Where Are the Millions of Citizens Screaming from the Mountaintops?



Sept 24, 2018

By Keith Sones

Every article I’ve written in this series has been based on a life story that ultimately helped me understand the world better and has hopefully provided some insight for people that have read the commentary. The learnings for me have typically led to greater emotional strength and, on occasion, a smidgeon more wisdom.

So, given the history of the column, I have no intention of changing the format. I will, however, alter the timeline since many of the influencing events were either in my childhood or early in my career. The experience that informs this article is a bit more contemporary. In fact, it’s quite recent.

It happened two weeks ago.

A bit of context. My day job involves developing new business for the Valard Group of Companies, a large and diverse engineering and construction firm that specializes in high voltage infrastructure. We build the largest transmission lines in the most inhospitable Canadian terrain and replace the smallest distribution poles in Saskatchewan. Our engineers conceptualize new substation designs in Manitoba and at the same time consider how to best create new power infrastructure in Puerto Rico. The tireless distribution crews rehabilitate Toronto networks then, in a flash, head to the Caribbean when a hurricane with a suburbanite’s name wreaks havoc on an undeserving island population. And this means I am in all of these places, and more.

A few months ago I was asked if I’d like to participate in an oil sands related trade show in Fort McMurray. To be honest, I had to think about it. In the past few years the city has had more than its fair share of calamity. Unexpectedly to many, the price of oil tanked a few years back, plummeting from an eye popping $130 per barrel to a bank account crushing sub $40. Thousands of people lost their jobs, homes, and in some cases their marriages. A short time later in 2016, Mother Nature took a hard swipe at the municipality with a fire that is now known as the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history. Now that takes some doing. And if that wasn’t bad enough, earlier this year they faced a river flood that, once again, tested the mettle of the fine folks of Fort Mac. I was really worried that if I attended the conference I’d be subjected to a plague of locusts or maybe a volcano. One can’t be too careful.

However, I’m both an optimist (“You won’t take me alive, you nasty earthquake, tsunami or mortgage meltdown!”) and a fan of the energy industry, so off I went. Arriving into the dreary night rain and 7°C, I was curious to see how the conference would unfold. Would my entry to the conference hall see myself and three other people being the sole attendees, or would I be trampled by the throngs of thousands that were reminiscent of a few years ago? Watery tea or champagne? I would find out soon enough. So with a coffee in one hand and hope in the other, I entered the Suncor Leisure Center. (Okay, that sounded a bit anticlimactic.)

To my pleasant surprise, the event was well attended. Typical of events like this, the agenda included technical educational presentations along with a large trade show, and a main stage where speakers sang the praises of the latest emission reducing technology and prognosticated about what the near and distant futures might hold. There was a lot of optimism and enthusiasm that bubbled from the many conversations on the trade show floor, more than I was expecting given the negative press around oil and the seemingly endless delays tied to the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

In the midst of day one, hunger pangs attacked as one might expect, so I signed up for the lunch event featuring two prominent First Nations chiefs as keynote speakers. Both Chief Jim Boucher (Fort McKay FN) and Chief Archie Waquan (Mikisew Cree FN) spoke eloquently and passionately about their communities, their history and the opportunities that the oil sands developments had provided their people. Prior to sitting down for the meal, I had no idea that the commercial companies created and operated by the Fort McKay FN have generated $1.7 billion in revenue over the past five years. Yes, you read that correctly. Billion. I was also unaware that their Nation had a thriving fur trapping economy for hundreds of years, which was destroyed with the stroke of a pen when Europe banned the sale of furs in 1982. An entire economy, crushed in an instant. To say that the innovation and drive to create their new financial future was impressive is a huge understatement. I had learned something, which made it a good day.

On the morning of the second day I arrived early and was met by an enthusiastic middle-aged man waving a small placard. He asked me if I was planning to attend the “rally,” and without much thought I replied that no, I had some other things to tackle. I wasn’t even sure what the theme of the rally might be, and assumed that it was likely in support of the local hockey team.

Upon entering the building, I noticed a steady stream of people walking down the hallway, so like the lemming I can sometimes be (full disclosure — I hadn’t had my first Starbucks coffee of the day so the eyelids were not fully open and likewise for my brain), I followed suit and joined the crowd.

It turned out that I had found the rally after all, or, more accurately stated, the rally found me as a result of my going along with the crowd. The large room was rapidly filling with people, with a large “Time to Build Trans Mountain” banner slung across the front of the elevated stage. “Ah”, I thought. A rally in favour of the pipeline. In Fort McMurray, this should not be a surprise considering the benefit it would bring to the community and province in general. I was on the fence in terms of whether to stay, knowing I could politely listen to a series of people promoting something I already supported, or slink into a corner and savour the steaming cup of coffee that would be the salvation of my morning. Realizing I could do both, I secured a chair and waited to listen to the predictable.

It wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

Among the “pipelines are good for business” points made by the speakers, a series of slides from the American based Rockefeller Brothers Fund were showcased on the large screen. It highlighted the conscious campaign to land lock Alberta Oil and ensure that Canadian companies were forced to accept a lower price than could be fetched on the international markets. The detailed activist campaign plan didn’t include any concern for whales, the environment, or First Nations. Just money.

Now, this kind of information has been in the news for some time and I’m not naïve enough to think that there aren’t people that want to see Canada fail. Still, to see it in print direct from the source unnerved me a bit.

Rally over, the crowd talked among themselves as they slowly disbanded. As I wandered onto the trade show floor to await the commencement of the daily activities, I nonchalantly chatted with a young man who seemed to take an active interest in the topic of foreign forces. “There’s something else you need to see,” he stated cautiously. A cell phone appeared in his hand with the website of www.corpethics.org already loaded. “Read it for yourself,” he said. “It might open your eyes.”

I rapidly scanned the electronic page when I read a statement that took my breath away. It simply said that “the Tar Sands Campaign… played a role in helping to unseat the Conservative Party in Alberta and nationally.”

A foreign funded organization openly bragging about interfering with Canadian elections. The American Robert Mueller has been spending months and millions to seek any information about Russian sources influencing U.S. elections, and in front of my own eyes was a group taking credit for installing governments in Canada that are friendly to their cause. Once again, seeing something in print is different from hearing speculation about conspiracy theories.

I may be the last person to the party on this issue and perhaps everyone else is well aware of the fact that non-Canadians are intentionally paying to guide the outcomes of our elections in order to kill our economy. But if I am, where are the millions of citizens screaming from the mountaintops? Where is the media outrage? These organizations (also partnered with the Sierra Club, Stand, 350.org and others) are intentionally and maliciously taking the food off of Canadian dinner tables, having parents tell their kids that the time on the hockey team is no more, and replacing hope with despair. And not to protect the environment or make the air cleaner. Their sole motive, as they openly state, is money.

Normally I close the article with a moral lesson I learned or a bit of inspiration for the reader to take away, with the hope that I was able to educate and help someone in a small way. I don’t have those words for you today. I’m mad. We are in a fight not just for the price of oil and the ability to provide good jobs for this and the next generations, but for our very way of life. I finally woke up. I hope you have as well.

Keith Sones is Vice President, National Business Development, The Valard Group of Companies.


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