Archive for November, 2013

Alberta’s oil sands fail Canadians on economic benefits

Monday, November 18th, 2013

by Felix von Geyer

Canada’s oil sands is a curse to its economy and not the boon Stephen Harper’s Conservative government claim it to, according to a new report released Wednesday.

The report: ‘Booms, Busts and Bitumen: The economic implications of Canadian oilsands development’ revealed the impact of the rise of the Canadian dollar – or Loonie – is proportional to the increased demand for Canada’s oil sands and other resource commodities. There is a variation in estimates however; the IMF indicated as much as 75 percent of the Loonie’s rise over the past decade is due to increased commodity prices while the Bank of Canada estimated this impact to be 50 percent. Academics such as Serge Coulombe, Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa and author of the report’s foreword estimate have indicated the increase is 42 percent.

Sarah Dobson an economist in the oil sands programme at environmental think-tank the Pembina Institute who produced the report in conjunction with Montreal-based environmental NGO Equiterre, said that oil was behind 20 percent of the Loonie’s value in 2002 and by 2013 75 percent of its value was attributable to oil.

While the increased dollar strength has harmed the rest of Canada’s economy, particularly the manufacturing industries of Ontario and Quebec; elsewhere the supposedly positive impacts of the oil sands again fall short of government and industry hype, according to the report.

Dobson said that 94 percent of the GDP economic benefits remain within Alberta while as much as 86 percent of jobs are confined to Alberta, she said.

Indeed the United States benefits more than the rest of Canada, added Dobson with a GDP impact of 220 percent greater than the rest of Canada and job creation worth 190 percent of job creation in the rest of Canada outside of Alberta. Furthermore, outsourcing for the industry was increasingly assigned outside of Canada, she said.

Even Albertans are not receiving the gains expected with the Provincial government racking up a C$6.2 billion shortfall in the resource revenues budgeted for 2013. Despite the warnings, more of the same has been called for by the government. President of the Board of Trade, Tony Clement has stated that if healthcare and schools are wanted, “We need these resources out of the ground,” said Dobson.

The report also sought to explode the myth that Alberta’s oil sands are a driver of so-called ‘equalization’ payments between Canada’s provinces and Territories, where receipts from richer jurisdictions are distributed by the federal government in Ottawa to poorer jurisdictions.

Ottawa only receives 1 percent of its total revenues from the oil sands, according to Dobson, mostly stemming from corporate taxes. Professor Coulombe stressed that financial disparity between provinces had increased in the decade 2001-2011 and that after taking equalization payments into consideration, a 10 percent fiscal disparity remained.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s cap on equalization caps in 2009 has exacerbated the trend, said Coulombe who called for the cap’s removal.

Steve Guilbeault, Co-founder and Senior Director of Equiterre called for the elimination of the $1.3 billion preferential tax treatment the industry receives from Ottawa, pointing out that Canada had signed up to the elimination of fossil-fuel subsidies at the 2009 Pittsburg meeting of the G20.

Guilbeault called for Canada to manage its one-time resource wealth and find other sources of revenue and to abandon its short-termism, especially considering the environmental degradation of the oil sands. He singled out the expansion of Shell Canada’s Jackpine oil sands mine which was given the green light for the short-term economic benefits through supposed jobs, taxes and royalties.

Guilbeault also pointed to Environment Canada’s own recent report that stated Canada would miss its 2020 emissions reduction target pledged under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord at the UN Climate Change Conference of that year by 112 million metric tons. Guilbeault reinterpreted former Environment Minister Peter Kent’s statements that Canada was halfway to meeting its 2020 target of 17 percent below 2005 levels. What he meant is that by 2020 we will be halfway towards meeting our 2020 target,” said Guilbeault.


Sal Capone Triumphs for Black Theatre Workshop

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Review by Felix von Geyer

Theatre-goers, culture vultures, rap lovers and general Mile-Enders should not miss seeing Omari Newton’s compelling play The Lamentable Tragedy of Sal Capone at Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop as it reaches the crescendo of its final few performances before it later travels to Vancouver.

The play is a triumph of casting diverse characters displaced by and vulnerable to society’s perceptions and prejudices against a background of hip hop and rap culture. Inspired by the earlier social consciousness hip hop culture of Public Enemy before it became commercialized and a groomed-for- profit industry, Newton throws an almost no-hope scenario of a First Nations transvestite prostitute who acts as the moral conscience and testimony to the inner fears, hidden desires, brutality and human impotence of everything she surveys as the play’s commentator. “The streets call me Mama,” says Shaneney, provocatively played by Billy Merasty, himself a First Nations Cree from Manitoba.

As Sal Capone looks to launch his group’s album, their friend and band member Sammy is shot by the police. Guilt and recrimination shadows over Sal and his fellow rapper Jewel, herself Filipino, as to who was to blame while manager/promoter Chase, a white Sicilian, is less interested in the soul of hip hop and rallying the crowd’s social conscience against the police than he is in making money.

