Bring on the sociologists, please

It is interesting how easy it seems to be to get people fired up against economic development and so hard to get people fired up for economic development.   Forget economists, I think it is time to enrol the sociologists in this discussion.

Last week, the Premier recounted the story of meeting a guy in rural NB who railed against oil and gas development here and then decried the lack of jobs that has resulted in young people moving to Alberta to work in oil and gas.

I have had the same discussions with folks.

It’s not just oil and gas.  Aquaculture, forestry, mining, wind turbines, and a host of other – mostly natural resource-based development – will provoke not only negative views but a cohort of high engaged activists.  Unfortunately, there are few activists actually fighting for development.

My email inbox is fills up with at least 3-4 emails decrying development for every one supporting it.  I still get a fairly steady stream of posts to this blog that are unpublishable because of language or something similar.

Even as you read this, you have likely formed a binary opinion – sweeping the whole thing as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ proposition.  “I’m not going to sacrifice the environment for jobs” on one side and “we need the jobs no matter what” on the other.

This is too simplistic – too 140 characteristic.

We need to be able to say say that – like anything in life – there are methods of economic development that exact too great a toll on the environment, communities and/or social life.  But not all development, does – not all resources-based development does.

I don’t think I have changed many minds and likely will not which is why I think it is time to bring in the sociologists.

Maybe they can help explain how Canadians in NL, SK, AB and BC can be overwhelmingly supportive of oil and gas development while New Brunswickers are not.

Maybe they can explain how NDP governments in western Canada were behind the responsible development of a wide variety of non-renewable resource industrial development while here they are the largest opponents.

Maybe they can explain how a Liberal leadership candidate could cast a Texas businessman as a bogeyman to be feared instead of a company prepared to invest here and hire workers into $80k+/year jobs.

Understanding this is far beyond the realm of economists and political pundits.

9 thoughts on “Bring on the sociologists, please

  1. By the way, I exclude the Dexter NDP government from this conclusion. IT seems they have been quite supportive of both offshore and onshore oil and gas development. Certainly they face the same public resistence as here but they don’t seem to try and play the populist drum. But that also may be why they are in power.

  2. Point taken. It is like my suggestion to make a second nuclear NB facility on Bay of Chaleur. We have water, technology, & consumer NE market. 50 years of economic benefit, but we are afraid of NUCLEAR?

  3. > It is interesting how easy it seems to be to get people fired up against economic development and so hard to get people fired up for economic development.

    In New Brunswick, at least, the benefits of economic development are felt by those few families at the top of the food chain, while the harms of economic development are felt by the rest of us.

    It’s like the Radian 6 sale. The owners may have pocketed some money, and if they’re like other NB business owners, are now opening their bank accounts in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying tax. Average New Brunswickers, meanwhile, are among the 100 people laid off by the company’s new management.

    Until we have a sense that everyone is in this together, we will never see widespread support for economic development. I have seen no evidence that there is a willingness to share the wealth or to minimize (or even discuss!) the pain.

  4. “the benefits of economic development are felt by those few families at the top of the food chain,”

    A flat out lie, but a fine example of pandering to populist sentiment.

  5. I certainly hope, David, that you are not confusing “economic development” with giving our natural resources away? If you *must* promote the harvesting of natural resources to create employment why not make the processing of those natural resources into end user goods a legal requirement?

  6. Well, if thats the same Richard above, I seem to recall him making the same argument time and time again about ‘local families’.
    But lets look at the Radian6 example. There were no protests. There were a few gripes on CBC from the purists that don’t think government should give money AT ALL-and they may even have been right since IF it was such a good idea and they did get most of their money from private equity, then there’s a good chance they could have gotten ALL their money from private equity.

    However, IT is at least different than natural resources. Again, lets be fair. NB is a small province, and its been mainly rural people protesting to protect their water-and all with good reason given that a rural community affected by Saskatchewan Potash has essentially been hung out to dry by the provincial government. So you can endlessly question ‘why’, or you can simply look at the evidence.

    Its also unfair to say protest is relegated to New Brunswick. In NFLD the oil is all hundreds of miles out to sea. In BC there was a guy so crazy mad that he was blowing up natural gas lines. By most accounts with locals, they knew full well who it was but kept their mouth shut because they supported him.

    In Saskatchewan, as I’ve said, their oil refinery is a co-op. And not a Fredericton kind of co-op, but one that actually has the well being of the province in mind first and foremost. I don’t know much about Alberta, but I did do some research years back during the mad cow crisis, and there were plenty of Albertans very much against the way agriculture is managed in the province, but they had even less political choice than New Brunswick.

    So for ‘natural resources’ what we see is ‘oil and gas’, things that people have said are bad for the economy and the environment anyway. Nobody in their right mind would want MORE oil refining in Saint John, have you BEEN there? Do you know what that refinery does? Portugal now gets over half of its electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal (true, they don’t have our winters). In New Brunswick, for wind power all we’ve seen is giving an Alberta company a subsidy for its turbines, and people dumb enough to think a place like Sackville is going to want them-a town so inbredly elitist they complain if hot air balloons go overhead. And virtually NO solar at all.

    So by all means lets stop with the ‘one side good’ other side bad. Lets see some good positive analysis of wind power creation all over the world and how it can help in New Brunswick-particularly since the windiest parts of NB aren’t anywhere near populations. Let’s talk about geothermal, and creating technical jobs in that. Or solar engineering and improving solar cells (which now work quite well even in cloudy conditions). But for some reason all the people who are talking about ‘natural resources’ and ‘why aren’t we more nuanced in our discussions of natural resources’ are NEVER talking about anything but oil and gas.

  7. “I seem to recall him making the same argument time and time again about ‘local families’.”

    You seem to recall? What exactly is the ‘same argument’?

  8. That economic development doesn’t occur in New Brunswick because of the power of local families and their dominance in so many industries. That’s pretty much the same argument to me, but its true that I don’t know it was the same person and I haven’t time to go back and find the numerous times I remember reading it-so instead I’ll just counter by asking WHY that is a ‘flat out lie’. During the Occupy protests it was found that in New Brunswick it isn’t even the ‘top 1%’ but the top .5%.

    I will grant though that lumping the owners of Radian 6 in with Irvings, McCains, etc., is a bit much. Thats a lousy example, and a small example. Ironically it hasn’t even been New Brunswick companies that have gotten the biggest benefit from, say, the forestry industry. That profit all left the province when times were good.

    But it almost goes without saying that the beneficiaries of economic development are owners, while the public cleans up any messes, and are on the hook for any potential messes. That’s virtually written in the very laws under which we live.

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