The ruckus over the Kinder Morgan project is a good reminder that the economic conditions we once enjoyed are on the way out

Mike RobinsonWhile the opinion writers and politicians are venting about expanding the Kinder Morgan pipeline for diluted bitumen to the West Coast, it might help to consider some history.

We didn’t arrive at this shout-fest without making diverse tracks from previous experiences, and most of us are old enough to think back over a few previous decades, or read about circumstances further back still.

My take on this mess starts with two grandfathers from the British lower middle class who didn’t see an employment future in London. So in 1910 they each took a boat to Montreal and hopped on the Canadian Pacific Railway to British Columbia. One got off at Revelstoke, the other in Vancouver. One became a professional engineer and built roads to resources, the other eventually became a teacher. They both went back to the Old Country to fight in the First World War, but they both returned to marry and stay in B.C. I’m here because they took risks.

My granddad Robinson, my dad and I all worked in the woods. We set chokers, made log booms and chased sparks. But my son and daughter missed their chance at high-paid summer jobs with the likes of ‘Mac and Blo’ (MacMillan Bloedel) because the old-growth forest got cut and the big logging camps got shut down. The same story applies to good jobs in mining and fishing.

I know these cornerstone resource industries of the B.C. economy still exist, but they’re now relatively minor players compared to real estate hustling, condo construction, technology, tourism and finance.

Meanwhile, B.C. stayed beautiful, and people from everywhere decided to visit and many to stay. Quite a few came here recently to launder money by investing in real estate. As a result, places like Vancouver and Victoria are absurdly overpriced and we have a housing crisis.

And starting in the 1980s, we began to realize, courtesy of the peer-reviewed scientific literature (I ran an academic institute that published some of the early papers), that climate change was happening. Since then, its impact is accelerating and that’s obvious to most sentient beings. The days of freely combusting carbon are rapidly coming to an end.

Let’s jump to Alberta. My wife and I did in 1978. We drove to Calgary and hit pay dirt. The streets were awash with oil money. Job mobility was easy, we all could afford houses in the suburbs, and all our pals were married in their 20s and soon had kids. We had the best of times from a material perspective. But as my daughter now frequently reminds me, “Dad, you could never recreate the career you had in Calgary today.” Somewhat ironically, she now lives and works in London, in the Old Country forsaken by her great-grandparents.

Since retiring to B.C. to tend our garden and our Alberta-earned family heritage fund (sorry, but Ralph Klein and others blew that opportunity for Alberta’s provincial fiscal heritage), it’s daily apparent that good jobs are hard to get, hard to hold and the gig economy is about as good as it’s going to get for many of our children.

Those who still work in Alberta know this well and, increasingly, so do the residents of B.C. Natural resource harvesting is timing out. Whether it’s ‘piss poles’ (skinny, barely commercial second-growth trees, in logger terms), starving orcas, endangered chinook salmon, closed iron ore mines, shut-in gas wells or producing oilsands mines, the writing is on the western economic wall in so many ways.

Let’s also not forget that technology is disrupting employment everywhere. Your fall-back position as a truck driver, Uber guy or retail clerk is timing out, too. Artificial intelligence (AI) is looming big time in the human job market and it devalues real people. Literally and financially.

So what about Kinder Morgan’s pipeline?

In the face of all of the above, I think working-age Albertans are simply demanding the last of the good-paying jobs before the climate and AI apocalypse hits. When the B.C. real estate market implodes and all the fictive condo wealth evaporates, B.C.’s millennials will be right there with them.

In very basic terms, “It’s the economy, stupid.” In the short, political term, jobs will trump global warming.

By the way, the Mauna Loa atmospheric CO2 gauge hit 411 ppm two weeks ago. We’re hooped.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery.


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