CNRL Enters the Political Debate

“This is not about sending a message or a shot across the bow.”—Murray Edwards, billionaire oil tycoon

Are you kidding me?

Murray Edwards’ message couldn’t have been clearer if he’d fired a cannonball with neener neener written on it into Premier Notley’s office.

Mr Edwards ponders “uncertainty”

Murray Edwards is the chairman of the board of CNRL, a multibillion dollar oilsands producer. Last week CNRL issued a press release deferring its annual investors’ open house because the uncertainty surrounding the NDP government’s review of royalties, taxation, environmental and greenhouse gas policies meant it couldn’t finalize future capital allocation plans.

Boondoggle deferred

When was the last time you saw CNRL, or any oil producer for that matter, issue a press release saying it’s hosting an investors’ open house let alone cancelling one. The answer is never. That’s because it’s not mandatory to hold investors’ open houses under Canadian or US securities laws.

Consequently when a company hosts an investors’ open house it’s a touchy-feely event that gives investors a chance to get to know the company “up close and personal”.

The senior management team is on its best behavior. The CEO, CFO and VPs make presentations on their current and future plans with respect to finance, marketing, operations and R&D. Every presentation is introduced with the usual legalese that gives the company enough leeway to escape liability if things don’t turn out as expected.

Open houses are also an opportunity for the executives to bond with the investors over lunch, dinner and more often than not, the golf course.

If all goes well the investors are left with the impression that their investment is in good hands.

So what’s the impact of Mr Edwards deferring the investors’ open house? Nothing…other than sending Premier Notley a message which in this case appears to be “I’m Murray Edwards and I’m miffed”.

“Invitation only” conferences

The fact Mr Edwards’ “uncertainty” argument is nothing more than a smokescreen became apparent when Mr Edwards did not cancel CNRL’s participation in two investor conferences that actually matter.

Right after the election CNRL participated in the Citi Global Energy and Utilities Conference in Boston. In June CNRL will be participating in the RBC Capital Markets’ Global Energy and Power Executive Conference in New York.

Mr Blankfein CEO Goldman Sachs

These “invitation only” conferences are hosted by major financial investors like CitiGroup, RBC and Goldman Sachs. They are so prestigious that companies issue press releases telling all and sundry that their CEOs, CFOs and executives will be chairing a panel or making a presentation.

If Mr Edwards is so concerned about the uncertainty created by the NDP government why is he sanguine about allowing CNRL to participate in the Citi and RBC conferences where his executives will surely be asked to discuss the impact of the election of an NDP government on the company’s prospects?

Oh the uncertainty!

To be fair, CNRL, like all oil producers, is grappling with the uncertainty caused by low oil prices, the lack of pipeline access to new markets, the cost of transportation by rail and forest fires in northern Alberta which cut production by 10%.

But it’s hard to believe that the election of the NDP is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The NDP will raise corporate taxes to 12%. This is a certainty that should be included in CNRL’s future capital allocation plans. Perhaps CNRL can use some of the $228 million it will save as a result of tax law changes in the United Kingdom which reduced the corporate tax rate on North Sea oil and gas production from 62% to 50% (that’s not a typo!) and the petroleum revenue tax from 50% to 35% (again, not a typo).

Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd says the royalty review is a priority. She expects to have a good road map in place within six months. The government is pressing ahead with revisions to the environmental and greenhouse gas regulations.

Rushing the process simply to assuage Mr Edwards’ concerns would be imprudent.

The gracious Ms Notley

In the interim CNRL is not paralyzed by the lack of certainty around royalties, environmental and GHG regulations. It can and will do what all public companies do in similar circumstances. It will make reasonable assumptions, set out the high, medium, and low cases and report the results couched in so many weasel words that no one can hold CNRL to its numbers if it turns out they were wrong.

The real nature of the debate

Premier Notley responded to Murray Edwards’ decision to defer the investors’ open house by saying: “Everyone has their interests, and this is a political debate as well as an economic debate, and I welcome all contributions.”

This is indeed a political debate. Companies that work with the government will have an opportunity to participate fully in the debate. Corporations that lob cannonballs into the premiers’ office should expect to have them lobbed right back.

Premier Notley is much too gracious to say this, so Ms Soapbox will say it for her: neener neener!

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42 Responses to CNRL Enters the Political Debate

  1. Not to mention CNRL was already in a full death spiral before the NDP got elected………long before they got elected.
    http://calgaryherald.com/business/energy/ewart-cnrls-3-9-billion-profit-at-odds-with-its-death-spiral-fears

    • Jason, interesting link. Notwithstanding CNRL’s “death spiral” rhetoric, the company made $3.9 billion in profit last year. CEO Laut’s point seems to be that oilsands companies need to become a lot more efficient if they expect to survive in the low price environment. Seems to me they need to become a whole lot more environmentally responsible is we’re to survive in this “business comes first” environment.

  2. Elaine Fleming says:

    Thanks for providing so much information on the inner workings of oil producing companies, meetings with their investors, and the like. This is a world far away from the lives of average Albertans. Even though we might guess that CNRL is blowing smoke it helps to have someone knowledgeable about the industry and corporate dealings to fill in some of the blanks. Could they be having other problems, do you think, and trying to divert attention away from that?

