Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Norwegian Model

As a truly nasty fight takes shape over the Northern Gateway, Mitchell Anderson writes that there was always another way. Call it the Norwegian Model -- and it contains three distinct lessons which Stephen Harper ignored:

Lesson 1: Norway built pipelines -- to Norway

Back in the early 1970s, Norwegians insisted that North Sea petroleum be processed in Norway through a pipeline controlled by their state-owned oil company Statoil. This was not just an economic advantage, but an expression of resource sovereignty. The outraged negotiators for Phillips Petroleum, who were counting on controlling the lucrative offshore pipeline themselves, called the Norwegian demand "immoral."

Building pipelines from offshore rigs to refineries on the Norwegian mainland was not merely difficult; it was considered technically impossible. Bringing petroleum ashore in the United Kingdom or continental Europe was shorter, shallower and did not require divers to descend to the bottom of the Norwegian Trench, a depth of 360 metres. But by sticking to their guns and demanding to move up the value chain, Norwegians ensured they controlled their own resource and kept the jobs and money in their own country. 

Lesson 2: Norway invested in social programs

In 2012, the Norwegian government earned $46.29 per barrel of oil equivalent. In that same year, Canada and the provinces earned less than one-fifth that much. The federal government has eliminated more than 20,000 public service jobs since 2010, with more cuts planned. Alberta, which has a comparable population and petroleum production to Norway, is almost $8 billion in debt. Last year, the Fort McMurray School district voted on a proposal to shorten their work week because they couldn't afford school bus drivers five days a week. Companies investing billions in the oilsands are seeing their landlocked operations hang in the balance due to lack of public buy-in.

Meanwhile, Norway is ranked number one on both the Human Development Index and the Democracy Index, and is the second best country in the world to be a mother. (Canada ranks 11th, 12th and 18th respectively.) Norwegians enjoy free university tuition, universal daycare and 30 per cent more spending per capita on healthcare -- all of which is largely funded through public oil revenues.

Lesson 3: Norway respected First Nations

While the Sami People of the northern Norway are still subjected to considerable discrimination, they are far ahead of the deplorable situation on First Nations reserves here in Canada. The Sami have their own parliament and enjoy the same legal language rights as Norwegian speakers.

In fact, all ethnic Norwegians could be considered an unconquered First Nation, having lived in present day Norway since the end of the last ice age. Vikings, who had the same military technology and resistance to the same diseases as the rest of Europe, went on a pagan-raiding campaign throughout Christendom for 200 years. That ancient memory of land and place remains, and may be the leading reason why their country was so successful at negotiating a hard bargain with the world's most powerful industrial sector in the 1970s.

Mr. Harper ignored all of these lessons. He has turned the tar sands into a moonscape, sent our greenhouse emissions off the chart, treated our First Nations with contempt, and threatened to destroy the coast of northern British Columbia.

 They say he's the smartest guy in the room. The Norwegians would disagree.


The Mound of Sound said...

Norway recently announced that its sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, is looking at divesting from high carbon energy projects. They're concerned that high-carbon assets could become 'stranded.' Tar sands anyone? Next to coal, bitumen is pretty high-carbon. And, unlike cheap as dirt coal, bitumen is unduly costly to extract, upgrade, transport and refine. It's the high-cost/high-carbon double whammy that translates into low royalties, environmental degradation and Alberta's boom & bust cycles. It's no wonder they're broke. Peter Lougheed warned that the Tar Sands were a double-edged sword that needed very cautious development. Then, out of the beer parlour at the St. Louis hotel, emerged Ralph Klein and the rest is history.

Owen Gray said...

Calgary's Petroleum Club blackballed Lougheed and cheered on Klein, Mound.

Lougheed really was the smartest guy in the room.

David Town said...

Owen, A thought for your consideration on an unrelated topic. Two media non-events in quick succession concern me. First, after intense media scrutiny the Fair Elections Act passed so quietly I missed it. There was literally no media coverage the next day (the Star had an article that was pulled after 3 hours). Then one month later, after intense media scrutiny the Northern Gateway Pipeline was approved by the Harper government and the next day there was minimal media coverage and none of the public uproar I expected. These two non-events lead me to be suspicious of our media and how they cowtow to the government`s control. We need public discourse, and the media is a very large part of that. Do you have any insights or comments on this situation. David Town, Orillia

Owen Gray said...

The Council of Canadians announced almost immediately that they are taking the Fair Elections Act to Court, David.

Given the government's track record, I wouldn't be surprised if it was ruled unconstitutional.

That will probably trigger another outburst from the prime minister.

Edstock said...

I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that there is a delightful irony that Stevie's choke-point is Keystone XL which Obama is stalling forever to flip the bird to the GOP. A decade ago, it seemed like such a sure thing to Stevie and the cheapskate Tar Gang. And now, unbelievably, they're running out of time, especially if Obama just sits on his decision, which seems likely, IMHO.

Owen Gray said...

The tar sands are turning into a stranded asset, Ed. The French company Total, I believe, is pulling out. I wonder who -- or what country -- will be next.

Steve said...

If Justin Trudeau does not read this blog and run on it in 2015 he is not his fathers son!

Owen Gray said...

I was a Trudeau Liberal in my youth, Steve. I am still one in my old age.