higher profits, undisturbed tax havens, weak regulation.  They will continue to back the FPP and campaign against electoral reform.    

But the most serious result of the Trudeau government’s decision to stick to FPP was the national unity impact.  If the national FPP election results were grotesque, these results in Alberta were ominous.  Of 34 seats the Conservatives got 33 and the NDP 1.  69% of Albertans voted Conservative giving them 97% of the seats!   632,000 Albertans were rendered non-existent or marginally-existent by the choice of the Trudeau government to stick with FPP.  What would the make-up of Alberta’s caucus in the House of Commons look like if a reformed PR voting system had closely reflected the real wishes of Albertans?  23 Conservatives; 5 Liberals; 4 NDP and possibly 1 Green. 

Alberta Voted     
Vote by Party1,416,313288,283241,91657,11245,052
% of Vote69.1%15.0%11.8%2.8%2.2%
# of Seats330100
PR Result23.5541?0

Using the FPP system, the votes of 632,633 Albertans were largely ignored resulting in only one seat in Parliament rather than the 9 or 10 their numbers reflected.  30.9% of the voters had their votes count for almost nothing.  Instead we are left with the result that we now have an extreme right government in Alberta whose leader claims, in his own words, to be a “Canadian Patriot” while he fans hatred for the rest of the country in his province and the west, cuts taxes and government programs and engages in a witch hunt with environmental groups. 

Saskatchewan’s Results

 LibPCNDPGreen7 Other PartiesPPCTotal
% of vote11.6%64.3%19.5%2.5%0.3%1.8%100%
Seats by PR2930014
Seats by FPP01400014

The results of the election in Saskatchewan are similarly distorted.  If the vote was counted using a reformed PR electoral system, instead of 14 seats the Conservatives would have won 9 seats with 2 Liberal colleagues and 3 New Democrats.  The votes of 202,038 Saskatchewan voters were rendered useless and ignored.  The failure of the Trudeau government to implement electoral reform has fueled the fires of national disunity. 

FPP Violates the Constitution?

The failure to reform the voting system effectively marginalized or rendered ineffective the votes of 834,671 people in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and more than 3,000,000 voters across the country.  But Section 3 of the Constitution says:

  • Sec 3:  Right to vote and meaningful participation:  “3.  Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

Does this include the right to have your vote count?  Does FPP constitute a violation of the constitution? 

Section 15 Deals with the right to equal treatment under the law:   

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

Is the privileged position of Liberal and Conservative voters under FPP a form of discrimination?  It is not that long ago that discrimination against black people, indigenous people and women were accepted as ‘normal’ and acceptable by the great majority of Canadians.  These forms of discrimination are still major problems with which we struggle in our society. 

Several organizations including the Springtide Collective of Nova Scotia and Fair Voting BC believe so, and are planning to challenge the issue in the courts.  They have raised funds to initiate the challenge from over 800 donors from every province across Canada.  Clearly, the Parliamentary committee hearings on electoral reform, which heard from many expert witnesses, raised the issue of ignoring millions of voters and rendering their votes useless.  The decision to stick with FPP for the benefit of two parties was made in spite of the weight of testimony backing change. 

Will the government do what is in the best interests of voters and all the people in Canada?  It was recommended by the majority of expert witnesses heard by the Parliamentary Committee.  Or will it protect its privileged position in the hopes of once again turning a minority of votes into a majority of seats and the ability to run roughshod over parliament?

Alberta and Canada: A Public Policy Failure in Process?

Canada faces huge, long term, destabilizing challenges. 

  • Inequality of wealth is soaring.  The richest 87 Canadian families own as much as 12 million average Canadian income earners while Alberta gives tax breaks to the rich and cuts services to the poor.
  • While much of the world surges ahead developing renewable energy and post fossil fuel economies, the government of Alberta insists that no matter what the climate change cost they will not change direction.   

