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North Island Rising: What’s the beaver got to do with selling our oil

Bill McQuarrie is back with another edition of North Island Rising, this time about the oil industry

“We don’t export beaver pelts any more and I can assure you it isn’t because we ran out of beavers. In fact, we can’t get rid of the #@&ing little things. Right?”

That, according to Canadian economist, Dr. Jim Stanford, author of Economics for Everyone, is something those obsessing over and believing in the concept of Canada always having a market for our oil, should be thinking about.

The Alberta born economist made those remarks during a keynote address to the Alberta Federation of Labour, adding, “Canada is never going to run out of oil, just like we never ran out of beavers.”

So what you may ask, has the centuries old collapse of Canada’s fur trade got to do with the today’s oil markets? Excellent question and being the curious sort, I too wanted to see where this analogy was headed.

Dr. Stanford explained how after 250 years of non-stop selling, the market for this furry Canadian rodent dried up before our supply did. New technologies (materials) and new styles meant people simply stopped buying beaver pelts and the fur market we had come to rely upon disappeared. What once seemed an endless opportunity to export, export, export was gone.

We have and still do, according to Stanford, a history of extracting natural resources without adding value, without planning for the future and repeating to ourselves, until we believe it to be the truth, that this ride will never end.

According to Dr. Stanford, this is an incredibly vulnerable way to do business and can leave us open to changes that can wipe out demand for our products in a very short period of time. “It’s occurred in the past and will occur again,” states Stanford.

For two hundred plus years there was no politician willing to consider the possibilities of no one wanting our furs and I haven’t seen anyone starting a similar conversation about oil.

Politically, it is far easier to blame others, cry about the supposed inequities of transfer payments and blame the crazed environmentalists and we despicable British Columbians for trying to deny Albertans their rightful and forever place in the carbon economy.

What we need, believes Stanford, is for Canada to get ahead of the process and to position ourselves to benefit from the changes that will come, explaining, “If we just deny that it’s happening, stick our head in the sand and point fingers, we will absolutely be left behind. The reality is, the world is going to stop using oil”

At this point in the column, I can almost hear the keyboards coming alive with industry advocates claiming we will always, always need oil. Still others will claim the beaver is a flawed example, oil is different and therefore a perpetual economic windfall for Canada.

But of course it is not different and being Canadian, what better source of advice could there be than Wayne Gretzky’s dad who famously told his son, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at bill@northislandrising.com

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