    • Elaine, I wonder whether CNRL’s CEO Steve Laut was entirely comfortable with the decision to defer the open house, let alone issue a press release bringing the postponement to everyone’s attention. It raises the very question you’ve asked–what else is going on?

      It’s very unusual for the chairman of the board to wade into the day to day workings of a company, usually it’s the CEO or his media people who talk to the press. That’s why I think this is all about Edwards trying to make a political point. PR strategists say that even if Edwards didn’t mean to sound aggressive, it comes across that way and in situations like this diplomacy may be a better tactic. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/alberta-oil-industry-wary-of-ndp-government-1.3091520

      Also sending out press releases when they’re not required under securities laws runs the risk of spooking the market–never a good idea.

  3. Sam Gunsch says:

    re: “I’m Murray Edwards and I’m miffed”.

    Great line!

    Maybe we could start a series of t-shirts with the names of CEO’s and Chamber of Commerce types inserted in that sentence.

    Or at least a someplace on a social media platform that curates all the sky-is-gonna-fall crap from the corporate elite.

    My awful heading/category options:
    Pouting Captains of Industry.
    Pouting Plutocrats.
    Plutocrats Whining.

    • Sam, what a great idea! We could extend it to politicians who like their business counterparts can’t get over the fact that the PCs lost (Jim Prentice comes to mind). The category would be Petulant Politicians.

    • helen scott says:

      Love the headings and category options!
      An Oil Company that does not support local business, covers up leaks and spills, manipulates RFP’s and now whines because ‘life is not fair’. Just mark it up to the cost of doing business and you win some, you loose some. Maybe the Oil Company has to ‘whine n dine’ the new political party, much like the contractors they prefer to hire do.

  4. Carol Wodak says:

    Seems to me I’ve heard that name before – in connection with “CNRL Abandons Newfoundlanders in Northern Alberta | Oil ..”; and “Save Cold Lake From Out-Of-Control Oil Sands Drilling …” and “Oil Has Been Spilling Near Cold Lake, Alberta for Almost …” and “‘I Was a PR Campaign’: Oil Cleanup Worker | The Tyee” and “Council of Canadians opposes CNRL application at Cold ..”. – is this an attempt at diversion?

    • Either that Carol or it’s just a mean spirited attempt to crank up the pressure on Notley. The Company filed its Q1 results two days after the election. It provided detailed forecasts of 2015 production levels (before royalties) and referred the reader “detailed guidance on production levels, capital allocation and operating costs” on the Company’s website at http://www.cnrl.com. This is a securities law filing. It has to be accurate. The “current uncertainty” surrounding the NDP’s royalty review and tax, environment and GHG policies” didn’t appear to be a problem then.

  5. Gary Beaton says:

    Perhaps what has Mr. Edwards’ knickers in a knot is the impending ban on corporate political donations to provincial political parties. Mr. Edwards outburst is a telling reaction and indicator of the state to the industry’s ‘social license’, which is to say not all that healthy, here in Alberta.

    • Gary, good point. In support of your comment about Edwards’ outburst being a barometer for the state of the industry’s “social license” the Daily Oil Bulletin reported that “veteran oilpatch executive” George Fink, (CEO of Bonterra) told his shareholders at his AGM “This is one of the best opportunities ever for us to unite the right…It’s something that we all really need to focus upon.” He also suggested the industry should push for a PC/WR merger.
      If that doesn’t illustrate the lack of separation between industry and Tory politics in Alberta, nothing will.

    • helen scott says:

      I think you are right on the money.

  6. Diana Daunheimer says:

    Hi Susan,
    Just a great (and humorous) dissection of the recent muted temper tantrum of Mr. Edwards.
    I too thought this piece was nothing more than posturing, really, is it news that CNRL is postponing a booze and schmooze…if anything this would be fiscally prudent in this market, no?
    But alas, we have biased national papers with the energy section funded by CAPP, captured journalists that ignore facts, drench their work with crooked opinion and seek out the most arrogant and entitled for quotes. So appreciative that you took the effort to post the reality of the situation.
    It should be pointed out that CNRL is deep in an atrocious business deal, the Sturgeon Refinery, with our provincial government, obviously signed under the PC regime. Billions are invested and Albertan taxpayers will be expected to dish out over 28 billion to the project. This project is likely the costliest per flowing barrel in the world, Alberta Oil has a decent article on the undertaking. It seems that now CNRL has lost their PC umbrella, they are worried about being out in the rain with the rest of us, getting soaked.

    My best, DD

    • Well said Diana. Much of the uber-aggressive reaction appears to be based in ideology. Even attempts to extend the olive branch are tainted with it. The Daily Oil Bulletin published an open letter to Rachel Notley written by the Bonterra CEO I mentioned above. After he congratulates her he says: “I am sincerely reaching out to you in what I hope will be a productive dialogue, but want to make it clear that I am not generally supportive of NDP ideology.” What part of the NDP ideology is he referring to, universal healthcare? environmental protection? progressive taxation? and why does he feel it necessary to say that before he launches into his pitch that she do absolutely nothing on the royalty review for at least 2 years. These guys are so shocked to be “out in the rain with the rest of us, getting soaked” that they’re making no sense.