At a time in the history of our country that calls for strong federal leadership, we have a disabled federal government.  It disabled itself with the failure to implement election reform.  That failure has left the country with a federal government paralysed by the election results in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  The last election in Alberta, under proportional representation, could have delivered 24 Conservatives, 5 Liberals, 4 NDP and 1 Green MP.  Instead, gambling on the first past the post electoral system to give them another majority government, the federal Liberals have managed to ensure Alberta is represented in Parliament only by 34 Conservatives.  They ensured 632,633 Albertans who voted for other parties would have no voice in the federal government.  Now we have the spectacle of a federal government desperate to meet irresponsible demands from the government of Alberta and the oil industry, regardless of the impact on the rest of Canada and the world.

So what does the Alberta Premier want?  He demands a large increase in federal transfer payments at a time when his government has reduced the overall corporate tax rate from 12% to 8%, or about $1.6 billion, and cut services to people by $1.3 Billion.   The windfall for Husky oil alone is reported to be $233 million.   He demands that the whole country help him take from the poor and give to the super wealthy oil barons.

He demands and is getting Trans Mountain pipe line with an initial outlay of $4.5 Billion to be followed by another $9.3 Billion, and perhaps more, to twin the existing leaky line.  To put that in perspective, $13.8 billion could pay 276,000 Albertans $50,000 each to kick start green energy and industry.

He demands the massive TECK tar sands mine be approved. The impact on Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions of the $20.6 billion project will be enormous.  One Barrel of tar sands oil will produce 700kg CO2 emissions   The plan is to produce 260,000 barrels of oil a day, resulting in about 6 Megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, for more than 40 years – 240 new additional Megatonnes tons!  But Canada has pledged to cut its emissions of greenhouse gasses from 730 Megatonnes to 511 Megatonnes by 2030.  The Teck Frontier Mine would make a joke of Canada’s greenhouse gas emission targets and promises. 

Alberta will likely also demand we pay a significant share of the $40-70 Billion it will cost to clean up abandoned and orphan oil wells.  These are wells where Alberta has allowed the owners, who made great profits, to walk away from the wells with no clean up.  The track record of Alberta in dealing with the challenges and of oil and gas development is not inspiring. 

Starting in 1990, Norway was able to build a $1 Trillion Oil Fund from the profits of its oil industry with production since 2000 of about 2.5 million barrels a day.  In the same period Alberta’s production levels were about 3 million barrels a day.  The Alberta Heritage fund was established in 1976.   Since then Alberta has managed to create a paltry $18 Billion Heritage Fund even with higher daily production.   The government of Alberta has become the servant of the oil industry – rather than its own people.

The threat of the Kenny government is that unless its demands are met Alberta will start working on leaving confederation.  Canada, claims the Kenny government, is the source of all Alberta’s problems.  Alberta’s government is determined to double the production from the tar sands and tie Albertans to rely on an industry which 99% of the world’s scientists tell us we must phase out.  The position the Kenny government takes is that they have a God given right to oil industry jobs no matter how many people around the globe are devastated by droughts, floods, wild fires, rising ocean levels or super storms.   Albertans need to decide if they want to let the Kenny government whip them into a frenzy of hatred for Canada.

Alberta’s energy economy has long been in a cycle of booms and busts.  The unemployment rates have gone from under 4% in 2005 – 2008, to 7.3% in August 2009, 4.3% in August 2012, 7.4% in January 2016, and 7% in December 2019. That means more than 170,000 Albertans looking for work were unable to find a job and are suffering from the current bust.  The national unemployment rate was 5.6% in December 2019, unchanged from the same period in 2018.  Alberta’s government and Premier are determined to deepen reliance on an unstable fossil fuel economy and stir up anti Canada anger and hatred if they do not get their way. 

In a province like Nova Scotia, our chronic unemployment rate, average family income and out migration make Alberta, in spite of its difficulties, look rich.  Should we support help for Alberta? How should we respond when 99% of the world’s scientists tell us we, and the rest of the world, need to leave the oil in the ground or our children and grandchildren will face the prospect of runaway climate change?  Can we look at catastrophic floods, wild fires, droughts, killer storms and heat waves and decide Alberta’s oil must go to market no matter what?  Should we invest tens of billions in ramping up tar sands oil for export to make the problem worse?  Do Albertan’s have a right to those jobs today no matter what the result, even if climate change costs left to future generations are in the many trillions of dollars?

