Who should govern in times of significant disruption?

Chris Kutarna says this is the best time in history to be alive.  We’re healthier, wealthier and better educated than at any other time in history…so why are we so miserable?

Kutarna is a Fellow at the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University.  He argues we’re experiencing a second Renaissance—an amped-up version of the first Renaissance which swept through Europe from 1450 to 1550.

The Economist isn’t quite so dramatic; it says we’ve entered the Third Industrial Revolution, the age of digital manufacturing.

I prefer Kutarna’s characterization because it recognizes we’re in the throes of significant social, technological, economic and political disruption.

We’ll bring this conversation back to Alberta politics in a second, but first a little background.       

Renaissance

The first Renaissance started in Florence in 1450.  The second Renaissance started around 1990 and isn’t tied to a specific geography, being fueled by events like the end of the Cold War, the emergence of the World Wide Web and globalization.

The Gutenberg press revolutionized the speed with which ideas could be communicated across Europe but the speed and breadth of communicating via the internet leaves Gutenberg in the dust.

Renaissance 1.0 saw advances in science and technology that changed the way Europeans viewed the planet (hello New World), the heavens and themselves.  The second Renaissance pushed the frontiers of science and medicine, automation and robotics to the point where we no longer treat the human body we transform it at the molecular level; we no longer view the night sky with telescopes we map the universe with computers and digital cameras.

girolamo-savonarola-vita-firenze-medici-680x300

Girolamo Savonarola

The first Renaissance saw the rise of charismatic leaders like Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar who came to Florence with a plan to make Florence great again.  He promised that pious living and a renewed belief in God would oust the corrupt Medici, save Florence from the Turks to the East and the French to the West and deliver to each of his followers wealth and power beyond their wildest dreams.

I don’t need to draw you a picture, do I.

Aftershocks 

We can’t keep up with the changes brought by Renaissance 2.0 but we do know the gains and losses haven’t been equally distributed.

Those who own the banks and the factories win, those who don’t lose.   The computer technology that enhances our lives is used by the state to limit our freedom.

We’re 26 years into the cycle and we’re fed up.  We refuse to do what’s expected of us.

Britain chose Brexit.  Germany, France, Belgium and Austria rejected the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership.  The Republicans chose Trump and many Democrats prefer Bernie Saunders.

Canadians rejected the status quo as well.  They chose Trudeau over Harper and Rachel Notley over Jim Prentice (remember him?)       

Who is in the best position to govern?

It’s been a little over a year since Albertans replaced the Progressive Conservatives with the New Democrats, but many Albertans think they’ve made a colossal mistake and want to unite the right in order to reinstate the Good Old Boys and bring back the Good Old Days.

If we are indeed embarking on the second Renaissance this would be a terrible mistake.

Here’s why.

Alberta’s government needs a clear vision and exceptional courage to meet the challenges of fundamental global change.

The Notley government has been in power for just over a year.  It’s demonstrated it has the vision and discipline to take the long view.

It shored up the energy sector by implementing forward looking policies like the Climate Leadership Plan to reduce greenhouse gasses and repair the sector’s reputation.  At the same time the government cut the industry some slack on the Royalty Review.

The government offered incentives to value-added industries like petrochemicals and plastics and encouraged the development of the renewable energy sector.

It’s diversifying the economy by supporting other sectors.  The food industry recently overtook refined petroleum products as the largest manufacturing sector in the province.

It turned the conservative tax model upside down by increasing corporate taxes and introducing a progressive income tax regime favouring middle and lower wage earners.

It increased the minimum wage.

These strategic changes will improve Alberta’s economy over the long run while insulating Albertans from changes imposed on Alberta’s economy by forces beyond its borders.

What has the Opposition done?

The Wildrose spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing the ND’s economic and social policies but has yet to produce any viable alternatives.  They lack a long term strategy and their short term policies are incoherent.  (For a scathing review of their beer policy, the “6-Pack Plan for Alberta Beer Producers and Consumers” policy, check out this blog by beer industry insider Jason Foster).

The Progressive Conservatives wisely refuse to support the Wildrose’s antiquated social policies, choosing instead to criticize the ND’s economic policies.

Both parties repeat the same mantra—“cut taxes, balance the budget”.

