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Bill WhitelawTake 150 oil and gas folks who love to tell a good story.

Add 150 ordinary Canadians who love to hear a good story.

Gently stir the two groups together in time for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

The purpose: to create 150 relationships in which the great stories that define Canada’s oil and gas sector are conveyed imaginatively by the people who produce the energy to those who own and consume it.

Call it the contemporary equivalent of the pen pal.

And what better way to celebrate Canada’s 150th milestone than with stories of the sector that has so dynamically contributed to the country’s essence and well-being?

Those 150 audience members would ideally be scattered across Canada in communities large and small. They would work in factories and offices. They would be students and teachers, professionals and retirees. They would be farmers and inner-city dwellers. They would be first- and fifth-generation Canadians.

And they would share a common aspiration: to see Canada progress in a way that balances the economy, the environment and energy production. And once they’ve built their trust in compelling stories, they would be thrilled to tell those stories to their friends, so the first 150 becomes the basis for an energy story momentum that would sweep the nation.

What kind of stories?

The context is critical. A story must elicit emotion, and be resonant and relevant. It must be meaningful and strike a chord. It must be told, and heard, in a trust environment.

In the debates that define what passes for today’s energy conversation in Canada, what’s missing is how energy development, environmental stewardship and economic stability are bound together in a way that collectively and profoundly influences how Canadians live. The issues that require more effective dialogue never fully receive that treatment. Instead, they’re subjected to polarizing tug-of-words in which the industry and its opponents are consistently pulling away from each other.

Most Canadians are only vaguely aware that they own the vast majority of Canada’s hydrocarbon wealth. As the owners, they should be keenly interested in how those resources are developed on their behalf. Who is doing what? Where it is happening? How it is being done?

That should be the foundation from which the best stories about the industry are told. And those stories should entertain, enlighten and captivate the audience. It follows that good oil and gas stories can also build constructive environmental and economic consciousness in a way that polarizing teeth-gnashing cannot.

Ordinary Canadians are, for the most part, environmentally conscious. That’s a positive. But that consciousness is more latent than it should be. That’s a negative. Good oil and gas environmental stories, in which trust is foregrounded, though, can draw that latent consciousness to the surface.The result will be to connect the two key stewardship dynamics: the environment and the economy.

Storytellers who oppose oil and gas development deliberately segregate the two. It is in their interests to argue that choices about energy and the economy don’t affect each other. That does a profound disservice to ordinary Canadians who are looking to participate in constructive conversation.

So as Canadians prepare to celebrate 150 years of all that is good in one of the world’s best places, it’s time for better stories from the sector that laid a significant part the country’s prosperity foundation.

Canada’s energy leaders should think seriously about how adding a chief story officer to the executive ranks, with a mandate to find 150 storytellers who can build trust among 150 ordinary Canadians – and how those 150 will talk to another 150 ordinary Canadians, who will talk to another 150. …

What a birthday year that would be.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

Bill is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

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