Thursday, October 25, 2007

GRAY'S ANATOMY: ALMOST PERFECT BUT FOR BLINDSPOTS

I have known Jim Gray for forty years. A hell of a lot of Calgarians have known him for a long time. And they like him. For good reason. He's accomplished a lot, and he's contributed a lot.

In business he was a co-founder of Canadian Hunter Exploration and helped it to become one of the most successful companies in the oil patch. In 2000 he chaired the 16th World Petroleum Congress held in Calgary. He has been a driving force behind the success of the Science Alberta Foundation, the Achievement Centre for Youth, the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter, the Calgary Native Friendship Center, and many undertakings of the YMCA, among many other worthwhile organizations and projects. He has served on the Boards of Directors of many important Canadian companies including, the Canadian National Railway, Brascan, and the Hudson's Bay Company.

For all of this and more, he has been justly recognized, receiving an Honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Calgary, a Citation for Citizenship from the Government of Canada, an appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada, and an appointment to the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Jim Gray is not your average Albertan. No siree. But he isn't perfect either. He's got some problems with his vision. They are called 'blind spots.'

Jim wrote a column that appeared in the Calgary Herald on Tuesday, October the 23rd, entitled 'Averages are for Losers.' Alas, the purpose was to add his voice as a shill for the industry that has been so good to him, in its efforts to scare the bejesus out of average Albertans so that
Premier Stelmach would reject the proposals of the Royalty Review panel.

The panel had been vociferous in arguing that there should be an increase in royalties paid by oil and gas producers by a couple of billion bucks - so that average Albertans who own the resources 'get their fair share.' The panel's conclusions were supported by Alberta's Auditor General and the Department of Energy number crunchers as well.

In searching for some resonance with his readers, Gray chose flattery. "Albertans," he writes, "are not average. This province was not built by people of average commitment and determination." He speaks of 'visionary Albertans' as having built "a wonderful province with a quantity and a quality of life that is the envy of others in the world."

He urged the Stelmach to be cautious in considering the royalty review, because it might scare these non-average visionary builders of the province into leaving for some place else together with their non-average abilities and money. Like some banana republic, in some hell-hole rich in the black gooey stuff, I suppose, because that seems to be the only kind of place where you can find oil in such abundance as we have here.

Of course, this was bunk. Most Albertans are average. They are the Marthas and Henrys that Gray's hero Ralph Klein used to talk about. They are not particularly visionary and neither do they have above average commitment and determination in the pursuit of the almighty buck.

What the average Albertan wants, works for, and needs - and what they are not getting - is 'a fair share' of the spoils of Klein's 'Alberta Advantage.'

Gray has received his 'fair share' long ago. He doesn't have to worry about his kids going to a nearby elementary school that doesn't exist. He doesn't have to worry about not getting timely and excellent health care - a man of his means can go to the best of America's elite health care institutions and be well cared for by writing a simple large cheque. Neither is it much of a problem for him if there are no places for his grandkids at local Universities - they can seamlessly travel to some other city that has more classrooms. Roads are not a problem for him, nor are bridges. His driving days were over long ago, when he received his first fat pension cheque.

And if Jim Gray is so respectful of 'vision,' 'commitment, 'determination,' and 'above average' performance, why on earth did he slavishly support for so long, the dumb and dumber government of Ralph Klein? Gray is a noted long-time Progressive Conservative party worker and bagman, whose most productive years came on behalf of the guy who had neither a plan nor ideas.

You remember the Klein government, I'm sure. Its the one that was so devoted to getting rid of the deficit and then the debt, that it fell hopelessly behind in the maintenance and building of roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and universities. The same government, you will recall, that dawdled and dithered while construction costs spiraled out of sight. Yes, its the same government that, through its heavy handed attempts to shove private medicine down the throats of Albertans, caused a scandalous deterioration of hospital services as well as a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses. You remember, it was the same government that had no plan and is leaving the mess to the prairie yahoos of Ed Stelmach to clean up. God help us.

Well, Jim Gray supported that below average government for a very long time indeed, and he was happy to do it.

Anyway, Gray and his cohorts succeeded. They worked their magic. Stelmach knuckled under. Flying in the face of the opinion of every energy expert worth his salt, Stelmach caved. Apart from making it far more difficult for small oil and gas producers, he left royalties by and large unchanged. So unchanged that energy stocks in the stock market actually went up!

And average Albertans are still not going to get 'their fair share.'






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