470_klein_061110

Good Old Boy Ralph Klein

This isn’t a vision for the future, it’s a return to the status quo which fails to address the challenges Alberta faces today—a one-trick pony economy and deficits in healthcare, education and infrastructure.

What can we do?

The second Renaissance is happening right before our eyes.

Luckily Alberta elected a radically different government with the foresight to address 21st century challenges with 21st century policies which will ensure the benefits and the losses created by rampant change are borne by all Albertans.

Now is not the time to reinstate the Good Old Boys and bring back the Good Old Days.  They failed to deliver when they were in power and there’s no reason to expect anything has changed.

Kutarna says there’s a long and interesting history waiting to be written.  Let’s make sure we’re the ones writing it.

Sources:

http://www.economist.com/node/21553017

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-september-6-2016-1.3748863/september-6-2016-full-episode-transcript-1.3750178#segment2

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-september-7-2016-1.3750038/september-7-2016-full-episode-transcript-1.3752035#segment2

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40 Responses to Who should govern in times of significant disruption?

  1. RJ says:

    Exactly. What an insightful piece. Thank you Susan.

  2. Cathy Black-Pearlman says:

    Love your blog. Just one small comment – it’s Savonarola.

  3. Carl Hunt says:

    I don’t know much about a second Renaissance—’in the throes of significant social, technological, economic and political disruption’ etc. but suggest somebody forgot about the reality that many of the claimed economic benefits are based on the mindless, short-sighted exploitation/destruction of renewable resources, which have real costs that economists seldom measure. I agree with your political arguments but haven’t seen much real political action to protect our water or renewable resources. Propping up a fossil fuel economy with new pipelines, royalty welfare etc. isn’t going to solve the long term problems.

    • Carl you’re absolutely right. I believe the ND government is trying to build a bridge moving the economy away from fossil fuels to other energy sources. This is not an easy task given the importance of fossil fuels in our economy. Even the leader of the provincial Green Party acknowledged that we couldn’t just “flip a switch” and turn off the oilsands because to do so would plunge us into economic ruin. Where the Greens and the ND differ in their approach is future expansion. The Greens put a moratorium on any further expansion whereas the NDs have allowed for it in their resource policies. This must have been a difficult call on Notley’s part but I think she’s being practical under the circumstances.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Carl I fully agree with you. I also agree that we cannot just abandon fossil fuels because it would definitely shut down the province. But we should implement a much more aggressive government investment in the renewable sector. The NDP being a social democratic party should not be shy on that kind of investment. I am sure they would bring a lot of money to the government coffers. I believe the reason they do not do that is because of the backlash. It seems that we as a society no longer believe in government intervention unless of course is to bail out the private sector and to make sure that the owners get their commissions no matter what.
      I find this abhorrent. Without this kind of investment Alberta could slowly fall into oblivion just like the Maritimes did.

      As far as the renaissance, I have no doubts that all that you mentioned in terms of what is happening is correct but to me when a society approaches this kind of disruption does not necessarily mean that the outcome is always positive. I would love to think so but I am more on the side of Fritjof Capra that suggests that in these circumstances we can either evolve into a higher level of development and higher complexity and a more sophisticated society or we can fail to do that and actually go into the dark ages which also has happened before. So I would say that the chances of Dark Ages or Renaissance are 50 – 50 and judging by the power of the military we have these days the chances of Dark Ages seems to me closer to fruition.

      • Carlos, you raise a very valid concern. The technologies and advancements that propel us forward can be used to harm us as well, especially in the hands of a right wing nativist government. Kutarna urges us to become radical activists, to watch where the state and society are going and to speak out if it’s going the wrong way. We can’t all be heros but we can all participate in actions like Mayor Don Iveson’s #Makeitawkward campaign to curb discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation by making it crystal clear to the person who’s spouting off that we won’t tolerate their behavior. Sometimes it only takes one small action to mobilize an army.

