Ezra Levant has turned his pen to the subject of shale gas development in Canada. An excerpt of his new book is published in the Toronto Sun.
There are two things that bug me about Ezra’s view on this. First, in order to construct a neat and tidy narrative he can run fast and loose with the facts. So, yadda, yadda, yadda, everything tried in New Brunswick has failed but now we have shale gas to finally save our economic bacon. That is way too neat and tidy. The call centre industry, which he says lost out to India, has been a major economic success story in New Brunswick. No one really cares but the industry at its peak employed 24,000 and now continues to employ some 17,000 in companies with names such as ExxonMobil, UPS, FedEx, Tangerine (the rebranded ING Direct), and a host of others. Sure the industry has changed – customer interaction is now increasingly online but Ezra rolls in Bricklin and the call centre industry into the same old failed government economic development policies.
He’s over the top with his language about all the subsidies, too but that is a mistake made from Kingston to Victoria. The Fraser Institute review of government subsidies a few years ago found that Alberta was at or near the top of the list and NB was at or near the bottom among the 10 provinces for corporate subsidies when you include agriculture – which absolutely should be included. And that study didn’t touch tax and royalty breaks meant to stimulate investment in oil and gas development.
It is true that a higher percentage of firms access government funding programs here (a rate of almost twice the national average) but the overall subsidies per dollar of GDP is lower here than most other provinces.
Levant also claims that all of the protests against shale gas have been funded by outside environmental groups. This is a claim that has been made a lot – in passing – but I can’t recall a single story in the media here confirming this or the extent of it. The U.S. money flowing into western Canada to fight pipelines, etc. has been documented by journalists out there but I haven’t seen anything like that here.
As far as I know, environmental groups are under no obligation to release the names of individuals and organizations that fund them so without a good investigative journalist on the case, I am not sure we will ever really know who is funding the anti-shale gas effort. We do know that folks from outside NB came here to protest with NBers (journalists did talk with them) but I don’t recall any hard facts on the funding of anti-shale gas protests.
It would make for a good story – and it would be interesting for NBers to find out. It may turn out there is no money flowing into NB and these rumours would stop. It may turn out that lots of money is coming in and we may find out from where and that won’t change much only the transparency of the formal, funding campaigns.
In the end, it is important for Canadians to have a serious discussion about the potential of shale gas and the realities of its development. Unfortunately, Ezra’s confrontational style – his brand – will likely end up polarizing things even more (assuming his book gets read down here at all).