      • Kathleen Lowrey says:

        It’s entertaining to watch them try to shift the frame of what is happening, over and over, so it is them personally giving a patronizing lecture to the little lady Rachel Notley about how much she needs to understand how misguided they think she is. Wouldn’t it be convenient if it were just her? But whoops, it’s not. The voting public in Alberta supported the NDP. I wonder how many times they are going to walk into that particular wall before they start realizing that they are addressing Alberta at large in this condescending way and we are all really, really, hearing it.

      • Spot on Kathleen. It looks like some of the oil executives are beginning to catch on. Today’s Herald carried a story about the RBC Conference in which senior executives from Husky, Imperial and Suncor praised Rachel Notley for being better engaged with the industry with respect to the royalty review than Stelmach was. Suncor’s CFO, Alister Cowan, went so far as to say “I’m confident that we’ll get the right solution, that we require, after this review.” Looks to me like the smart oil executives are trying to put some distance between themselves and the petulant Mr Edwards.

  7. midgelambert says:

    Its time to let Mr Edwards and CNRL know they no longer own our province OR our government. Maybe they will finally have to be responsible for cleaning up their messes. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?!

    • Midge, I don’t know what it will take to convince the CNRLs of this world that they are responsible for cleaning up their messes. As Julie points out the Primrose mess is still ongoing. Doug Proll, CNRL’s executive VP, told the RBC conference that CNRL needs an internal rate of return of 15% after tax to continue with new projects. He said that’s hard to achieve on long-term projects at $60 per barrel. Given the drop in oil prices I’m more than a little skeptical that CNRL’s first priority will be to clean up their messes. All the more reason for tough environmental regulations and stringent enforcement.

  8. Julie Ali says:

    Part 2

    It may have been the shock of Alberta going NDP that has frazzled this poor man to the point where he is doing his hissy fit in this way. I mean the oil industry had it good in Alberta for 44 years. They had a dependable group of government puppets who would do what they wanted; they had low corporate taxes, royalty reviews were pushed aside with a bit of judicial tweaking of the message and dumping of the Stelmach and Redford; finally they were making major profits to make them feel that life was indeed good in Alberta. Then the voters go communist. It’s a sad situation for the oil and gas industry but short of taking over the province by military coup they can’t do anything about the democratically elected NDP government.
    I do feel a bit sorry for the entitled CEOs who were all expecting no more challenges from the serfs. A royalty review is perhaps unexpected since the industry was under the delusion that the PCs would be re-elected perpetually but this unfortunately (for them) –this is not what happened.
    I think Mr. Murray needs to realign his business plan so that he fully understands what the people of Alberta did in voting NDP. We are changing the way we do business with the oil and gas industry. We are asking for a better return on our non-renewable resources with other side benefits as well such as faster tailings reclamation (if this is ever possible) and fewer CNRL type environmental messes. The industry has more to worry about than a royalty review that should have been conducted on a regular basis in Alberta but was not because the PCs were corporate puppets of the most abject sort.
    While Mr. Edwards manipulates the message of big oil to suit the agenda of maximizing profits for his company—he does seem to forget the major ways that the industry has been subsidized by the public in Alberta doesn’t he? I mean he makes no mention of the corporate welfare his company has enjoyed courtesy of the citizens of Alberta who have been fleeced by the PCs.
    It is useful to note that the public have paid the bills of the oil and gas industry in all the ways possible. Why doesn’t Mr. Edwards mention the carbon capture programs, the subsidization of the North West Sturgeon Upgrader by the GOA (government of Alberta) plus the endless advertisements funded by citizens at the provincial and federal level to manage the message for big oil?
    The GOA has entered into a partnership with CNRL which is callled the North West Redwater Partnership to build the upgrader that increases in costs every time I see another article on the project. It is troubling that CNRL –has the gall to castigate the GOA under the NDP new management–for finally doing the job of representing the citizens of Alberta. What the heck? Who does this guy think he is? God? We are helping his company make major profits in this new venture and we are the ones taking the major risks of this project and he has the temerity to rebuke us for creating uncertainty when he is the one doing this junk all by his lonesome?

  9. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,
    I will try to post this comment in parts. Here is part 1.

    Hi Susan,
    I don’t know why Mr. Edwards is miffed with the Notley.
    The royalty review is the least of big oil’s troubles.
    He has surely other factors he could blame for the problems of his company? The world is awash in oil that OPEC is not controlling in terms of output. There is declining demand. China seems to be slowing down. The environmental movement is pretty healthy which means negative impacts for big oil. The image of the oil and gas industry has suffered in Alberta which adds to the pain for the industry that was formerly able to appear angelic in the past. Recent problems in managing the message have let to unruly exposure of the problems of rural Albertans such as Jessica Ernst and Diana Daunheimer. Some enduring environmental problems are unresolved such as the tailings ponds; the researchers who began work on these tailings reclamation projects are now retiring with no sort of real progress made in this area that I can determine. This indicates to me that the tailings ponds will be permanent moonscapes in our province. There is also the problem of the major use of water that seems to be provided free to the industry, that is not returnable to the water cycle when used in fracking operations. The use of major amounts of water raises red flags in my mind—the use of so much water is troubling. What effect is this consumption having on the Athabasca River? No one seems to mention the problems that CNRL has had with reference to its operations in Cold Lake either. Bitumen appears to be still coming to the surface at Cold Lake and yet it is still business as usual:
    http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/05/04/news/no-end-sight-contentious-cold-lake-oil-leak