      • carlosbeca says:

        I love the term radical activist. I think Kutarna is on the same wavelength I am.
        Being a radical activist involves a lot of courage and a lot of risk taking. It also requires a strong belief in the power of change. None of these is easy even in the best of times.
        Also and finally, you are naïve if you think that even our so called democratic government is not on you if you are one. I can guarantee you that even with this soft radical blog, you have their attention. 🙂 🙂

      • Carlos, I certainly hope this “soft radical blog” is on someone’s radar screen. Given the fact that Danielle Smith asked me to come on to her show to discuss PPAs I think it’s ruffling a few feathers. One can only hope 🙂

  4. Robin says:

    Another excellent column! Fortunately, in 2019 we can compare the economic performance of Alberta under the progressive and pragmatic policies of the Rachel Notley government with that of Saskatchewan governed by the Brad Wall government, much like, Democratic governed Minnesota vs “Tea Party” Republican governed Wisconsin. The Notley government is somewhat reminiscent of the Lougheed government, that is, comprised of refreshingly principled and dedicated public servants in their Caucus; therefore, it is worth reminding ourselves that Lougheed preferred to say that Albertans entrusted him and his party with the responsibility to govern in the best interests of the people of Alberta, in other words, he would never say that he or his government is “in power”. He viewed the role of MLAs as trustees of the people of Alberta with a fiduciary responsibility to act in their best interest. This often meant leading through public engagement and education rather than simply following the most recent polling survey findings or running to the front of everyone else’s parades as they passed by.

    • Great point Robin. I notice that Sask premier Brad Wall dialed back his attacks on Rachel Notley since Husky spilled oil into the North Saskatchewan river and forced North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort to find alternate water sources. He used to be a unabashed cheerleader for pipelines but his Energy and Resources Minister recently announced the government will inspect all oil pipelines that cross rivers, lakes or other bodies of water which provide water to municipalities. It looks like the government no longer trusts the pipeline operators do these inspections.

      • cyberclark says:

        Another technology “magnetic resonance” and enhanced continuity checks can be built into the lines and monitored by means other than manual checks. Oil causes friction wear in the lines like our water lines so it is essential checks be organized and scheduled.

    • cyberclark says:

      Lougheed also ordered the oil sands plants to shut down when the oil fell below profit levels.

  5. cyberclark says:

    We are travelling at light speed in Alberta. These innovations and technology you speak of are very real and in abundance and all run on electricity which was first introduced into Alberta in 1887. In roughly 130 years we moved forward at greater daily speeds to a point we are about to spin the world off its axis (metaphor) Vimey Ridge and all its innovation was only 100 years ago!
    So fast!

    • Cyberclark, light speed is right. How’s this for another example. I listened to the CBC interview with Chris Kutarna while working out on my treadmill in Calgary. Kutarna was calling in from Beijing to speak with Anna Marie Tremonti in Toronto. I used his premise as the foundation of this article and tweeted the blog into the twittersphere last night. Kutarna saw it and retweeted it with this comment “great piece @susanspbx, making sense of Alberta politics in our #AgeofDiscovery” That would be impossible in the age of traditional media. Unbelievable…and cool!

  6. Erin Hickman says:

    “The Notley government has been in power for just over a year. It’s demonstrated it has the vision and discipline to take the long view.”

    Unfortunately, too many Albertans do not have the discipline to take the long view. They’ve been living in a world of “get what I want when I want it…or else” for so long that they think that’s the way the world works. And I am talking about both ends of the extreme. I think the AB NDs are doing a creditable job, and should be given a chance to continue with their vision. I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

    I am relatively new to your blog, Susan, but I really appreciate what you’re doing, and pass it on to anyone I think will appreciate it (or not!)

    • Erin, I share your concern that the NDs will not be able to deliver on their vision because the “I want it now” crowd will vote them out in 2019. This would be a tremendous setback because the conservative government will undo all the good that the NDs have done, especially on the climate change front.
      And thanks for passing my blog on to your friends, who knows what kinds of political debates it will inspire!

  7. cyberclark says:

    Oh, Electricity never actually got to the cities until the early 1900s!