The Trudeau government has done very little to come to the support of Albertans suffering from the boom and bust oil economy.  Twinning the Kinder Morgan pipeline will cost at least $9.3 Billion.  What would have been the impact of a $9.3 billion investment in renewable energy in Alberta?  $9.3 billion is $54,705 for every one of the 170,000 unemployed workers.  Invested in solar electricity it would produce 3,029 Megawatts, enough to power about 400,000 homes.  More important, investments in renewable energy produce more jobs than investments in oil and, the jobs are well paying and most do not require a university education.

So how should we respond to Alberta?  It is easy to understand why hundreds of thousands of Albertans are afraid for their future.  It is easy to understand why the short sighted, irresponsible ramping up of oil proposed by the oil industry and their government looks attractive.  If we truly believe in building a better Canada, we must help.  But helping by investing tens or hundreds of billions in increasing the impacts of runaway climate change is the worst possible way to tell Albertans we care.  What Albertans want is economic security and so far the federal government is offering security only to the oil industry and Jason Kenny.

We need to invest billions in a robust energy transition plan to get off oil by 2050 and a very big chunk of that federal investment should be in Alberta.  Can we afford it?  It is a bargain compared to what climate change will cost us, our children and grandchildren.  The sane choice, what is really in the national interest, is to invest in the transition off oil and forward to renewable energy.  As a Nova Scotian who cares about Albertans I could vote for that.

Corporate Imposed Taxes and How they Reduce Our Quality of Life

The word ‘markups’ does not arouse the same emotions as taxes and profits.  But markups are an important and little understood form of ‘taxation’.  When a business sells something, it takes the cost of either making it or buying it and adds a markup.  The markup can be low for high volume goods and services, or very high, even as high as 1000% or more.  The portion of the markup depends on what the market will bear.  For a life and death drug, the market will bear a lot.  The markup produces the company’s profit.

Taxes are almost always portrayed as evil.  Some say, ‘Government takes your hard earned money and wastes it.’  Others, myself included, see taxes as the source of many important goods and services in society – education, health care, roads, clean water supplies, regulations to protect us from the unscrupulous, to name just a few.  It may not be always perfectly spent but then again neither is my annual income.

Profits get a more mixed review.  Some see them as the just reward for wise investment decisions, hard work and a reward for superior intelligence and innovativeness.  They are portrayed as what drives progress.  Only when they are seen as excessive are they associated with greed.  Let us suspend the usual usage of the word tax, and think about markups and the profits they produce, as ‘taxes’ – corporation imposed taxes.  Let’s call them CITs.

When big corporations impose CITs on what we buy they use that tax for many purposes.  We are paying for the advertisements that manipulate us to buy more.  The ads are seldom informative and often deceptive and manipulative.  So we are paying a tax to be misled.  Perhaps, more starkly, we are taxed on what we buy so we can be lied to about what we bought.

Businesses also use their profits to lobby government.  For example oil industry profits go into massive lobbying campaigns that environmental groups could never afford.  They want tax breaks for finding more oil that we dare not use if we love our grandchildren.  They use CITs to pressure government to build more pipelines and get tax relief to do so.  Profits are used to hire tax lawyers and high powered accountants to design tax havens and other ways to avoid paying taxes.  More lawyers are used to defend tax cheats and corporations who have broken the law to defend themselves from prosecution.  Often governments simply back off prosecution or give a minor slap on the wrist, because they cannot afford the legal power to enforce the law.  SNC Lavalin was a clear example.

Profits go for big companies to buy up small companies.  In the US most of the recent huge tax cuts by their ‘billionaire in chief’ went to pay for buyouts, senior management bonuses, and to purchase company shares to drive up share values for wealthy shareholders.  Very little went into new investment that would result in more jobs or higher incomes for workers. 

Finally, most profits go to what are often referred to as the 1%.  That is the tiny group who globally own more than 50% of all the world’s wealth.  Their take from Canada’s and the world’s economy has steadily grown since 2008.  The share of the 99% has remained virtually unchanged.  CITs are powerful!

