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COMMENTARY · 7th October 2012
Merv Ritchie
There are social drinkers and there are drunks. Some drinkers can make a bottle of wine, a 26 oz bottle of alcohol or a case of beer last for weeks. Others, once a sip is taken, cannot stop until every drop is drunk. Some drinkers enjoy the mild pleasure of the light exuberating feeling from sipping a drink and others guzzle until they collapse. Some even drink themselves to death.

This is a great analogy for our economic turmoil. Some cannot restrain themselves. One taste of economic prosperity and they wildly guzzle until everything is gone, then they run to the bank in an effort to get more to satiate the insatiable.

Alberta should understand boom and bust cycles better than any region. They have endured many of these ups and downs over the past 5 decades and always, like a drunk after a weekend binge, proclaim they will not fall victim to the cycle again. A drunk will proclaim he will never drink again and then as soon as his or her friends arrive on Friday night, the weekend cycle begins again. Today Alberta is again drunk on oil revenues and cannot get enough as more friends arrive with more money for more drinking.

Former and recently deceased Premier, Peter Lougheed, knew this well. He spoke about it, warned about it and prepared his Province knowing full well it would fall for the libations once again. A full 30% of the royalty revenues from non-renewable resources (primarily oil and gas) were directed into the Heritage fund; a savings account for the future generations. As soon as the drunken party slowed down in the 1980’s the government started taking the money out and reduced by half the amount of money directed to the Heritage fund. Then by the end of the 1980’s they stopped directing any royalties to the fund and changed the purpose, which under Lougheed, was specifically for future generations and improving the Albertan citizens ‘quality of life’. Lougheed recently stated Alberta should slow down in their current Athabasca expansion plans.

Many Albertans and British Columbians are blind to this dilemma. The party is so big new partiers arrive everyday, almost every hour, as the word spreads of the never ending supply of dancing and drinking. Girls are everywhere and the guy’s are loose with the cash. The music and merriment is so loud one cannot hear themselves think.

Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kitimat and the Hazeltons lived in drunken prosperity through the previous decades as well; right up until the 1990’s when the logging industry took a dive. Unlike Alberta’s Lougheed, Bill Bennett and Vanderzalm stashed nothing away for the future and the major logging companies drank in the money without any regard for the future. British Columbian loggers have been doing this since the early 1900’s. They logged all the easiest valleys first and then as the terrain got steeper and the trees got smaller they had nothing left to invest. None ever considered replanting for the future until it became obvious and they were forced to at least make a demonstration of effort to rebuild the forests.

My favourite all time quote is from logger Frank Beban during the Lyell Island Old Growth logging protests on Haida Gwaii. He stated during one heated exchange something very similar to ‘It is the last accessible Old Growth forest, we have to log it.”
More than twenty-five years later it still resonates in my cranium. I wished I had a chance to sit with him for five minutes to get a response to my question. ‘So Frank, lets imagine for a moment you have finally finished logging this last stand of old growth. What will you do next?’

Unrestrained resource extraction and unrestrained consumption is always bad for the future generations. The only people who do not understand this are drunks and the corporate elite who have so much wealth they cannot understand what reasonable, responsible life is.

Enduring the financial hardship suffered in the northwest corner of BC, since Danny Vaniez actively worked to kill all of the logging and lumber industry, has been difficult. This however does not mean the residents and community leaders should trip over each other to start guzzling again.

There are hundreds of exploration permits currently issued for the Northwest. There are dozens of projects moving forward. And almost everyone depends on the economic wealth of China.

BC is presently promoting and building a new port and rail infrastructure specifically for China. Just over one year ago, on September 19, 2011, a political, media and business gathering was held in Maher Terminals at the Port of Prince Rupert. Premier Clark, along with her Minister Pat Bell, with Don Krusel, the CEO and President of the Port at Prince Rupert, and Claude Mongeau the President and CEO of CN Rail, spoke about their plans to service China. They boldly stated they intend to increase the capacity of the Port of Prince Rupert by five. To justify this they stated China would be building 35 cities the size of New York over the next twenty years. They claim China will need all the raw resources they can get.

The Albertan Athabasca bitumen mines are expanding with more money from China. This is the foundation of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

All the planned Natural Gas pipelines and liquefaction plants proposed for Kitimat depend on Fracking to recover the gas from underground coal seams.

All of this threatens western Canada’s entire water supply.

The coal based ground water filter the companies are injecting chemicals into, the river waters fed by these sources and the rivers the pipelines cross, the large volumes of water used to extract the bitumen from the sand and last but not least, the ocean waters and life sustained by the nutrients and salmon spawning, are all put at risk.

The proposed mines, the ones presently engaging in their final steps to be ready when the Northwest Transmission line is completed, threaten the watersheds of all the major rivers of the Northwest. The Stikine River with Imperial Metals ‘Red Chris’ project, The Skeena and Stikine Rivers with Fortune Minerals and other plans in the Klappan Ground Hog Coal fields, and the Nass River watershed with the enormous tailings pond for the proposed Seabridge gold/copper mine. There are dozens of others.