    *****************************************************************************
    Although there is flow to surface (FTS) of bitumen still I haven’t heard of the AER doing anything about this problem–maybe because there is nothing that can be done about this problem other than ending the operation at this site. In their causation report CNRL yaps about the reasons for the FTS events and tells us:
    http://www.aer.ca/documents/reports/CNRL-CausationReport-20140627.pdf
    PRIMROSE FLOW TO SURFACE
    CAUSATION REPORT

    *************************************************************************
    That’s just a small list of woes that the oil and gas industry in Alberta is confronted with and I haven’t even got to climate change, green energy, growing international pressure and the fact that the costs of extraction are high. All these other factors create more uncertainty for the oil and gas industry than anything the NDP do.

  10. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,
    I don’t know why Mr. Edwards is miffed with the Notley.
    The royalty review is the least of big oil’s troubles.
    He has surely other factors he could blame for the problems of his company? The world is awash in oil that OPEC is not controlling in terms of output. There is declining demand. China seems to be slowing down. The environmental movement is pretty healthy which means negative impacts for big oil. The image of the oil and gas industry has suffered in Alberta which adds to the pain for the industry that was formerly able to appear angelic in the past. Recent problems in managing the message have let to unruly exposure of the problems of rural Albertans such as Jessica Ernst and Diana Daunheimer. Some enduring environmental problems are unresolved such as the tailings ponds; the researchers who began work on these tailings reclamation projects are now retiring with no sort of real progress made in this area that I can determine. This indicates to me that the tailings ponds will be permanent moonscapes in our province. There is also the problem of the major use of water that seems to be provided free to the industry, that is not returnable to the water cycle when used in fracking operations. The use of major amounts of water raises red flags in my mind—the use of so much water is troubling. What effect is this consumption having on the Athabasca River? No one seems to mention the problems that CNRL has had with reference to its operations in Cold Lake either. Bitumen appears to be still coming to the surface at Cold Lake and yet it is still business as usual:
    http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/05/04/news/no-end-sight-contentious-cold-lake-oil-leak
    The AER’s Cara Tobin said, “They have not stopped releasing bitumen to surface.”
    Even while oil continues to bubble up from the ground, no date has been given as to when the AER will tie up its investigation into the cause of the leaks and whether it will issue any recommendations.
    To date, 1,177.14 cubic metres of oil has spread over 20.7 hectares on four sites, according to the AER, a number which has been disputed in a 2014 study from Treeline Ecological Research and Global Forest Watch Canada.
    The latter pegged the leaked amounts at 1,193.6 cubic metres or 12,185 barrels of oil.
    Wildlife impacted from the spill totals two beavers, 51 birds, 106 amphibians and 62 small mammals.
    Tobin maintains that the site is “for the most part” cleaned up. But she said that bitumen is continuing to come to the surface in “very small quantities” every day through cracks in the ground.
    In its most recent update in April 2015 on the leaks, CNRL said it has contained the surface leaks and fully cleaned up all the flow to surface sites. The company noted that the fissures are covered with containment structures and a bitumen collection system is in place.
    *****************************************************************************
    Although there is flow to surface (FTS) of bitumen still I haven’t heard of the AER doing anything about this problem–maybe because there is nothing that can be done about this problem other than ending the operation at this site. In their causation report CNRL yaps about the reasons for the FTS events and tells us:
    http://www.aer.ca/documents/reports/CNRL-CausationReport-20140627.pdf
    PRIMROSE FLOW TO SURFACE
    CAUSATION REPORT
    Report Prepared for:
    ALBERTA ENERGY REGULATOR AND ALBERTA ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE RESOURCE
    DEVELOPMENT
    Prepared by:
    CANADIAN NATURAL RESOURCES LIMITED
    June 27, 2014
    Calgary, Alberta
    In conclusion, the above conditions of FTS events have been observed at each site. Each condition must be addressed to prevent future FTS events.
    *************************************************************************
    That’s just a small list of woes that the oil and gas industry in Alberta is confronted with and I haven’t even got to climate change, green energy, growing international pressure and the fact that the costs of extraction are high. All these other factors create more uncertainty for the oil and gas industry than anything the NDP do.