There is another way to compare government imposed taxes and CITs.  Governments face parliaments and legislatures, houses of representatives and ‘upper chambers’ elected by the people.  They can ask questions and demand answers.  Many countries have freedom of information laws and are served by enquiring journalists.  These may not be perfect, although the accountability of governments to their citizens in our ‘quasi democratic’ countries as to how tax dollars are spent is fairly high. 

How do corporations and the richest people account for how they use the CIT money they take from you?  They don’t.  When have we seen corporations report to citizens on how much they spend influencing elections, lobbying officials and politicians?  How often do they report on their expenditures creating tax havens, paying lawyers to intimidate people and governments?  How much was spent in the case of the oil industry, hiding vitally crucial information about climate change?  They seldom report any of that information, even to shareholders.  How often have citizens been told, “That is commercially sensitive information and cannot be made public”?

A final reflection.  Most people, including me, are hesitant about ‘excessively big’ governments.  What is even scarier is big corporations.  Yet we live in an age when corporations are growing very quickly.  Google bought almost 200 companies since 2008.  Microsoft acquired 100.  A handful control the internet and social media, the global food supply, broadcasting and news media, energy, etc.  When fewer and fewer control more and more, is it surprising that more and more people have less and less?  What kind of world will our grandchildren be left with?  Is this sustainable?

Climate Change Roulette

1 Metric Ton (MT) = 1000 kg
1 Metric megaton = 1 million MT
1 Metric Gigatonne = 1 billion MT
Measuring Carbon Dioxide

If we are to have a 66% chance of limiting global warming to 2C, the people of our planet have to have a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the air we breathe.  Carbon dioxide emissions are measured in Mega tons and Giga Tons.  To have a 66% chance of success the 50 year global carbon budget would be 886 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide for a rate of 17.72 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year. [i]

Between 2000–2011 we emitted 321 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide or 29.18 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year.

If we continue at that rate by 2050 we will have emitted 1,138 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide or 252 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide over the budget.  This does not count the increasing and unexpected rise in methane emissions resulting from permafrost melting in the arctic much faster than forecast.[ii]  What does that mean?  It means we will have less than a 50/50 chance of limiting the temperature increase to 2C.  And remember even 2C is a significant disaster!  1.5C is a far safer target.

Canada is one of the top ten greenhouse gas emitters in the world.  Canada signed the Paris Accord with great fanfare and back patting.  According to the Federal Government, Canada now produces .716 MT CO2/year in 2017.  Over 50 years that comes to 38.6 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide.  If we accept every possible argument in our favour, our fair share would be below 24 Giga Tons of carbon dioxide /year or less.[iii]   24 Giga Tons is at least 1.6 times more than our fair share!  More likely we are producing 2 or 3 times our fair share.

That is the context in which Canada is increasing its heavy oil production capacity and subsidizing new oil exploration.  We allow seismic testing in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence risking extinction of the Right Whales.  We even subsidize super risky offshore drilling.  When we buy pipelines to speed the flow of some of the world’s dirtiest oil to market we are fueling and accelerating the sixth great extinction of species in 650 million years of life on this planet.  This is like playing Russian roulette with a handgun with chambers for six bullets and three full.  Instead of taking bullets out our plan is to look for more bullets. 

That is the chance we are taking with our children’s future.  The reality is that we have no realistic transition plan for the next crucial ten years.  The government is still using Stephen Harper’s targets and like Harper, not meeting them.   Our plan seems to be to stimulate oil patch jobs no matter what the cost is to our grandchildren, and say ‘yes’ to the oil companies that just like the tobacco companies, spent many millions lying to us with fake science.    But oil company science will kill millions, perhaps hundreds of millions.

Is the solution for each of us to change our habits?  Yes we need to do that but is that sufficient? The main drivers of our economy and climate change are corporations seeking profits.  Oil companies will ask for subsidies and push sales as long as there is a profit from it.  That is why they spent tens of millions spreading disinformation about climate change.  Auto manufacturers will spend millions selling SUVs and big trucks as long as they can make a profit.   How many ads can you buy today?

