The University of Alberta is about to make a mistake of biblical proportions. Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic, so we’ll rephrase: the University of Alberta is about to make a big mistake. Biblically big.
Our province has just gone through the worst recession in decades, and it can be solely attributed to the collapse in global oil prices. Even if you weren’t directly tied into the oil and gas industry, you were indirectly affected in some manner. For instance, you might have had your property value or investments drop, or lost your job, or had a friend, family member or neighbour lose their job. Alberta has also gone from a province with zero debt to one that is predicted to be saddled with debt nearing $100 billion in the next few years. You can blame the ballooning debt on other issues, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as severe had oil prices not fallen so dramatically. While recent statistics and reports suggest we are emerging from the depths of the recession, it is not a coincidence that this recession correlates to oil prices having risen to nearly $70 / barrel. In short, our province’s economic prosperity is married, unapologetically, to the oil and gas industry.
Enter environmental activist David Suzuki.
If Suzuki had his way, pipelines would cease to exist and the entire oil industry would be closed for business. Suzuki has gone so far to say that the oil and gas industry is similar to slavery. Notwithstanding Suzkui’s hypocrisy, or the wealth he has created as a result of this crusade, his argument ignores the simple principle of supply and demand economics. Unless the demand for oil changes, the supply of oil will remain constant and only the source of the supply will change. Assuming David Suzuki was successful in shutting down the oil industry in Alberta, who is naive enough to think this would curb the demand for oil? Instead of oil coming from Alberta, it would instead be supplied from other countries around the world, including those with little to no regard to the environment and patchy track records regarding basic human rights. Will those who vehemently oppose Alberta oil – yet still need it for a litany of reasons – be more comfortable using oil sourced from other countries and transported by tanker ships across the ocean?
Will environmental activists then turn their opposition to environmental issues in their own backyard? Maybe if Alberta oil isn’t available to condemn, these stewards of the environment can address the unprecedented amounts of sewage being released into public bodies of water? Or would coal, which has a terrible track record for contamination and shipped in large quantities directly from BC ports, finally become an issue they want to tackle?
It’s easy to fight the oil industry, particularly as it often refuses to fight back. Instead of showcasing the value of the industry – and highlighting the hypocrisy found so frequently in the opposition’s arguments – the industry as a whole puts its head down and works unwaveringly to produce a commodity that is in huge demand all across the world. It is easy to criticize, it’s another thing to ignore that criticism and work in a field that is in the national interest of an entire country. It’s one thing for an outsider to critique the industry our province was founded on; it’s another thing altogether to award him for it.
If the University of Alberta fails to reverse it’s decision, they will honour an individual who has made it his life’s work to destroy oil production in Alberta. There’s a reason that faculty, alumni and prominent members of the business community so vehemently oppose it. One professor said he would boycott his own convocation if it were to be held on the same night.
Another professor, and the dean of the engineering program, also wrote:
“It truly saddens me to know that many of you are, as am I, left feeling that one of Alberta’s most favoured children, the University of Alberta, has betrayed you by choosing to confer this honorary degree.”
Moodys Gartner, a law firm in Calgary, just cancelled a $100,000 funding commitment to the university’s law school. Other alumni have said they will no longer support the university as a result of this decision.
A petition to the chancellor and president of the university has also been started to rescind the honorary degree. As of today it has reached over 5,800 signatures.
Suzuki is clearly opposed to the oil and gas industry, but there is an even larger voice standing up for the main economic driver of our province. A number of professors, alumni, politicians and the business community are all opposed to David Suzuki received an honorary degree. Perhaps instead of recognizing an individual hellbent on dismantling a vital industry, the university should confer honorary degrees to each and every Albertan who is proud to live, work and raise their families in this great province.
Do the right thing U of A. Send the people of Alberta an apology letter admitting you made a terrible mistake and you’ll correct that error by working tirelessly to better engage with the community. Mr. Suzuki will understand. If he doesn’t, perhaps send him some complimentary textbooks on economics and world geography.
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