  11. Julie Ali says:

    Part 3

    Personally I am not sure if building a new upgrader was the best thing to do. But I guess there are the political side benefits of creating jobs in Alberta to offset the major drain of cash that this project represents. Will the costs of this project be worth it? Certainly there have been benefits to the Koch brothers in the USA who have made a ton of cash on our resources.
    http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/05/04/news/how-canada-made-koch-brothers-rich
    How Canada made the Koch brothers rich
    By Bruce Livesey in News | May 5th 2015
    One company currently negotiating with the band is Koch Oil Sands Operating ULC (KOSO), one of seven subsidiaries Koch operates in Canada. Run out of an obscure set of offices in a downtown Calgary tower, KOSO has submitted plans to build a 60,000 barrel per day bitumen extraction project on the band’s land. Called Dunkirk, the Koch project will steam bitumen from underground, costing as much as $2.4-billion to construct. “Their staff have been transparent, really professional and really worked with the community,” says Stuckless, who leads the talks with KOSO.
    As oil sands projects go, the Dunkirk proposal is of medium size. But its importance lies in that it suggests a dramatic change in Koch Industries’ strategy.
    Historically, Koch made its fortune not in exploring and drilling for oil, but in the transportation and refining part of the business – and then converting it into other products (like jet fuel or asphalt). In contrast, Dunkirk indicates the company is planning to develop their oil sands holdings themselves.
    In fact, since 2011, KOSO has applied to Alberta’s energy regulator to drill dozens of exploratory wells on their land, and build at least one other in situ bitumen recovery project – called the Gemini Oil Sands Project.
    If true, it might explain why the Koch brothers want the Keystone XL pipeline built, why the oil sands are a critical asset to the company’s future—and why they are taking such an active role in American politics.
    ************************************************************************
    The Koch brothers seem to be making a ton of cash on Alberta oil and they seem to be expanding their business to extract in Alberta as noted in the article. They seem to have a large piece of the pie in Alberta as well.
    Maybe Mr. Edwards is using the Koch way of getting his company all the perks it can?
    It sure feels as if Mr. Edwards is adopting the strategy of the Koch Brothers to ensure the GOA has the oil “right” views.
    Mr. Edwards seems to be yet another entitled top dog that barks a lot to get the citizens of Alberta all scared about the job losses that were happening already even before the PCs were dumped. We are no longer scared–I mean what are we to be scared about? We were very brave and turfed the PC users after 44 years of that relationship if you can call it that. Now we are under new management with the NDP. We expect the NDP to represent the PUBLIC interest. We have had 44 years of the PCs representing the PRIVATE interests. Now it is our turn.
    Are we to be scared that a royalty review will cause CNRL to fail as a business thereby ending all jobs associated with this company?
    I rather doubt this will happen. If it does happen, I am curious what will be the fate of CNRL’s stake in the upgrader that we are mostly paying for. I am also curious what company will take CNRL’s place. The resources aren’t going anywhere. They stay in Alberta.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-taxpayers-could-be-on-hook-for-26b-oil-refinery-1.3037519
    Alberta taxpayers could be on hook for $26B oil refinery
    North West Redwater Partnership responds to Ted Morton’s report, says numbers are wrong
    By Tracy Johnson, CBC News Posted: Apr 17, 2015 12:11 PM MT Last Updated: May 11, 2015 4:40 PM MT

    • Julie, great comments. I want to close the loop on Murray Edwards’ decision to defer the investors’ open house. The media reports that at the RBC Global Markets conference, the panelists, Suncor, Imperial and CNRL expressed “measured support” for the NDP government. Doug Proll, CNRL’s EVP, said CNRL is not against the royalty review; they just wanted to understand it before before they hosted the open house. Interestingly, all of the panelists, including CNRL, were able to provide pretty detailed updates on their future capital allocations notwithstanding the “uncertainty” created by the NDP’s policies.
      Mr Edwards’ decision is looking more and more like a temper tantrum…of the cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face variety.

  12. GoinFawr says:

    BOO. HOO. Suck it up billionaire buttercups, you lost, Albertans won. So you’ll have to wait one more year for that third land yacht, big deal. Bless your skeevy little heart, I know it isn’t in your nature but you could always settle for the one with the stainless steel toilet instead of the solid gold one, and you might have to go for a teak dash effect, instead of mahogany (sniff, whimper).

    Next up: illegal, private for profit healthcare clinics find it harder and harder to Cope, man, and the truly honourable emergency trauma surgeon/soldier down the block gets a well-deserved raise (for doctoring at least).
    Barring any effectively eternal TPP FIPA CETA or other sovereignty eviscerating, health care cost skyrocketing (‘oh look: it’s too gosh darn expensive; we’d better privatize!!’), trade agreement being federally shoved up our, uh, noses before Oct., natch.

    • GoinFawr your point about publicly funded and delivered health care being a sitting duck for privatization is extremely important. While I’m sure the NDP will do everything they can to bring privately delivered healthcare back into the public sector I worry that the “trade deals” you’ve referred to will eviscerate any gains the NDP make. Murray Dobbins recently wrote a column about public complacency in the face of these pacts. He asked whether the public might pay more attention if someone told them that the upshot of these deals will be a panel of three international trade lawyers who will review our laws and determine in secret whether they are acceptable to their corporate masters. Harper is banking on us tuning out when we hear the word “trade deal”, but in reality these pacts strip away our sovereignty (as you’ve eloquently pointed out elsewhere).

      • GoinFawr says:

        thanks to blogs like yours Susan, and contrary to the ubiquitous assertions that contributions like yours only ‘preach to the choir’, folks where I am to are starting to realize that ‘tuning out’ is no longer a feasible option. ‘truth will out’; thankfully the interwebs are wholly unstoppable in that regard. Unstoppable.

