It starts with the loss of a single nail that affixed an iron shoe to a horse’s hoof. The linking narrative builds from there.
Most often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the proverb offers simple homespun logic, building to a powerful conclusion.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the rider was lost
For want of a rider the message was lost
For want of a message the battle was lost
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The proverb has morphed over the years to adapt to changing contexts and circumstances. But its underlying essence remains unchanged: little things can have big consequences and sometimes you have to work hard to connect the dots.
Just ask the thousands of Canadians and their families who are the human dots – and have been profoundly disconnected from the normalcy of being employed as Canada’s oil and gas sector crashes and burns.
What’s most frustrating for them is that Canadian politicians, while generally sympathetic, seem only vaguely aware of the consequences when drill bits don’t turn. They don’t connect the human dots to the real consequences of an energy sector on its knees and the implications for the Canadian economy – and, therefore, ordinary Canadians.
The tough reality is that the men and women who run for public office, regardless of party affiliation, are generally well-intentioned but in matters of energy, frequently poorly informed. More often than not, they know little more than those who voted them into office.
And if Canada has a problem bigger than politicians without the credentials or experience to shape meaningful policy, it’s a body politic that is woefully and shamefully ignorant of the complex energy dynamics that shape and define their world.
The catastrophic state of the nation’s petroleum sector barely registers on most Canadians. They have no sense of the longer-term impacts it will have on their lives. Perhaps a requirement for citizenships should be a basic course in energy civics.
Our energy future is being shaped by individuals who came to office with good intentions but bad energy backgrounds. For the most party, their source of energy intelligence and insights comes from bureaucracies too often suffering from their own energy myopia.
It opens up the very real possibility that political action and policy creation will produce consequences diametrically opposite of the intended objectives. (Current debates over carbon pricing and carbon taxes are perhaps the most useful example at the moment.)
In the spirit of the proverb’s flexibility over time, here’s a contemporary variant that remains true to the original theme. It will certainly resonate for the thousands of Canadians who today bear the consequences of the profound collapse of Canada’s oil and gas sector – those who know well what happens when the drill bit doesn’t turn.
For the want of a bit the well was lost
For the want of a well the job was lost
For the want of a job the career was lost
For the want of a career the family was lost
For the want of a family a sector was lost
For the want of a sector an economy was lost
And all for the want of a drill bit.
Many Canadians would be happy if at least one politician understood the simple, undeniable logic of this updated version.
Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.