  8. Einar Davison says:

    I love the picture of Ralph Klein. He was much beloved by some Albertans but I only remember him two ways in the Leg, arrogant and unwilling to find common ground or drunk (well three, or both). I will give Premier Notley credit for not being the former and thankfully not partaking of the latter. I know the right wingers want to do a “u turn” and try to go back 20 years. However that is both naive and counter productive to growing our province. All that being said the electorate is the final judge of the end result and all I can say is if the New Democrats hope to have a second term then they should be hoping that the Alberta economy turns around. I’ll admit that I being from a rural area that unfortunately elected Derek Fildebrandt and a good many of my “neighbours” have “lit their hair on fire” and you could discount this. However I do see this “unhappiness” starting to move into what are or should be NDP strong holds. It is unfair, and I agree it’s unfair. I believe the government has taken a reasoned approach to running the government. I worry a bit about the deficit, but don’t really see any other options at present. We can thank 20 years of Conservative mismanagement. However the voter is only interested in if they have a job and can they afford their mortgage. When times are tough the state of the economy is the only thing on peoples minds. With no apparent improvement and indications that it will get worse before it gets better and with roughly two and a half years before the next election, the ND’s need a big “in your face Wildrose” win (I know I would love to see one, in hopes that it might leave them for once speechless…I’d love the quiet) I hope it works out because I sure don’t want the Wildrose as the government in waiting to take us backwards, however I do hope that we are further along than where we are now to a better Alberta.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Einar, excellent description of the real picture.
      Unfortunately things are not looking any better and I agree that it could get worse. If this does not turn around and if the Wildrose moves in we will be in big trouble and Alberta will for sure go into the Dark Ages. 🙂

    • Bob Raynard says:

      Hi Einar,

      You can see an even better picture of Ralph Klein if you Google ‘Ralph Klein finger ‘. Sorry, I don’t know how to post a link.

      Bob

      • Einar Davison says:

        I remember that one, he was still Mayor of Calgary. More handy for him to run over to the King Eddy. Hey I lose my temper too, but if you are a person in a position of trust you should also be expected to act better. Kind of like Judge Camp, if you are going to say stupid or ignorant things or if you are going to act like a jerk, then maybe you shouldn’t be in that position. Klein was a hero to many, but many other politicians were effective and accomplished things without “lowering the bar”. If Klein was still alive and he knew me he’d probably be giving me the finger too. But I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

      • Bob, I googled it and attach a link which includes a number of pictures of “the finger”. Interestingly one picture fuzzes out the finger. I guess we were a kinder gentler society back in the 1990s when Klein was Environment Minister. https://www.google.ca/search?q=ralph+klein+finger&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjN_6_T84_PAhWl5YMKHYkfAMwQsAQIKw&biw=1366&bih=628

  9. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,

    I am not as sanguine as you are that we have Renaissance leaders in power in Alberta.

    In my opinion, the NDP folks have not shown any ability to change the system other than for their own benefit. They implemented the legislation that prohibited donations from unions and corporations as soon as they got elected. They are currently hurrying through election donation limits that handicap their opponents. It’s all very neat. Who ever thought that political parties had so much cunning? The NDP folks certainly are dedicated to their own bottom line and survival.

    While the NDP folks have strengthened their political position with these new donation limits and removal of corporate / union donations they haven’t done much for citizens in the continuing care systems with difficulties. We are told to wait, not to be impatient and so on and so forth. So odd. Why can’t the Minister of Health resolve the problems of citizens in the health care/ continuing care system with an independent appeal process? A simple law indicating the requirement for an independent appeal process for patients in the health care system and residents of continuing care facilities is apparently too much for the NDP folks to contemplate. And yet such a law would do much to ensure the just society model that the HQCA is always talking about.

    Why can’t citizens have the independent appeal process for problems in the system? Well we could have one but apparently government doesn’t want to provide us with one. In my mind, this indicates that there is a failure to respect the rights of patients and residents who are operating at a disadvantage in terms of power in relation to government. Such a public independent appeal process might also provide the public with information that also might embarrass the government. In my opinion, it should not matter if the appeal process provides evidence of government failures or of non-compliances by organizations; the requirement is for investigation, review and prevention of the problems that repeat because there aren’t effective mechanisms in place integrate the learnings from conflict, adverse events, non-compliances and poor performance.

    An appeal process for the health care/ continuing care systems should be independent of AHS, Covenant Health, Alberta Health and the continuing care system in order to be dependable. With the current set up with the internal to AHS appeal process, we don’t have the sort of independence of decision making that ensures confidence. Instead we have a process that appears to be a way to tidy up loose ends.