Drunken fools will always be drunken fools.

The difficulty an addict faces is the recovery from treatment.

When the booze supply (money supply) runs out the hangover begins. We promise “never again”. Lougheed hoped to address this. Some go into treatment but when they return to their community (corporate friends) they resume their old habits as they need the companionship their associates provide. The prosperity cycle begins anew. Whether it be a drunk or a corporate drone, the blind rush to acquire all one can; to drink in all the supply and reward possible, is a predictable cycle.

And it is this situation that has all the industry types, the promoters and workers, blind. In the thrall of excitement they ignore what is happening in China.

Almost on the same day as Premier Clarks announcement in Prince Rupert the world was alerted to the slow down in China. And it has continued ever since. The growth has slowed dramatically. The entire financial world, (except possibly the drunken NW industrialist), is concerned about China’s future and the potential for a complete meltdown of the economics related to China. No longer is there a housing boom expected. The opposite is the reality. Thirty-five Cities’s the size of New York? I couldn’t believe a man as intelligent as Krusel would make such a ludicrous statement with a straight face.

One who has paid attention to the united economies of Canada and the United States might find the following as another interesting analogy to China and the World.

Whenever the USA experiences a growth or a decline, in anything from their leading industries to housing, Canada could expect to see the same occur in the following years. Sometimes it is a quick ‘cause and effect’ result but generally it would take at least a year, maybe two for Canada to experience the same impacts.

China has seen their economy expand at an unprecedented rate since the USA began to open up trading relations during the Presidency of Ronald Regan. Canada and the rest of the West (the EU) joined in shortly after. China boomed due to the money flow from the Western Nations to their manufacturing industries. Western Nation citizens bought up the fresh supply of cheap Chinese manufactured goods in numbers such that most North American competitors shut down or switched their supply chain to take advantage of China’s cheap source.

This may have been good for a decade or two but today, as unemployment and hardship is suffered across the western world, (due to the loss of primary manufacturing industries to China) the public has reduced their consumption. This reduction in consumption reduces the need for China’s output of goods, thus a reduction in China’s need to purchase our raw resources.

It is a chain reaction obvious to all who are not drunk on economic prosperity.

The Stock Exchange

Stock Exchange promoters need to hype up every investment and stock in an effort to earn more. They will use any numbers, any hint of good news, regardless of the overall picture, to encourage news makers and the public to remain blind to the reality. These people will travel to our communities and engage in “open houses” and political gatherings to encourage everyone to drink in on their dreams and fabulous potential. Those with money might even invest in the stock play being promoted. This is the intention of these presentations, to get one to believe, yet again.

The childhood story from Aesop's Fables; “The Tortoise and the Hare” is another good analogy. The Hare is racing from Enbridge to Shell to Red Chris to Seabridge to Apache to the Northern Transmission Line to the aptly named, Fortune Minerals and Prosperity Mines. Soon they will all be hanging their heads in shame after allowing all of the lands and rivers to be destroyed, the natural bounty of the Northwest ruined for generations. They will be like drunks after weeks long binging, hung-over; barely able to open their eyes, definitely not wanting to hear any noise, wondering what happened.

The greatest fear is the Tortoise will arrive on the scene and find all the drinking water poisoned, the trees dying, and the all the land devoid of anything to eat.

The analogy here is the wife and children arriving home to find the house repossessed and the food pantry empty or maybe the entire City, along with the fields, burned to the ground

The drug dealer does not care what happens to you and your family; nor did the western traders who first arrived in the northwest with their alcohol to poison the Indians.

Today it is no different; the new drug however, is money, unrestrained wealth

It is our economic system that is at fault. This requires no analogy, just a simple statement of awareness.

Those who care the least about the environment, society and people, those who perpetuate the greatest pollution on the globe and affect the greatest hardship on people, get financially compensated the most. Those who care the most about people, the health of the planet and the well being of our communities get financially compensated the least; they are generally volunteers.

Our economic system is based on destruction not growth. It is that simple. We need to flip the foundation of the world’s economic system.

The lyrics of the first and last verse of the Christian song “Amazing Grace” speak to this in easy to understand terms.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

When we've been here ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise, Than when we've first begun.

Ten thousand years? If we continue down this drunken path of financial wealth acquisition we will be lucky to recognize the place in ten years. Our governments are selling off all the rights to all our resources to other countries and private interests.
When the money supply stops we will own nothing and have nothing but a throbbing headache. We need what is rightly called social drinkers; economic leaders working for the benefit of society, not boisterous belligerent drunks prepared to sacrifice everything for temporary euphoria.

We need sober leaders, not drunken followers. Our great grandchildren with their great grandchildren and their great grandchildren will thank us. Now that would be something to give Thanks for.
Well thought out!
Comment by blocky bear on 10th October 2012
This piece seems accurate to me, particularly the description of the logging of B.C. I am qualified to comment on the history. Signed, West Coast logger. (40 yrs.)