        Speaking of which, I have to say that my partisan self was very surprised, somewhat disappointed, and just a tinge dismayed with Alberta’s freshly minted health minister banning menthol cigarettes and other flavoured tobaccos. Now, I don’t smoke, so such a ban affects me personally not at all, excepting that my taxes might go to pay for one less instance in an infinite variety of someone else’s bad choices, big deal. IE we all end up paying for other people’s dangerous behaviors everyday for all sorts of legal activities, but that does not justify our gov’t telling us, by law, what we can and cannot do to ourselves as adults. I (we) gave a Mandate to Educate, not to Dictate.

        Yes it is as clear as an Alberta sky of deepest summer that such a habit is bad for a person’s health, and expensive for our public healthcare system, but it seems to me that these are legal products that are only legally made accessible to adults; the very people who pay taxes so they can have a public healthcare system. There are puh-lenty of legal activities other than smoking which are dangerous and just as expensive, if not moreso, for Alberta’s healthcare system than choking smokers. Eg. ever seen the average contestant in a hot dog eating contest? Are we to have mandatory daily exercise drills to rectify that problem? Or are we just going to ban salt fat and sugar? Sure, that would cut down on healthcare costs substantially, but only because Alberta will be an entirely empty province as a result.

        If such tobacco products are legal for adults but are in actuality being sold to children there is a problem with enforcement of our just law, and not the legality of the products themselves. Why on earth would the NDP start off by playing right into the hands of their fear mongering critics, and begin whittling away at ADULTS’ civil liberties? That is NOT what I signed on for when I cajoled, shamed and begged everyone I knew to vote in the last provincial election. Bad form, at the very least, regardless of the intention. I can only hope this is just a new gov’t’s growing pain, and not a growing pain.

        I mean let’s face it everyday Albertan adults engage in all sorts of dangerous behaviors that may or may not send them to a hospital. Is the plan to ‘nerf’ the province then?

        This opens the door to onerous questions (that I am now left with no answers to) like: Where does it end? Are ‘wildberry wine coolers’ to be banned because children drink juice? Apple cider? What about mountain bikes? Hang gliding? Running shoes because those over 65 might be tempted to put on a pair and risk a heart attack causing further expense to our public healthcare system? Helmets and mouth guards mandatory for anyone of any age visiting a playground with a jungle gym?

        Dear Ms. Notley,
        I really don’t appreciate being forced onto the same side of an issue as Ezra Levant, it makes me positively itch. In my opinion it bears repeating: I (we) gave a mandate to educate, not to dictate. Please take note.

  13. Elaine Fleming says:

    “GoinFawr”, the issue is about protecting youth, whom the cigarette industry has deliberately targeted with these products, when they are at an age where addiction begins. If you make it past 20 without smoking you are usually home-free. You may also argue seat belts, baby car seats, bike helmets for kids, and so on as being a limitation on freedoms. (My own dad always resented having to wear a “strap”!)
    I cannot see this law as a bad thing. I will quote Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health who, along with the Canadian Cancer Society, support it. “Kids are able to breathe the smoke more deeply into the lungs and do more damage and they also get a bigger hit of nicotine, so it can be more addictive,” he said.
    It really isn’t a fair contest, between Youth and Big Tobacco. I smoked from age 16 to 32, I was addicted, and Craven “M” was my brand. Quitting was the hardest thing I ever did.

    • GoinFawr says:

      Ms. Fleming.
      Thank you for your reply. And yes advertising appears to be frankly ruthless.
      You are absolutely correct, there exists an innate responsibility to protect children, granted. To do what it takes within reason, (if they seem at risk, Gra’an isn’t coming for a visit, and just so it’s not a Tuesday due to kickboxing, etc.) to prompt the little gaffers to understanding certain realities sometimes even.

      simple enough right smartly no?

      Well done, btw. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
      Hah, at the end of it all is life really a fair contest on any front? What is the track record for ‘banning’ what is for all intents and purposes, by law, a personal, private, act affecting a single individual , an (ahem, see: intents and purposes) adult, anyway?

  14. DHT says:

    Dear GoinFawr,
    I would like to point out two things about your last comment:

    “Or are we just going to ban salt fat and sugar?”
    As a part time libertarian myself (the oxymoron-ishness of that aside) the three items you list, although not healthy in manufactured form (and beyond certain thresholds, quite harmful), are not cause for addictions, unless taken in large quantities at regular intervals like that endured by someone under the highly addictive influence of Nicotine. If a menthol platform is used to make that addiction more palatable, and you are making the argument that the same thing is happening with something like Doritos, your logic is flawed. The science is out on the “certain” development of a three bag a day habit of Ranch flavoured deep fried triangles. Around cigarettes, the science is in.

    “my taxes might go to pay for one less instance in an infinite variety of someone else’s bad choices”

    You are absolutely right, people in a free society have choices UNTIL the empirical evidence shows that the choice has been subsumed by the addictive characteristics of the chemical stimulation being ingested. And I won’t get into the argument that people can stop smoking, as that isn’t my point. My point is that this government hasn’t crossed the ‘Nanny threshold’ by putting a policy in place that says that ‘ANY legal distribution question, has limits’. To your question of “where does it end?” I suggest at the level where self harm is no longer a “choice” due to the addiction outcome. And yes, that means they might have to limit the amount people gamble in this province, as the “set a limit, play within it” aside to that problem, isn’t really addressing the tacit approval that our leaders are providing to some who are addicted to making wagers. Keep the casinos open. Just make sure you know who is at the indulgence level and who is an addict – as in, Ezra Levant’s need for attention 🙂

    • GoinFawr says:

      On that very last: Fair point! Ugh. never again, I swear.

