Hewers of wood and drawers of waters? I thought maybe Canada had put that demeaning role behind us. I mean we have given up our colonial status, haven't we? We are masters of our own destiny, aren't we?
Surely our political leaders meant what they were saying in recent years as the urged us to concentrate on adding value to our natural resources. Surely they believed that we could end the export of manufacturing and processing jobs and process our natural resources and manufacture goods here in Canada, didn't they?
Maybe not. Or, maybe our prime minister is just a bit too opportunistic and trade-oriented for our own good.
Witness the current energy crisis in California and the recent pronouncements by Dick Cheney, vice-president of the United States.
California is experiencing brownouts and is expected to suffer from periodic blackouts this summer when everyone turns on their air conditioners. The vice-president has decreed that energy conservation is futile and alternative energy sources impotent to meet the growing energy needs of the United States. He also declared that the United
Staters will not, in any way, agree to slow or manage its growth levels. Abundant, low-cost energy is what America needs to preserve its evermore prosperous way of life, regardless. Full steam ahead! And damn the torpedoes!
Some of you might be old enough to remember the Eisenhower presidency (in the 1950s) when the then secretary of defence stated, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." (He was a former General Motors executive and remained a shareholder.) Al Capp, the L'il Abner comic strip creator, parodied this event, creating a blustering, overbearing character called General Bullmoose who proclaimed, "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the country!" General Bullmoose rides again!
Unfortunately, the United States has been shutting down its nuclear generating plants (which are deemed unsafe), has regulated to block new coal-fired generators, stopped new hydroelectric projects and enacted price protection measures for consumers which doomed the economics of small-scale natural gas power plants. Moreover, in California they deregulated producer prices, but regulated consumer costs so that their primary electrical utilities are bankrupt, continuing to run only courtesy of direct subsidies from government.
Well, it appears that it is Canada to the rescue! Prime Minister Chretien has declared that Canada will be thrilled to sell the natural gas the United States needs to generate power. Want our oil? Come and get it. Want a pipeline through our Arctic? No problem. What environmental risks? Who says that we might need those fossil fuels in our future? There's a quick buck to be made and we're going to make it, in spades!
Well, Jean, maybe its time to step back and think again.
Yes, we should help the United States offset its energy shortfalls. The key word is help. But might it be possible for us to at least convert the oil and gas into electricity here in Canada and have the United States pay for the development costs? Can't we ration the energy production to preserve capacity to support new job creation in Canada?
After all, the United States needs the extra energy to support new growth in manufacturing, processing and assembly. Why can't we peel off some of those new jobs for Canada?
And what about our children and their children? Does greed run rampant in Canada, too? What about our environment, particularly the ultra-fragile northern environment? Do we squander that precious legacy today and pass the bills on to tomorrow, compound interest applied?
Can we assist the United States to make a constructive transition in becoming a conserver society, or do we knuckle under to 19th century colonial-style imperialism?
During the last election, critics often accused the prime minister of being "yesterday's man." Perhaps they were right.
Bob Michels is an author and consultant from Atikokan.