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Canada's Pyrrhic Battle for Resources

By       Message Ryan Lijdsman       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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In Canada, conflict between resource companies and aboriginal and

environmental groups is growing exponentially, as development is

pursued in new areas. Battle lines are forming with no solution in

sight. Without a major change in public policy both Canadians and

foreign investors will be forced to take sides in a pyrrhic battle

that no one needs.

Garrett Hardin, in 1968, developed the theory of the "tragedy of the

commons" -- the idea that a shared resource will be depleted by

individuals acting independently and rationally according to their own

self-interest, despite the knowledge that depleting the resource will

not be in the group's best long-term interest.  His theory is as

relevant today as it was when he wrote it and offers an intriguing

insight into current resource development in Canada.

The objective of any business, according to Hardin's model, is to make

money. They are guided by Adam Smith's "invisible hand" of supply and

demand and businesses assume that decisions reached individually will

benefit society as a whole; or to paraphrase a 1980's movie 'greed is


It should not shock people that executives, in an attempt to maximize

their own self-interest, make comments such as "We're jeopardizing

commerce" by spending time checking the safety of rail bridges after a

major flood, or when indigenous peoples' rights and traditions, as in

the case of the Tahltan's Sacred Headwaters, are treated as secondary

to profit, or when companies advocate for the Keystone pipeline using

simplified economics rather than looking at the broad pros and cons of

the project. Or even when the Canadian Association of Petroleum

Producers (CAPP) states that the "proposed oil and gas regulations are

too ambitious and will hobble the Canadian industry's ability to

compete" and use this argument to ignore all environmental concerns.

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These companies are acting rationally. They are maximizing short-term

profit at the expense of long-term public interest and as Hardin

stated they benefit "from (the) ability to deny the truth even though

society as a whole, of which (they are) part, suffers."

It would be easy to "just say no" to any new development but this

benefits no one. The world would lose transformational projects such

as the Canol shale-oil discovery in the Northwest Territories and the

nascent rare-earth industry, which has the potential to create entire

new industries and be the catalyst for technological innovation in

Canada and with its trade partners.  We need to balance what is good for resource companies with the rights of people and the environment. The job of balancing these rights falls to the government; they are the only ones who can implement and mediate administrative law.

By recognizing resources as "a commons" that requires management,

Hardin believed that we "(could) preserve and nurture other and more

precious freedoms." This means recognizing the country and its

resources as a source of wealth shared by its citizens, developed

sustainably, and protected for its citizens by the government.

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When the world hears comments such as we "won't take no for an answer"

from the Canadian government in relation to the Keystone pipeline, and

"foreign money" is behind attempts to stop the oil-sands, or stating

that Kyoto is a "job-killing, economy-destroying accord," we must take

notice as we must also take notice when environmental laws are changed

that reduce the government's role and abrogate their responsibility,

forcing companies to become free riders at the expense of the people

of Canada.

We are seeing the consequences of the government's laissez-faire

approach to economics in the hardening of the battle lines between

people and resource companies. Canada has become a country divided.

The Keystone Pipeline, the Avalon rare-earths project, the Red Chris

mine, and many others are all opportunities that could generate great

wealth and prosperity for the companies involved, the people in the

area, and the world in general. These companies, however, cannot be

allowed to become free riders, nor have they showed a desire to, but

without a government that will balance public and private rights they

will inevitably becomes ones, and this will lead to further divisions

and long-term economic stagnation.

No government has the right to say the economy is more important than

the environment or the rights of its citizens. Our future depends on

the greatest good for the greatest number of people, not the success

of an anointed few.

Ryan Lijdsman is an independent analyst and consultant. He can be

followed on twitter @ryanlijdsman


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Ryan W. Lijdsman is an international business consultant and freelance writer. His writings have appeared in various publications including the National Post and Kyiv Post.

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