Thursday, January 03, 2008

Influential Citizens Worldwide See Big Business As a Problem.

During the recent Alberta royalty review process and the concurrent Auditor General Report we saw an aggressive energy industry response and a very engaged citizen reaction. What happened was the exposure of the coziness of the relationship between the energy industry and senior government energy types. Albertans were told, in detail, of the past failure, refusal or neglect of the government to promote, preserve and protect the public interest on energy royalties.

The media firestorm that resulted underscored that some energy industry leaders and organizations had been operating under an apparent misapprehension. It seemed from their comments and attitudes that they presumed they were the effective "owners and controllers" of the energy natural resources; not Albertans. It seemed as if industry had been dictating just about all aspect of public policy in the energy sector.

Others in industry quietly but clearly understood and respected the concept and the Constitutional dictates of public ownership of natural resources. They know that an oil and gas or oil sands lease is merely the granting of consent for a social license to operate on public property. They understand that such consent extends to the right to extract and sell the public’s natural resource assets and the concurrent duty to protect and preserve natural capital assets, like the environment, in the process.

Unfortunately those who don’t get it are giving serious grief to the good guys and the governments who act as the agents for the owners, the citizens of Alberta. Government is also the regulators of the assets and protector of the environment and that adds complexity to the relationships. The fact that some corporation are “not getting it” is apparently not unique to Alberta according to a just released Ipsos Reid a worldwide poll on reaction to the power and influence of big business.

This on-line poll was of 22,000 “intelligaged” citizens” in 22 countries are best labelled as “those who show up and make a difference.” A full 68% of them voted in their last elections. Half of them instigate political, economic and social discussions and 37% signed a petition within the last year. Half of them make purchase choices based on a supplier’s ethical, social or environmental reputation. A third of them advised others not to use a specific company for the same reasons.

These are citizens you do not want to ignore or tick off. These are informed, engaged and influential people who can make or break a government - if they want to. The Ipsos Reid poll results about show beliefs and attitudes of these influential and activist citizens. They have to be sobering for the large cap corporations everywhere, including Alberta. Here are the key findings Worldwide and the Canadian comparisons:

Do large corporations have too much influence on decisions of their governments? Worldwide 74% of engaged citizens agreed – in Canada 80% agreed.

Should government be more aggressive in regulating activities of national and multi-national corporations? Worldwide 72% of engaged citizens agreed – in Canada 77% agreed.

Are large corporation more powerful than governments? Worldwide 69% agreed – in Canada 77% agreed.

Should governments have complete access to private information of corporations doing business in their country? Worldwide 58% agreed – in Canada 65% agreed.

As to if corporations are a god or a bad influence on their countries, the worldwide split was 55% believe they are a good influence versus 45% who say they are a bad influence. The regional breakdown here is interesting. In the Asia-Pacific 67% are positive and 33% negative. Latin America is 56% good and 44% bad. The most negative region about corporate influence is North America. Here 56% say corporations are a Bad influence and only 44% see them as Good. Even Europe is not that negative where 51% are negative about corporate influence and 49% are positive about it.

It is the “intelligaged” citizens who are the thought leaders, opinion leaders and trend setters for the rest of society. If they are not happy they can make things change, including who governs their countries. This polls shows that the intelligaged around the world and in Canada in particular, are not happy with the power and influence exerted by big business over their governments. The sub-theme is obvious and that that they must not be very happy with how their governments performing in serving the greater good either.

This means there are going to be turbulent and stressful times for out of touch and unresponsive governments as well as big national and international corporations in the days ahead. Just because it is a cliche to say the only constant is change that should not lull anyone with positions of power, authority and leadership into discounting the truth of the aphorism.

Indeed the times they are a-changin' and it could get ugly for the powers that be especially with a provincial and a federal election in the offing.