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Alberta’s Future is Dead on Arrival

May 25, 2011

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The Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson wrote a column today predicting that Albertans and the Conservative politicians they elect will ignore the progressive, forward-thinking advice recently published in a report from a blue-ribbon panel tasked by Premier Stelmach with charting a sustainable future for Alberta.

The report (PDF) recommends the very strategies Albertans have chosen to ignore for the last two decades, strategies used to good effect in other places–like Norway. It suggests we quit relying on revenues from nonrenewable resources to keep taxes low and pay for today’s expenses. Instead, we should raise taxes to pay for current expenditures and invest nonrenewable energy revenues in the future, things like human capital, environmental stewardship and industries other than oil and gas.

This is exactly what oil-rich Norway has done, and its future will be much, much brighter than the one we leave our children. Norway has more than $500 billion in its oil fund, 60 per cent of which is invested in the stock market. That’s more than $100,000 for every man, woman and child in Norway. But as Simpson points out, that’s anathema to the neoliberal ideologues that run the show in Albertastan. “Indeed,” writes Simpson, “the province’s energy minister, asked about Norway’s multi-hundred-billion-dollar savings and investment fund from oil revenues, sniffed that Alberta had nothing whatsoever to learn from Norway.” In the end, Simpson said the fervor with which Albertans and their politicians believe in the sanctity of the free market leaves the blue-ribbon report–written by Conservatives no less–dead on arrival.

That we continue to believe in the outdated and dangerous bullshit propagated by Alberta’s free market fundamentalists is just the latest in a growing body of evidence about the power of myth. The little black lies we tell ourselves blinds us to other perspectives and undermines the precious gift of rationality, leaving us at the mercy of dark, unconscious forces that have the potential to undo everything we have worked so hard to build.

This is the latest in a series I call The Bullshit Chronicles, which attempts to ferret out the preponderance of bullshit in advertising, public relations and politics, especially as they relate to environmental issues. These columns provide a glimpse into what you will find in my next book, Little Black Lies, to be published by Rocky Mountain Books this fall.

Don’t forget to VOTE once a day, every day in May to make The Grizzly Manifesto Alberta’s best book of 2010!

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