      • GoinFawr says:

        ps
        Despite their common enemies’ tireless efforts to keep them divided, progressives and libertarians actually have a lot in common, and in key areas. And where they are heading in the same direction they usually just have a hard time seeing eye to eye on how to get there.

        In my opinion, the principle of individual choice that has been transgressed by this ‘banning’ is one of those places where the two groups meet; which means that even though this law will likely directly affect only a very small percentage of Albertans, the spirit of it will succeed in affronting a much wider demographic.

        I ask again: what does the track record look like for such ‘prohibitions’?

      • DHT says:

        I’m not sure where/how the ‘enacting of prohibitions’ and the ‘adherence to prohibitions’ correlation, embeds in the assumptions of your original post. I guess your point is that from a historical perspective there have always been people who ignore the rules in the name of some perceived slight to personal liberties. Again, my point wasn’t to debate that with you, as we probably do share many common perspectives and hopefully you recognized the tone of my comment as non-adversarial.
        That said, the statistical calculation of how many packages of menthol cigarettes are sold (and eventually ‘not sold’) in our province is not something I’m privy to. What I do know, is that the argument that government intervention around problems like “toxicity” and “addictions” has never generated absolute compliance, is not the reason why laws are re-written…and so be it. Maybe the best we can hope for, is that that wider demographic you alluded to in your post script, picks their “I’m affronted” moments with some thoughtful sense of the ‘degree of transgression’ they are prepared to die or get really sick for. Take care.

  15. Carlos Beca says:

    Wow another great post by Susan and lots of great comments. I was going to post my non-sense but I had to leave it for later. I am reading this interesting book by Henry Mintzberg he just published titled ‘Rebalancing Society’ and on page 49 I just could not stop reading this over and over

    I quote ‘Consider these prophetic words about democracy, attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler more than two hundred years ago (ca. 1810):
    A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government; it can only exist until the voters discover that they can themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by dictatorship.’

    I could not agree more. Harper is now in that phase where the dictatorship is built.

    • GoinFawr says:

      Re: AF Tytler’s sentiment

      The only successful societies are politically and economically ‘blends’, rather than absolutes.

      So: A democracy to protect the masses from the individual, tempered by a constitution in order to protect the individual from the masses works just fine.

      You and I disagree on how Canada came to be where it is to right now: IE a subject to the whims of foreign debt holders. Which, as you correctly surmise, is leading to a national dictatorship ultimately controlled by an international oligarchy. But that is by the design of a few, rather than inevitable consequence as result of unmitigated democracy . Sure, ‘they’ would like you to see it that way, but in reality that’s just part of ‘their’ magic trick.

      In my opinion Canadians never reached the ‘voting themselves into debt peonage’ phase of Tytler’s prediction; they were never really given the choice by the two parties owned by foreign banking interests masquerading as representatives of Canadians. Canada never reached that point because Canadians have never had the luxury of any real control over their natural resources, and the national debt has been effectively used as a wedge to keep that door right tightly shut. Indeed, evidence points to Canadians more often than not voting for those who assure them they’ll put the national books in the black; though that promise has rarely been kept (aside from T Douglas’ CCF running 17 years of budgetary surpluses for Sask that is), and when it has it’s been kept by a proudly, loudly lauded hair, never making a noticeable dent in the nation’s public debt, privately held . That’s because,

      “…the conservatives and liberal parties, both, are too ‘close’ to the banks..” -Jack Layton

      I maintain this evolution to subject from sovereign was subtle, deliberate, treasonous, and not at all mandated by the masses grasping for ‘largesse’. It’s not as if it was unavoidable for Canada to turn over its currency creation to private interests, immediately followed by a fiscal policy transformation from frugal to profligate. Indeed Canada’s public balance sheet was served pretty well prior to Basel I, IE when Canadians were still in control of their own currency a la Gerry McGeer:

      No, that odious switch was a conscious decision hocus pocus’d on the hoi poloi by private banking interests’ pocketed politicians in 1974 (Basel I), and onward and downward by the same to this very day (see chart).

      See, nothing at all to do with some alleged ‘inevitable demise of democracy’.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        GoinFawr I am not really sure I fully understood your point but I will answer that I agree with what Jack Layton said but I also know that if Mulcair was to win the next Federal Election he will not be able to implement a social democratic vision for Canada because big money will simply and quickly put him in its place of serf of the corporate universe. I think that without a major movement we will continue in the path started by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher of a world without society and the paradise of infinite greed and pure individualism. The law of the jungle will be the policy. There are enough Marie Antoinetes to repeat the historical cycle.

  16. ronmac says:

    Gosh! Goldman Sachs and RBC were the beneficaries of taxpayer-funded bailouts from the wreckage of the ’08 crash. It’s socialism for the guys up top and survival of the fittest for everyone else.

