EDMONTON, AB, Apr 14, 2014/ Troy Media/ – These are dark days for Canada: as the coldest winter in ages winds its way absentmindedly into spring, a vital national institution is threatened. Six of the seven National Hockey League teams in Canada are sitting on the sidelines as the real hockey season begins in earnest this coming week.
It’s sad really. Canada produces some of the best hockey talent on the planet; heck ‘our’ boys (and girls) won Gold at the Olympics. Canadians have a superior hockey environment, with plenty of practice ice and lots of willing volunteer coaches and administrators. Furthermore we have parents who love the game and ‘happily’ wake at 5:00 a.m. to take their future stars to practice.
Nevertheless, the trend in hockey is clear; every year, teams playing in the home of hockey lose ground to the more glamorous and moneyed teams south of the border.
What’s wrong? Well, it’s almost a cliché, but Canadian’s play by the rules, and the rules in hockey (what you might call ‘the market’) are set by New York-based NHL executives with an eye on maximizing their take of all that U.S. Network television money. The result is inevitable: market forces insure there will be more Stanley Cup parades in California, Chicago, New York or some other large media market.
As I pondered this sad reality, I realized it’s not confined to hockey; it seems to be infecting almost every area of our national life. We’re idly complacent while market forces return our northern society into a kind of colonial dependency.
The most obvious case of Canada’s hinterland ethic is playing out in the oil and gas industry. A couple of decades ago ,when the heavy oil and oil sands plays were beginning to rise, there were plans-a-plenty to build ‘upgraders’ and a world-class refining capability in Canada. We were poised to become the new Saudi Arabia, a global energy titan.
Today, our latest plan is limited to ‘digging and delivering’ the most base petroleum products. Instead of building an energy industry we can be proud of, we’re championing pipelines to transport low-grade bitumen thousands of miles to the Gulf Coast of Mexico or China where all the glamorous and high-value work will be done.
Why don’t we build refineries in Canada instead? Industry executive after industry executive claim it can’t be done because they are too expensive to build in Canada. Leave those decisions to the market, they advise. We meekly comply; after all we play by the rules.
I suppose if you asked a fox to advise on the economics of building hen houses you’d get a similar response.
But this Canadian complacency is evident in other industries as well. As we idly play by the rules, Ontario’s manufacturing base is slowly eroding, sending industrial production and jobs to the lower wage states in the southern U.S and China. Meanwhile, Canadian industrial wages and benefits are being reduced to globally ‘competitive’ – Third World – levels.
Perhaps the most egregious case of the hinterland ethic is in technology where even the most ‘successful’ Canadian tech venture is one that sells its exciting new technology to Motorola, Microsoft or some other large U.S.-based company.
What happens next? The U.S.-based company draws the best brains out of Canada to work in Silicon Valley where all the glamorous and high-end action takes place and the Canadian operation is closed down.
Ironically, Canadians invest enormous amounts in primary R&D and produce some of the best brains in the world of technology. Nevertheless, we ‘dig and deliver’ our best new ideas to (largely) U.S. interests; although lately Chinese, South Korean and other nations are swarming also into Canada. After all, they can afford to acquire world-class technology at pennies in the dollar.
Naturally, as Canadians, we play by the rules of the market, which has no interest in technology development in Canada. So, in effect, we’re selling-out our creative future, handing the fate of our nation to others.
There’s a famous quote attributed to Jack Welch (former CEO of G.E.) ‘Control your own destiny, or someone else will’. Unless we take this good advice and change the rules of the game, the present generation of Canadians will be guilty of squandering the future of its own children. With no prospects for exciting high-end careers in Canada, our best and brightest will join the exodus, led by our hockey stars, to more glamorous and successful careers elsewhere.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and co-founder of the Genuine Wealth Institute, an Alberta-based think tank dedicated to helping businesses, communities and nations built communities of wellbeing. Robert is the author of The Creative Revolution, an historical guide to the future of capitalism.
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