In a democracy, the interests of the 90% need the protection of government.  Has our democracy been captured by big oil, big auto, big pharmaceuticals?  Are we paralyzed by their power to throw millions out of work if government does not do what they want?

It is an agonizing dilemma.  We cannot just throw tens of thousands of people in oil linked industries out of work?  We are told we must sacrifice them or doom our children and grandchildren to an increasing catastrophe with more and worse killer wild fires, floods, droughts, heat waves, crop failures, dead oceans and hurricanes?  Do we doom our grandchildren to wildly escalating costs for infrastructure, exploding insurance rates, food system collapses and eventual economic collapse? 

This is just not good enough!  We do have alternatives.  Let us start a planned winding down of our fossil fuel and high carbon emitting industries and seriously build our renewable energy capacity.  Let us identify and invest in every possible green industry opportunity.  Let us spend billions to develop renewable energy industries and green industries in Alberta.  Let us pledge to leave no one behind.  Doing this will lead to a period of transition and turmoil in Alberta but climate change will lead to a longer more disastrous period of turmoil across Canada and around the world.  Let us start taking the bullets out of the fossil fuel roulette gun.  Our grandchildren deserve something better than climate roulette.

[i] The numbers for the carbon budget are drawn from Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank that carries out in-depth analysis on the impact of the energy transition on capital markets and the potential investment in high-cost, carbon-intensive fossil fuels. https://www.carbontracker.org/reports/carbon-bubble/

[ii] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce,   https://esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends_ch4/

[iii] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/global-carbon-budget-is-a-harsh-reality-check-for-canadian-investors/article15158549/

Why Do Our Governments Act Like Subsidiaries of the Oil Companies?

What happens to a society when a commodity and those who have been made rich by it takes control of economic and political decision making?  What happens when commercial benefit tops the interest of the vast majority of citizens?  The result is that rational evidence based decision making is thrown out the window.  Decisions get made based on ensuring the share value of securities held by the wealthy elite are protected and their flow of profits is maintained or increased.  Short term commercial benefit becomes the compelling rationale that ‘trumps’ science. It trumps logic and the public good.  Bizarre, irrational positions are ferociously adopted as absolute truth by business and political leaders and usually by the media as well.  Even suggesting a rational evidence based approach will be ridiculed as naïve and unrealistic and result in being angrily denounced and even portrayed as a form of treason.

Basic Facts

Fact one:  15,000 scientists from around the world are agreed that the continued use of fossil fuels, will drive climate change and cause increasingly frequent and more powerful weather events.   They also agree it will have devastating effects on the ocean’s ability to support life.  The Munich RE (a leading global insurance company ‘reinsurer’ and risk analyst) chart below tells a clear story.  The scientists are right.  Climate change is leading to huge costs and severe damage to the economy.


But the oil and energy lobby and government argue that we need to ensure we have a growing economy.  At the same time their actions hit at the heart of the economy destroying lives and infrastructure.   As the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes, “More notable than the high frequency of these events is the cumulative cost, which exceeds $300 billion in 2017a new U.S. annual record.”  That is in the US only.  The annual global cost is in excess of a trillion dollars and rising.  The biggest threat to our economy in the long run is using oil.

Fact two:  The continued use of fossil fuels will rain enormous hardship on our children and grandchildren over the next five decades and cost many trillions of dollars more in damage to our economy and society.  It will happen unless we have the wisdom to leave a significant percentage of our known oil and gas and coal reserves in the ground.

Fact three:  The Scotian Shelf off the coast of Nova Scotia is close to one of the richest fisheries in the world and washed over by daily tidal flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy with the world’s highest tides. It is one of the riskiest places on earth to drill for oil and gas.

Fact four:  The bitumen that comes from Alberta’s tar sands can be very difficult to clean up in waters with a lot of sediments if a pipeline ruptures or an oil tanker sinks or leaks.  Most people in British Columbia do not want this toxic substance flowing across their land and rivers or floating on their beautiful coastal waters, sinking to the bottom or coating the shores.

