Voice For The Poor Supports Oilsands

Media Appearances, Energy, Frontier Centre

Of late, this province and its oil industry have been under sustained attack.

So, after David Suzuki, Greenpeace, American mayors, a British advertising council and domestic garden-variety oilpatch knockers, it was a pleasant surprise to receive accolades from an unexpected direction — U.S. poverty activist Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality.

He says the last front in the civil rights revolution is economic. Artificially high energy prices, the work of politicians manipulated by radical environmentalists demonizing energies they don’t like, are therefore “immoral,” and a “de facto regressive tax on the poor. . . . They destroy jobs, erode civil rights gains and force minority and elderly households to choose between food, fuel and medicine.”

It’s an argument seldom heard in a bipolar debate between oil and environmentalists.

But, we get it. Regardless of income, everybody pays the same for gasoline, or home electricity. It stands to reason when prices spike, it becomes a crisis for poor people more quickly than the better off.

The solution is admittedly a little easier said than done.

Innis would have Washington drive down prices by increasing energy supplies of all kinds — wind and solar naturally but first, and controversially, offshore oil exploration.

This would certainly exert downward pressure on prices.

However, difficult plays need higher prices to be economic.

Bottom line, energy may one day be cheap and sustainable. For now, that which is cheap is not sustainable, and vice versa.

Still, if prices are destined to be higher, Innis is right they don’t have to be driven higher yet by radicals who need to generate funds for their organizations, and thus create situations where legislatures shrink from such hopeful new sources there are: the oilsands, for instance.

At a Frontier Centre for Public Policy gathering in Calgary on Tuesday, Innis urged Albertans to remember the civil rights movement won because it held the moral high ground.

“Now, it is people who produce energy and keep things moving and people working, who hold the high ground, not those who would shut America down and push millions into poverty. You’re the people in the white hats.”

We’ll take that, especially after Suzuki called oil extraction “ecologically disastrous,” on these pages, and Greenpeace saying “the tar sands are one of the world’s largest environmental disasters.”

We’re not suggesting a return to damn-the-daisies development.

However, there’s much talk about environmental disaster from people who will be among the last to personally suffer economic disaster, were their prescriptions ever followed.

Balance is needed.

And frankly, if Innis brings his campaign north — as he means to — a voice articulating what high energy prices mean for low-income Canadians would be welcome in the debate.