Oil and Democracy -- like oil and water -- don't mix. And, when oil is allowed to call the tune, democracy suffocates. That, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, is the lesson behind premier Allison Redford's resignation:
Every petrostate, including Texas and Russia, suffers from an exclusive form of narcissism: oil exporters think they are better than everyone else because they are sitting on piles of the world's most lucrative commodity. In turn, that feeds an arrogant culture of entitlement.
It's really not that hard to understand:
When 30 per cent of a government's revenue stream comes from the activities of the world's most entitled industry (the salaries for oil and gas workers are the highest in the world), citizens pretty much turn into apathetic recipients of petroleum welfare, because they don't pay much in taxes.
When oil companies pay for 30 per cent of the province's roads and schools, more than 60 per cent of the population ultimately stops voting. When citizens become subjects, they don't worry about representation. But, like Redford, they quickly learn how to spell "entitlement."
And what has happened in Alberta has happened elsewhere:
Alberta's elites and media, a petroleum culture not prone to introspection, haven't read Stanford political scientist Terry Lynn Karl, because they haven't reached the bottom yet.
But no one understands petrostates better than Karl. For 30 years, she has documented how petroleum revenues poison democracies (Alberta), strengthen autocracies (Russia), and spread the contamination of entitlement in public life.
"Oil states can buy political consensus," wrote Karl in a 2007 essay, because petroleum revenue "facilitates the co-optation of potential opponents or dissident voices."
But that's not all. "With basic needs met by an often generous welfare state, with the absence of taxation, and with little more than demands for quiescence and loyalty in return, populations tend to be politically inactive, relatively obedient and loyal and levels of protest remain low -- at least as long as the oil state can deliver."
It all sounds familiar. And it echoes the career of another Alberta politician, who claims that Calgary is his hometown -- even though he was born and brought up in Toronto.