    Not only has there been no change in terms of a dependable appeal process there have been odd moves by the NDP folks that are reminiscent of the Tories. They seem to be following the PC way of privatization of continuing care in Alberta despite all their railing against such privatization before they got elected. For example just look at what happened at Sundre Hospital’s long term care beds. The continuing care sector was briefly galvanized by the push by Alberta Health to remove public long term care beds at Sundre Hospital. This decision was approved by Sarah Hoffman and was met with vigorous push back from Sundre families, their MLA -Mr. Nixon, the folks at Friends of Medicare and the AFL. In fact, AFL members went to Sarah Hoffman’s constituency to spread the good news of the NDP folks becoming the PCs in terms of the privatization of public long term care beds; such direct advocacy had the positive result of ensuring that some of the long term care beds now remain at Sundre Hospital. Carol Wodak is to be commended for her dissection of the transformation of the NDP folks into the PCs in this informative post:

    http://www.friendsofmedicare.org/wodak_sundre

    Besides the failed attempt to be PC in terms of the decommissioning of rural public long term care beds, we have had the continuation of the PC policy of P3 projects with the recent decision to create long term care beds in partnership with Park Place Seniors Living in Edmonton. I don’t see how a private company –Park Place Seniors Living receiving $6.3 million dollars of public money to continue the privatization scheme of the PCs is following the NDP philosophy of providing long term care beds in the public realm.

    All these recent decisions indicate to me at least that nothing has changed in the system; the NDP folks are continuing the theme of the PCs to keep the unjust society alive in Alberta. Even the Seniors Advocate position is the same watered down version of the Tories. Really what has changed in the area of continuing care? We get the same emasculated Health Advocates, we have the Ombudsman Office that folks in government and public bodies can ignore, we have a PPIC office that is simply a white washing entity in my opinion and the general public for the most part isn’t able to distinguish between the placebo cure and the real medicine. None of these offices that we pay for can do anything for citizens in trouble except make recommendations that are ignored.

    It’s pretty interesting for me as I go through the process of reviewing abuse and fatalities in the system to see how this setup of the system perpetuates injustice in the system and continues the PC error problems such as the major number of deaths of kids in government care that we didn’t even know about until recently. Such a setup is very good at ensuring that the heartbreaking stories of ordinary citizens are hidden from the general public under the guise of privacy or through the punitive acts of retribution and legal muzzling. How long can such an unequal relationship between government and harmed citizens continue? Morally it is repugnant and ethically it is unacceptable.

    While everyone believes change has come to Alberta and we have the best possible folks in charge of government, I see no difference between this NDP government and the former PC government. But I guess folks will continue to believe the chatter rather than the acts. We’ll know at the end of the four years if the chatter actually resulted in acts. I am not a believer that there will be any acts of change by this political party —other than the acts required to preserve its own political footprint.

    • Einar Davison says:

      Julie, this isn’t my blog so I really shouldn’t be replying to you. However I feel some of your argument needs to be debated. In regards to political contributions. Restricting union donations probably affected the NDP more than any other party and perhaps this can be seen by the fact NDP contributions are way down. I’m not an NDP supporter but having contribution limits as high as $15,000 is just flat out corrupt. Your friends in the Wildrose have been the recipient of many such donations where wealthy individuals can write huge cheques and please don’t think they do that out of the kindness of their heart, they want to change things for their benefit,and at very least they want access. If it were up to me I would restrict contributions to 10% of the poverty line or not more than $2500 annually for both the party and constituency association and double in an election year. That way no one can buy access, everyone is fairly equal. It used to be that way until Ralph Klein and the right wing bunch got control of this province and set the rules to make sure they had an unfair advantage. It was that way when I ran in 1997 and I felt that was fair. Political parties should need to do some work to raise funds for elections and they need to work for all Albertan’s and not those who can write the biggest cheques. I invite you to go look at the contributions made to the various political parties in the last two elections. If you care to look you can find it at Elections Alberta and it is eyeopening. You say the NDP is being unfair, I say this will level the playing field and make it fair for all political parties. I go against my party on this one but I applaud the reduction in the annual contribution limits. I disagree though with political parties getting government funding unless it is all or nothing.
      On the second part. I empathize with you in regard to what you face with your family member in long-term care. My mother was in long-term care until she passed away. She was one of the last residents of Strathmore Hospital Long Term care. The PC Government decided that they wanted to privatize and basically told everyone who had family there that it was go to the Agecare facility or go home. They wouldn’t even move them to another public long term care center. Well most of the people who are in long term care are medically at risk and having them in a facility that is attached to the hospital is more desirable than requiring them to take an ambulance trip. My mother passed away one day before she was scheduled to be “transported” to the Agecare facility. My mother didn’t want to leave Strathmore LTC, it was her home and with her chronic illnesses it was easy and convenient for her to get treatment. Agecare facility was funded to $22 million dollars by the PC Government, the building was built by the owner of Agecare’s own construction company and as a money making business it is super profitable because costs are kept to a minimum, residents pay for everything and if they need special equipment they pay for that too. Meals are provided by the same people who make airline food and a truck comes every day with the residents meals. So yeah I know what you went through and I continue to fight against it. I don’t believe anyone who is medically at risk or has chronic life threatening illnesses should be in a private facility because there is neglect and even though those facilities were paid for by public funds they are still considered private property and what happened to you can legally happen. That is wrong! I have written Minister Hoffman about it and I do believe she would rather have something else, but again a government is like a ship with a very small rudder, it turns slowly and unfortunately many of the policies that the PC’s put in place and many things were put in process and are difficult to turn around. Unfortunately the Minister of Health can’t pick up the phone and tell AHS to stop something, there is a process and it can’t happen overnight.
      In regards to Sundre yes what happened to Strathmore is happening in rural centers all over Alberta. The Agecare facility was started in 2008, first an assisted living residence and then they began building the LTC in 2011. They have a contract with AHS and should that contract be broken they can sue the government. As I said many things were done before the NDP took government and unfortunately this government must carry them through. You have said before that the Wildrose speaks up for average people. Of course they do, they are in opposition and they need to look like they are for the people, as does every political party. It is easier to shout when you are in opposition and I believe the NDP understand this now. However the Wildrose is still a right wing party and if they were in government they would be interested ending public facilities and having a fully private system, where what you and I faced would be even more prevalent than it is now. They might do away with public funding of private facilities ( I doubt it though, I think they would be even worse for those donations you mentioned) in which case unless you have a lot of money and can afford the thousands it would cost to keep someone in long term care you would have no place to go. The Wildrose are no friends of public anything. They just want to take credit for things because it makes them look good. I need only refer you to the picture of Derek Fildebrandt standing in the former Strathmore Long Term Care center with his thumbs up. While over in the private Agecare facility, many people who should be and were in the long term care facility needs to go by ambulance to the hospital and find their own way back. If they are in hospital too long they lose their room at the private facility. Or else when family members find their family member “in care” lying on the floor dead after sliding out of their wheel chair and the security guard won’t even let the family member touch them. Yeah thank you Derek Fildebrandt and thank you Wildrose for the thumbs up. He’s just another good old boy, but more dangerous because he know nothing other than his ideology and is almost proud of that. Just another good ol boy, hoping to get on the gravy train of Alberta politics.

      • Julie Ali says:

        While the PCs started this mess, the NDP are continuing it. I don’t believe the Wildrose will make it any better. I am voting Liberal next time around.

      • Einer I’m glad you and Julie are having this dialogue. Not surprisingly I agree with your point that rectifying 20 years of PC mismanagement will take time. Having said that I sympathize with Julie who has been fighting to get decent care for her sister for years. Julie I like your suggestion of an independent appeal process. I see no reason why this shouldn’t be put in place. I also think that government inspectors should have the right to drop in unexpectedly on private care facilities to ensure that the government standards are being met.

  10. K. Larsen says:

    A globalized market instantly electronically connected is not new. The telegraph enabled a wholly globalized grain/commodity market in the late 1870s. That saw the rise of four giant family owned companies which have run the world’s grain trade ever since – with the notable exceptions of the collective bargaining agents of the Canadian and Australian Wheat Boards. Without those two institutions we are back to 1900 in global grain.

    Two meat packing firms do 90% of the beef in Canada and over 70% of the beef in North America. Three or four grocery retailers are vertically and horizontally integrated with half a dozen food processors in North America and Europe.

    Three or perhaps four giant agro-chemical-seed companies now control all food seed genetics, again with the notable exception of Canadian cereal grains, at least for now – no thanks to the Ab NDP BTW.

    How many microchip manufacturers, two or three? How many software operating systems control 90% of the computer systems?

