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.


  1. Anonymous12:06 pm

    Hi ken,

    All this election getting readiness is interesting.... but you have yet to touch on many things that I am hearing Albertans speak/ ponder about... such as:

    Nuclear power production in Alberta;
    Bill 46 and listening to rural people rather than oil/ energy corps;
    Water - graphic Christmas card of Angel Glacier in Jasper National Park hits it;
    Farming/ Agriculture - retirement of farmers and loss of usable farmland;
    Distributed Energy/ Alternate energy...

    Certainly all these relate to your favorite themes... how about spending a bit of time making a few of your logical links for those of us that are interested to see how you connect the dots?

    green girl

  2. I will be posting on all of those issues as we work up to the election.

    During the election I will be posting and looking forward to comments on all the various party platforms based on those elements too (my PC bias will show through I expect).

    Thanks for the suggestions and stay tuned green girl!

  3. Hi Ken,

    Interesting poll. China did not appear to be part of the poll. Perhpas their citizens are not "intelligaged" for the purposes of that poll. Nevertheless, the influence of China is enormous vis-a-vis multinational corporations who can move their capiral around in ways that can have profound consequences for significant parts of the population of other countries.

    Governments cannot easily control the movement of multicoprs' capital. On the other hand, if multicorps are doing business on our turf, our government(s)should certainly have our interests primarily in mind, not the multicorps'.

    Perhaps the goal is to achieve a critical mass of intelligaged citizens who collectively will make a governing difference at the ballot box.

  4. Chris LaBossiere2:58 pm


    This was an inciteful and interesting post. Please keep them coming.



    You're talking about a survey wherein "citizens" express concern that multinational corporations have too much power and influence (which is true -they do- but that's pretty self-evident).

    Then you say this: "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".

    "Intelligaged" citizens have so much power & influence that they can cause governments to be thrown out of power? And these intelligaged opinion leaders are qualified to wield that much power & influence because of why? Because they voted in their last election, instigated a political discussion or signed a petition?

    IF such persons really did possess that much power & influence, don't you think we ought to be concerned that "the intelligaged" have too much power & influence - or concerned that they are apparently more powerful than governments?

    That didn't even occur to you when you were composing this piece?

    Roy Harrold

  6. Hi Roy - I have not heard from you in a long time. Yes, I thought about those points when a did this post.

    You are right to be concerned about the "influence" the so called Influentials have. There is a good book explaining the concept and the power they have. It is entitled "The Influentials" by Berry and Keller. Check it out.

    Karl Rove is reported to have used this phenomenon of Influentials to get the Evangelical Christians firmly behind and showing up to support and vote for George W Bush in the 2004 Presidential elections. Looks like Huckabee is on to this now too.

    Your question of why the Influentials are entitled to wield this power is well put and very important. It is one we have to ask ourselves as a society.

    The world is run by those who show up and in a democracy we always get the government we deserve. Regardless of if we showed up or not.

    It is like Pogo said, "WE have seen the enemy and it is US."

    People who think uninformed indifference to politics is a preferred default position for their citizenship are not only asking for trouble, they are accepting it as normal.

    Be careful who you vote for but be careful to vote too.

    Thanks for the comment.