Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Why Did Our Government Avoid Announcing the Premier-Pelosi Meeting?

This week should be a game changing opportunity for re-framing the oil sands narrative in the minds of some of the most powerful political personalities in the United States of America.  The meeting this Thursday with Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, arguably the most powerful woman in America, could be and should be a game changer for Alberta and our oil sands to be understood in a broader and deeper context than merely "dirty oil"

The credible case for oil sands cannot be made by pushing the investment agenda or the jobs advantages.  There is so much more to the potential than those concerns, vital as they are.  There is a need to have an integrated conversation about the oil sands in terms of environmental elements of land, water and air impacts.  There is a need to talk about health and habitat implications and mitigation.  There is a need to talk about science and technology advances and its potential elements for a cleaner future for oil sands development.

There is a need to do all of this to dispel the mythology of dirty oil but not in the context of it not being so bad when you consider it in comparison with the British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico disaster.  Being better apple in a bad barrel is not good enough for Albertans.  We Albertans want to be proud of the oil sands as well as being able to prosper from them.  Being the best of a bad lot is not good enough.

That said I do feel there is a need to compare the so-called "dirty oil" from the Alberta oil sands with the "blood oil" from the other US sources.  Considering the Presidential level false pretense of weapons of mass destruction to justify an invasion of Iraq and the waste and blood that deception created I wonder is we don't need a broader definition of "dirty oil."  The American government is guilty of creating really dirty oil that involves supporting war, terror, death and corruption, both aboard and domestically..  I hope someone is prepared to point that out to Speaker Pelosi this week.  We need to frame the responsible development of the oil sands as a way out of that political, moral and ethical quagmire for the Americans.

The Iraq war was really about deceit, political hubris and securing an oil supply for the United States.  It was not about freedom and democracy for Iraqi citizens as the ultra conservative rhetoric out of the White House would want us to believe.  The George Bush political pantomime of the "Mission Accomplished" performance n the on the deck of an aircraft carrier shows the depth of the political posturing that regime was prepared to resort to in order to sustain its hold on power.  Anyone see a parallel to the current Harper regime in Canada?

The terrorism fostered by the funding of extremist religious fundamentalist enabled by the Bush-Regime friendly royal family of Saudi Arabia is another aspect of "dirty oil" to my mind.  Then look at the social costs in civilian deaths and the political corruption in Venezuela and you can add more granularity to the picture of "dirty oil."  There are many more examples of blood oil as dirty oil in the world that are as least partly due to past American foreign and energy policies.  

None of this justifies Albertans being complacent about insisting that the oil sands be developed in a much more environmentally and socially responsible way.  But to lecture Alberta about our "dirty oil" and to allow the BP blowout to happen and to invade and support corrupt regimes around the globe in exchange for domestic fossil fuel supply is hypercritical in the extreme.

The opportunity to provide a more integrated and honest narrative about the potential of the oil sands as an energy resources to the American market has to be clearly and persuasively presented.  If anyone making these points needs notes to make these points one should wonder if they are not sufficiently akin and aligned with the core values of Albertans around our oil sand development.

The point is to be realistic about our challenges in responsible oil sands development.  Pelosi has to hear and the Premier has to make the point that the oil sands are a viable transitional energy alternative that can relieve the human costs of corruption, death and terror resulting from these other truly dirty oil situations the American people find themselves supporting..

This does not let Albertans off the ownership hook to assure the world we can develop this enormously important resource in a responsible and sustainable way with wisdom and integrity.  It is significant that this meeting with Speaker Pelosi is happening in Ottawa with the Premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan plus key Influentials invited too, like Marlo Raynolds of the highly respected Pembina Institute. (BTW Marlo is a Friday night presenter along with me at RebootAlberta 3.0 in Edmonton Nov 5-6) There will be a  balance of perspectives on the oil sands available to Speaker Pelosi for sure and it is a credit to her that balance is happening.

It is more than a little disturbing to note that this meeting with Pelosi was not announced by Premier Stelmach's office.  As Graham Thomson notes in his recent column, the Alberta public would not have known about it likely until after the fact if not for the fact others were invited and announced they were going.

This lack of public disclosure that our Premier is attending this meeting looks to me like a lapse of accountability and transparency by our government - and it is disturbing.  We Albertans own the oil sands.  We have a right to know what is going on in relation to them  What is our government doing in meeting the stewardship responsibility of our resources, especially the controversial oil sands, is our public business.

The elected representatives are not the absolute rulers over the development of our oil sands.  They are merely our proxy holders as owners.  They are elected to represent our best interests.  They owe us a duty to prove to us that they are serving those ends.  They should be conducting themselves in the service of our best interests openly and honestly and with integrity.   Citizens of Alberta have to start acting like owners of their natural resources and not merely employees for the industry tenants.   The industry tenants need to earn our respect to sustain any social licenses to exploit our natural resources for the benefit of shareholders and citizens.  Our governments need to learn some humility as servant leaders and be dissuaded from assuming they are entitled to govern without being accountable, transparent and honest with the voter.

To not disclose this meeting as part of the regular release of the weekly schedule of the Premier is an indication of a personal and institutional character flaw.  It is not good enough and further erodes the public confidence in the capacity and truthfulness of this government.

There are times when confidentiality is required.  On those occasions we owners still need to know why it is required and be able to trust the integrity of those entrusted to act on our behalf in such confidential circumstances. That is not the case now in terms of being informed as to why s discussion must be confidential  or can we trust the integrity and accountability of our representatives who are involved in such confidential discussions.

Any of secret meetings held behind closed doors by our government proxy holders are inevitably with self-serving parties.  That is why they are a serious source of citizen suspicion.  There is  that there is more back room self-interested collusion going and that is totally inappropriate.  There is plenty of evidence that the current government of Alberta has at best lost the benefit of the doubt that they are to be trusted and believed.  To not disclose the Premier-Pelosi meeting unnecessarily adds to the suspicion and distrust.

Democracy is founded on trust and confidence of the citizenry towards those to whom we delegate authority over us to make decisions on our behalf as informed engaged voters in meaningful elections. I know that is a fiction in Alberta and too many other dissolving democracies.  The Pelosi meeting was a perfect opportunity for our government to show they are worthy of our trust and to justify our confidence in dealing on our behalf with the American mis-perceptions about "dirty oil."

The way this high-level policy event has been handled so far shows that the default of the powers that bee is towards political posturing and secrecy.  That is trumping the greater duty to govern with a sense of stewardship and sustainability with integrity, accountability, honesty and transparency.  Instead they have just reinforced our worst suspicions about how poorly we are governed instead of redeeming themselves by a gesture towards restoring public trust and confidence. I don't hold any hope that the Wildrose Alliance Party would be any better if not worse given their secretive and significant financial reliance on the Calgary based energy sector now.

As thoughtful and responsible Albertans we have to get past our defeatist attitude and insist upon or create another viable political alternative.  To stay in a torpor means the future choices will be between an exclusively market driven govern philosophy or a reactionary social conservative option.  Both are too restrictive to meet our potential and responsibility to aspire be more than the best  place in the world to becoming the best place for the world. That is the preferred future for the Alberta I want to achieve.

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