    In the US four railways haul 90% of the tonne-miles of freight and they are using their market power to increase their profits. Up here the two railways who haul 100% of the freight are bending every effort to remove the regulatory constraints on their power now that the Canadian Wheat Board has been killed. Heads up food processors!

    The big things in our society that really matter, like food production, transportation, energy production, and control of technology, are already controlled by oligarchies and the really powerful ones are owned by oligarchs.

    So I do not see a new renaissance. I just see a few giant firms further consolidating their control of each sector, not fundamental global change.

    Bless you for your optimism, and I do hope the Notley government has a vision beyond Dr. Pangloss and Faith Popcorn, and the courage to carry it out. However, it is business as usual in agriculture, transportation, food genetics, and energy. If that high ground of the economy is not regulated for the public good, you can bet it will continue to be controlled by the oligarchies for their own good. And who can blame them when it is so easy to wind up the opposition or to bilk people into thinking that free trade/deregulation/the internet will actually change how these oligarchies operate?

    My apologies for an overly long response – don’t get me started on beer and malting barley.

    • K. Larson: excellent points. We can add to the list of conglomerates the recently announced merger of Agrium and Sask Potash which will create a $36 billion agricultural products giant. Farmers are understandably concerned about this but Premier Brad Wall thinks it’s a good idea. Lord knows why; he panned the Sask Potash/BHP merger, what’s different with this one? The merged entity says it will find $500 million in savings, it’s not clear how but it’s highly likely it will come through layoffs. My question is this. given the incredible power of the oligarchs, why doesn’t the public throw it’s full support behind political parties that push for regulation for the public good?.

      • Ken Larsen says:

        A question I puzzle over as well Ms. Wright. One explanation is these oligarchies commanding the heights of the economy are largely invisible to the public and even most farmers. The merger of Monsanto and Bayer and the purchase of Syngenta by the Chinese Government’s ChemChina are of much greater import to food eaters and farmers than even the Agrium merger you mention.

        Doesn’t the reality of this structure does change the question of your post? Are the NDP intelligent enough to recognize this economic structure and ruthless enough to deal with it effectively? We know the other side was ruthless in destroying almost all the public interest controls on these oligarchies and they promise more of the same.

        Does the NDP have the back bone to reverse that? It is not looking at all promising so far. The Alberta government is still allowing the undemocratic ag-commodity check-off commissions to lobby for turning the cereals genome over to the agro-chemical-seed companies for example.

      • Einar Davison says:

        I think I have already more than used up my replies and I apologise Susan. However I would like an opportunity to add my two cents on this topic. I agree with Ken, most farmers don’t understand what is happening or they have bought into the companies line that “bigger is better”. I am surprised that farmers get outraged by ensuring their workers are protected, but have very little outrage when the big agribusinesses consolidating takes billions of dollars out of their pockets by limiting their choices.
        I was a delegate with Agricore (Alberta Wheat Pool) back when the country elevator system was being shut down. We were told then that by merging the farm co-ops together that the bigger organization would be better and that there would be more synergy and it would be better for farmers. Well the prairie grain co-ops after all these mergers are now 100% owned by Glencore a multinational commodity group that is all about making huge profits for their principals. Their CEO by the way is the former CEO of BP during the blowout that caused the huge oil spill in the gulf of Mexico. Yes governments need to wake up, but if the farmers themselves don’t wake up and are willing to let it happen from ignorance, or greed (believing what the companies tell them about how it will make them more money) then it will continue. In a lot of case farming in the prairies has made a U-turn to where it was over 100 years ago, it’s just farms are a lot bigger, but the agri-companies still have the control.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Ken I have to answer one of your questions. I know that you made the comment that the blog owner should be the person replying to individual posts but I do not agree with that and I do not think that Susan minds discussions at all. If anything that is what she is trying to encourage.
        I do not think that it is the NDP that does not have the backbone to reverse the mergers you talked about. The issue is that they are paralyzed. They do not even try because the backlash would be immense. I believe that they would fall as a government. That is the problem I was talking about in my last post. Of course I fully agree with you that they should and they have the majority to do it but Rachel Notley still is not the person that will have the courage to take that step. I seriously thought she was but so far, like you said , not really. The only person that has shown some resilience is Sarah Hoffman. She made a couple of major moves and I think she will make more. Even more disappointing is Bryan Mason who has always been very vocal in his attacks on the legislature. The problem is that there are not many individuals willing to move the bar higher. In the meantime we are moving ever faster into a situation that could very well only be reversible with violence. Right now it is doubtful one can change without major consequences.
        Having the Government of China owning our stuff, may make much sense to politicians and the so called free traders, but they do not know what is coming. Just take a trip to Africa and you will see what the objectives are. 🙂

  11. Carlos Beca says:

    ‘So I do not see a new renaissance. I just see a few giant firms further consolidating their control of each sector, not fundamental global change.’