Fact five:  In 2007 there were 34 pipeline leaks in the United States and 8 so far in 2018.  Pipelines leak with regularity.  Since 2005 there have been five oil spills from Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and since the mid-1950s six in the Jasper National Park.  An estimated 400 tankers a year will be going from Burrard inlet in Vancouver to the open sea.  The question is not if there will be a pipeline leak or a tanker accident.  The honest question is how often.

Fact six:  Permission to drill on the Scotian Shelf includes acceptance that in the case of a well blowout (like the one in the Gulf of Mexico) it would take two weeks to get the equipment in place to stop the massive flow of oil and another week or two to get the flow to stop.

Fact seven:  Abandoned or orphan oil wells could end up costing Albertans billions of dollars.  The oil was found, extracted and the profits pocketed but the funds put aside to clean up the enormous mess are only a fraction of what will be needed.  The people who made the profits can walk away from the mess.

The above facts are based on statements by the Canadian government, the government of Alberta, respected organizations and Kinder Morgan.

So what decisions have the government/oil industry consortium made?

  • BP, the company whose drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and creating the largest marine oil spill in world history, has been authorized by the governments of Nova Scotia and Canada to drill on the high risk Scotian Shelf with a high probability of an accident and massive fishery losses.  Presumably gambling with the fishery is not much of a problem.
  • Kinder Morgan’s Trans mountain pipeline expansion has been approved by the government of Canada with strong support for the Government of Alberta.
  • Tax payers are subsidizing BP and Kinder Morgan. We are compelled to subsidize what amounts to an attack on our children and grandchildren so that the superrich owners of the giant oil companies can make greater returns on their investments with lower risk.
  • The governments of Canada and Alberta are saying they have a right to force the people of British Columbia to accept whatever they put in a pipeline or ships no matter: how toxic the substance; how certain the spills and shipping accidents; how difficult the cleanup; how devastating the environmental damage. The people of BC have no right to even have a say.   If the people of BC refuse to accept the pollution of their land and water ways, they are attacking the national interest of Canada.

So now the questions.

So is the question who do the democratic governments of Nova Scotia, Alberta and Canada work for or is it which oil company do they represent best?   Is this a democracy, a quasi-democracy or a so called democracy?

Alberta is a special case.  Is it possible for a government in Alberta to get elected if they do not do what the oil companies want?  Is that a sort of democracy?  One might argue that selling out the interests of Alberta’s grandchildren indeed has the support of the majority of Albertans.  It is deemed to be in the interests of Albertans to export huge quantities of toxic bitumen rather than refining it in Alberta to provide jobs for Albertans.  Indigenous peoples are left with the terrible environmental mess and the corporations get the profits.

What would happen if the government of Canada stopped subsidizing the oil companies and instead, in partnership with Alberta, poured a couple billion dollars into renewable energy jobs and renewable energy development?   What if the renewable energy companies were created as co-operatives less likely to pollute, unlikely to relocate, with the gap between highest and lowest salaries being 15 to 1 or less, with work available for women as well as men and equal pay for equal work?  We could do that!  If oil wells were owned by the people and communities who lived around them would we have the orphan well mess?  What if refining co-operatives owned by Albertans were encouraged (like Peter Lougheed did with gas co-operatives)?  What if common sense ruled instead of the oil industry?  What if energy production and distribution was co-operatively owned rather than being owned by huge corporations whose purpose is not to supply us with energy but to further enrich the 1% regardless of the consequences.

Could I, as a Nova Scotian, support that massive expenditure to spur a world leading renewable energy industry in Alberta just so my grandchildren could live reasonable lives in a stable climate with less pollution?  Not sure about all Nova Scotians but it sure looks a lot better to me than continuing with the irresponsible madness we are now witnessing.   Does our society and economy really care about our children and grandchildren?  The evidence says no.  Could we care about them?  Sure we can.