  17. I’ve been traveling and have finally been able to catch up with these thought provoking comments. I want to add a comment about the increasing impact of the tech industry (and those who finance it) on our political/economic/social structures. I just read an article about the Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. He, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, justifies the expenditure of billions of dollars on start-ups to create more robots, 3D printers, Snapchat and online shopping apps as mechanisms to lift mankind out of poverty. He dismisses statistics that show that income inequity in the US and elsewhere is rising and that global unemployment is going up. In fact he replies that per capita worldwide GDP is going up (I don’t know if that’s true but per capital GDP isn’t helpful in this discussion in my opinion, not that Andreessen cares). He closes his argument with the triumphant statement: “If this is collapse, let’s have more of it!”

    People like Andresssen and Zuckerberg are frightening for so many reasons not the least of which is their ability to create software that has the power to mesmerize the population while their civil liberties and democratic rights are being flushed down the drain.

    Frankly, I have no idea how to tackle this issue, I simply raise it because it fits into the category of “oligarchy controlled by a select few” that GoinFawr raised and it exacerbates the outcome Carlos identified.

  18. GoinFawr says:

    @ Carlos Beca

    Pardon me if I wasn’t clear. I was responding to your Tytler quote which seemed to imply that democracy was it’s own worst enemy because it claims the electorate reaches a point where they will tend to vote in those who will give them ‘free stuff’, right until it bankrupts the nation. I was saying that I don’t think that is at all necessarily inevitable (with a mitigating constitution), and that it is definitely not why Canada is in the debt peonage position it is now. I am suggesting that Canada was deliberately placed into debt to foreign, private interests as a means to secure, for those same private interests, control over its vast reserves of natural resources; because we all know who are ultimately the masters and who are the slaves in the debtor/creditor relationship.

    And Basel 1 in 1974 was the final nail in that coffin. In my opinion it is no mere coincidence that once currency creation (and public works funding) was taken out of the hands of Canadians and passed to private interests the national debt went parabolic regardless of which Bilderberg alumnis Canadians voted into office. After all up until then, when Canadians had control of their own currency, any interest paid on a National Debt went back into Canada’s coffers, rather than to private international banking interests’ girlfriend’s yachts. Basel I was an abrogation of national sovereignty because if you ‘give private interests control of your money supply they will not care one whit for your laws’.

    Which dovetails nicely with your comment,

    “know that if Mulcair was to win the next Federal Election he will not be able to implement a social democratic vision for Canada because big money will simply and quickly put him in its place of serf of the corporate universe”

    Probably. Indeed, that is exactly what happened to Dalton McGuinty’s gov’t in 2003. The holders of Ontario’s debt said, “Oh, so you wanna enact these populist policies that got you elected? Just you try it and we’ll hike the interest to be paid on your debt-bonds so high you’ll think a brain tumour is a birthday present”, effectively making it impossibly expensive for the Ontario Gov’t to fulfil it’s election promises; IE to govern. See above.

    You’re so right, it’s going to take one helluva trainload of the Canadian concept of ‘wherewithal’ and ‘loin-girding’ to turn these tables. Still, I think it is worth a shot.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      The chances that the problem is on the comprehension rather than the writing side are quite high 🙂

      I agree with you that it is not necessarily inevitable but I thought it was an interesting quote considering that most, if not all democracies in the world today, are struggling for some kind of inevitable readjustment. I just read this morning on Truthdig site that Ada Colau, the Spanish woman that had the guts to call the Spanish financial system what it really, has just been elected Mayor of Barcelona. It seems that the tipping point is being reached around the world and it is accelerating. Even in the US the change is palpable. I also agree with you about foreign debt in Canada. That is a known strategy that has been used everywhere. I am sure the politicians that help create these situations have fat bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. In Africa that is the day to day occurrence and I doubt that they will ever be able to get out of the solitary confinement they have moved into. In Zimbabwe, for example, where Mugabe was the freedom fighter to get rid of those horrible whites, is now turning into a fiefdom with his daughter getting ready to take over an impoverished nation once one of the great promising states in Southern Africa.
      Gosh I laughed so hard with your ‘… debt-bonds so high you’ll think a brain tumour is a birthday present.’ – so true and so funny. I can see already the propaganda starting around Rachel Notley and the oil royalty review. The media being the main keeper of corporate interests. Every day is a more provocative title and the editorials just do not stop on the big mistake last time that was attempted by Ed Stelmach. The oil barons will not stop until she is discredit and kicked out of government. Well sooner or later someone will show up that will not bend and that could very well be her but I have to say that I will not bet my money on it. It takes a lot of courage and smarts to be able to face a situation like this.

      Finally, I totally agree that battling this situation is worth a shot. If we do not, the world will be a very different place in the near future. For many millions of people it is already hell.

      • GoinFawr says:

        Glad you enjoyed it CB
        One correction, Bob Rae, NOT Dalton McGuinty, was the leader put in that unfortunate position … not sure how I made that one without biting my tongue.
        Oops

      • Carlos Beca says:

        I thought you meant Bob Rae but was not sure. That was an interesting government and I never really had a chance to know in more detail what happened. I know that the bad reputation stayed with him for a long time. Then he moved to the Liberals and I thought that maybe he was actually in the wrong party. I believe there was also a lot of pressure from the Unions. He got it from both sides. He is a very smart man and I still admire him. His temporary leadership of the Liberal party certainly saved the party from extinction and right now I think he is slowly getting out of politics.

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