Tension between all members of the cast ensues and outside of the sense of oppressive fatalism and destiny, detectable traces of Christopher Marlowe’s the Tragical History of Dr Faustus emerge through the Mephistophelian concept of black and white, good and bad, where the characters themselves are as much determined by the rap culture to which they are trying to identify as they start to think in terms of “nigger” and “fuck the cops” as they are determined by their perceptions of the grimness of their social reality. The “nigger” irony is not lost in Newton’s script that the cast comprise First Nations, white, Filipino and black actors.

Only Sal Capone’s younger sister breaks the mould of the wannabe hood culture and identity; correcting people’s grammar, trying to return her brother from rap to poetry, but here the play directed by Diane Roberts finishes with a spine-tingling double-edged conclusion that at once pivots on the themes of fate and determinism; hope and despair.

Fine, gritty acting knits the play together. Sal Capone, played by Tristan D. Lalla particularly shines as he moves between the duality of his own character’s convictions, delivering a notable improvised rap towards the play’s end. Letitia Brookes as his sister Naomi brings freshness and humour as she remains unimpressed by her brother’s hip hop world while Kim Villagante’s Jewel delivers a fine sense of confused identity and human purpose through her acting and lyrical rapping. Jordan Waunch’s Chase offers an intriguing view of the awkwardness of the outsider as insider.

Troy Slocum delivers crystal sound design and effects while Sarah Hall-K’s costumes bring authenticity to Ana Cappelluto’s set and lighting and Candelario Andrade’s final video design is memorable.

Don’t miss this refreshingly thought-provoking production.


Thursday, November 7th, 2013

So what was Al Gore’s message in Montreal? by Felix von Geyer

Al Gore pulled his punches as he renewed his existential call to action that “Political Will is Renewable.” While he tapered the length of a spine, he fell short of straightening it in a rambling narrative that touched on technology, democracy, no-growth economics and global warming at McGill University’s Beaverbrooke Lecture in Montreal on Tuesday evening.

Technology is democratization said Gore as he recounted the fallacy of Luddite thinking that technology was a negative force to societal and economic progress. However he only alluded to the power of oil and coal corporations in today’s society, inferring they are today’s Luddites restraining technological progress in addressing climate change. Effectively the former US Vice President desribed these corporations comprise today’s equivalent of the feudal landlords of medieval times then in league with the Church who controlled society in a way that ”today would be unimaginable.”

For Gore, technology is a democratizing force providing low-cost entry fees through the internet for today’s society to liberate future generations from the tyrannical corporate-classes controlling the political message, just as he attributed the Guttenberg press of the late 1400’s as allowing the spread of thought that rid Western civilization of its feudal power structure ”within decades,” he said. The television era was expensively prohibitive, excluding the participation of ordinary man, instead reducing him to consumer status of the message-board space that only the oil and coal barons could afford to rent from the media gatekeepers. Gore failed to mention that companies like Verizon and AT&T are soon set to challenge so-called net neutrality that allows them to prioritize traffic.

But in addressing climate change, Gore fell short of equating fossil fuel companies and chemical companies as the new global landlords of a new global feudalism who have controlled the energy debate. Again, he referred to the tobacco companies’ campaign to obfuscate the link between smoking and lung cancer but did not point to the biggest marketing spend in history that, according to James Hoggan, author of Climate Cover-Up, seeks to disinform the science of climate change that Hoggan claimed was orchestrated by ExxonMobil, Philip Morris and Weber Shandwick.

Gore even added that technological roll-out could help save the day in the advent of ever lower solar photovoltaic prices while enabling developing countries to leapfrog developed countries. However, despite this optimism, he offered no clue of how to avert the International Energy Agency’s warning two years’ ago that the world has until 2017 to avoid being locked into an energy future that will take it to beyond 2 degrees Celsius increase in average global temperatures. Gore himself warned that even in 10,000 years 20% of anthropogenically caused greenhouse gas emissions would still remain in the atmosphere.

In calling for everybody to become involved in shaping the future they want, and heralding the new generation of technology, Gore used the analogy of the Qwerty keyboard to criticize economic thinking. Where Qwerty’s original design purpose is defunct with no old manual typewriter keys to stick together anymore, today’s generation uses  Qwerty ”because that’s what we learned,” he said.

“We have a Qwerty keyboard in our concept of growth,” he announced, attacking the supposed Holy Grail for measuring economic progress by recounting how even Simon Kuznets, the economist behind the concept of growth, pleaded with world leaders after World War Two not to use this as a measure for economic progress.

And growth for Gore also means a growth in pollution “where every one kilogramme of grain produced sends one kilogramme of topsoil down the Mississippi River,” he said. The negative externalities of growth were not measured.

“The fact that you’ve destroyed your future will not be found on the balance sheet,” said Gore who took no time in his speech to criticize Canada for withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol and looking on-target to exceed its 2020 emissions target of 612 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year that it pledged undert the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Instead Canada will likely reach 734 million tonnes according to a new Environment Canada report.

He did, however, decry the lack of leadership and governance required to address these issues. “In this day and age, the clothes have no emperor,” he said.

If there was one message to take away, it was for today’s generation to fill those clothes of the abdicated emperor, and ”get involved” in an “Occupy Democracy” movement. ”We love in the most exciting time in humanity and it is for us to change its future,” he declared.