Are Co-operatives Likely to Build a Better World? (1)

The trends sketched out In Chapter 1 of From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation: We owe it to our grandchildren are daunting.  That said, the co-operative business model offers a healthier alternative.  It does not drive the worst trends.  Credit unions did not create the bad mortgages and worthless derivatives that caused to 2008 collapse nor did they need a multi-trillion dollar bailout.   Its different purpose, values and principles, lack of need for a growth economy, bottom up nature and ability to put people and nature before profits, are an enormous opportunity in this troubled time.   People in co-operatives can choose to do evil but they are in a business model that not only allows them to do the right thing but encourages them to do it.  An investor owned business management or board that does the right thing is to be deeply admired because the pressure on them is always to make sure shareholders get the greatest possible profit.  A co-operative business, board or management, who does the wrong thing have very little excuse.

A co-operative’s purpose is not to maximize the return to shareholders but to meet the needs of the members who own it and the community.  Based on one member one vote, its democratic base makes it possible for members to raise concerns at annual or special membership meetings.  The people who use it get the opportunity to question its policies and practices.  Does that mean co-operatives are always responsive?  No but it means members can challenge them and change them.  It means they are more likely to listen and act in a responsible way toward members and the community.

It also means they are less likely to pollute or treat workers abusively.  They generally have smaller gaps between highest paid manager and lowest paid staff member.  It means that in terms of  the trends noted in Chapter 1 of From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation: We owe it to our grandchildren, co-operatives are less likely to make things worse and more likely to take actions to make things better.  For example, the credit union on whose board I sit, LaHave River Credit Union, has a ‘Green Loan” program to encourage members to shrink their negative environmental foot print.

If we care about our grandchildren and have a choice we can become part of a co-operative and have a say in how it operates in our community.

Building a Co-operative Economy

Some people react to the idea of creating a new economy to replace capitalism as pure naive optimism.  It is just too big a task they believe.  The reality is that if we all believe that, the new economy will never be built.  The realty also is if enough people decide to make something happen it will.  Take you money out of investor owned banks and get all you financial services from a credit union or co-operative bank or co-operative insurance company.  I did it more than 25 years ago and am free of any financial services whose purpose is to make someone else rich at my expense.

Does your community or neighborhood need a service or source of goods?  Create a co-operative to provide them.  Ar you tired of working for someone else just because they have the money to buy your services.  Need to find rewarding meaningful work?  Find a few others with the same need and start a worker owned co-operative.   Find buying ‘stuff’ from cars to food confusing because you cannot trust the information you are given?  Start up a consumers co-operative whose information you can trust and let the workers be members so you can solve problems around the board table based on your shared objectives.  Think about what you buy and find a family business or co-operative to supply it.

Want to see an example from Maine in the USA.  Check out: Rock City Cafe  https://vimeo.com/253301150  This video is courtesy of the Co-operative Development Institute http://cdi.coop/

In the weeks ahead visit the website to learn of more examples.


Everyone Welcome – March 15

With Author Tom Webb

Thursday 15 March 2018, 7:00PM to 8:30PM –

Room 132, Beveridge Arts Center (BAC) Acadia University

10 Highland Ave., Wolfville, N.S.

Exploring Public Policy – Hosted by the Kings South NDP


From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation explores some of the interconnected and disturbing trends facing our world and the links between them.  It then looks at the neoclassical economic thinking developed to explain and justify why our world should be heading in these directions and the problems with that thinking.  It also explores various business models and how neoclassical economics is fundamentally supportive of only one business model in spite of its increasingly destructive track record.  It examines why capitalism is great for the very wealthy but bad for the planet, human society, communities and democracy

The book then explores alternative business models with a special focus on co-operatives.  It suggests one healthy response to our challenging times is to shift our economy to one that is aligned with nature and focused on meeting human need without destroying the natural world.  The potential of the co-operative business model to facilitate change is explored – its strengths and potential for improvement.

The author will touch on the key themes explored by the book and some additional insights on the congruence of co-operative organizational models with all life on the planet and especially human life.  Questions and comments are welcome.

Tom Webb has served as an advisor to a prime minister and cabinet ministers, a senior manager in a large co-operative, Director of the St. F.X. Extension Dept., Manager of Co-operative Management Education at Saint Mary’s Sobey School of Business and has lectured across North America, Europe and Oceania.