    This is the way I see it as well. Furthermore, this is global. Globalization is an attack on the lower classes and the biggest attempt to destroy democracy.
    Rachel Notley is caught in this whirlwind and has been subject to media propaganda and personal attacks. This is the well known neo-liberal strategy and it will bring them down. I do not believe she is willing to get off the ‘be nice’ bandwagon against these overwhelming forces.
    Even in Europe it has been tried in Greece (Syriza – capitulation) , Britain (Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party – in the process of a second leadership voting to get him out) and Spain (Podemos – Iglesias who basically is now doing what the European community tells him to do – Angela Merkel is the chief superintendent of this process).
    So we are fast approaching the same situation as the last century’s revolutions. Judging by the present conditions, we could be in for real Dark Ages events.
    One thing is for sure, the elites and the powerful will not move an inch on this. They have been very clear on their position in the last 30 years.

    • Carlos, when I follow the events you describe I wonder what we “little people” can do. I remember the photos of the protester standing alone in Tiananmen Square and the black woman standing alone in front of a parade of 300 neo-Nazis in Sweden. I don’t know whether they make much difference in the big scheme of things but I sincerely hope that these small acts inspire others to think about what they’re witnessing and vote for someone other than neo-liberals posing as politicians who promise to “help the little man”.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Unfortunately Susan, when I take all of my experience in life and use the modest brain I was born with, I suggest that we are not yet in times when diplomacy and constructive dialog wins. I sincerely believe that all those small acts have indeed worked and I am almost positive that the process is underway. These kind of issues are never resolved by the status quo institutions, in our case, our political system. Democracy in the west is useless. The neo-liberals are right – this is all inevitable. Regardless of who we vote for, there is only one choice. That is what they have been working for in the last 30 years. The good news is that it is not over yet. 🙂

        Remember Margaret Meade? She is the one who said, I quote

        ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

        By the way congratulations on Danielle Smith’s invitation. I am sure that your blog is ruffling more than a few feathers. It contributes more for real discussion of issues than all the useless newspapers put together. You are the only serious blogger I know that takes the time to discuss your thoughts with your readers. Not an easy task.

        The fact that Danielle noticed you is just a sign that you have now become official target of the neo-liberal propaganda machine. They are well paid and as you know very well organized. Their objective now is to discredit you.

        May the force be with you. 🙂

  12. Carl Hunt says:

    I heard the CBC interview about a ‘Renaissance’ and thought, despite the speed of technology, the author was ignoring planetary destruction, human population explosion etc. and some futurists might even predict we are hurtling towards a ‘Dark Age’ for most of the world’s population. Susan’s Blog was far more perceptive and the resulting comments were truly educational & produced an exceptional crop of ideas.

  13. Thanks Carl , I encourage commentators to respond to each other and as you can see by the quality of the commentary we always learn something. Sometimes we disagree but we do so respectfully and avoid that ridiculous “you’re stupid/no you’re stupid” back and forth nonsense you get in the comments section of the on-line newspapers, Facebook and Twitter.
    Speaking of disagreement, did anyone see the video clip of the dust up between the Mount Royal student wearing the “Make America Great Again” hat and the other student who told him to take it off because it was hate speech. Seems to me Hat Guy was exercising his right to support Trump (freedom of speech) and the anti-Hat Girl was wrong in thinking it was hate speech. The clip went viral on Facebook, the news media caught wind of it and now it’s a “story” about the need for safe spaces on campus. Sad really because this is exactly the kind of debate you’d expect to see on a university campus.
    PS I agree that hate speech should be banned but shutting down people with controversial opinions (ie not hate speech) is not the answer.

  14. Dwayne says:

    I absolutely agree with your posts.

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