Alberta Politics Opinion

Suncor still trying to lead Alberta in uphill battle

Suncor CEO Mark Little's vision seems to be in line with what people are saying, at least in Alberta.

Steve Williams, Suncor’s previous CEO, was a strong vocal supporter of the NDP’s climate leadership plan. Those familiar with Williams’ support could be forgiven for wondering if that had anything to do with his replacement. Pundits and columnists have tried their hand at suggesting anyone who supported Alberta’s previous government’s climate goals was now wiping egg off their face.

But Mark Little, Suncor’s new CEO, seems to be more than ready to show that the company’s goals have not changed under new leadership – and those goals may be more in line with what Alberta needs than what we’re currently getting.

Little drew attention for suggesting that oil and gas executives should look at their own records rather than blame someone else for the weaker economy.

He cited a lower carbon economy, investment in people, training and technology as areas where Canada’s, and Alberta’s, leadership need to be putting more energy. Little’s vision seems to be in line with what people are saying, at least in Alberta.

Earlier this week, Robson Fletcher of the CBC synthesized some figures that showed Calgary’s younger cohort, aged 20-24 was shrinking. In a graph he hadn’t included in the article but did share on Twitter, the cities whose 20-24 year-old cohorts have been steadily growing over the past ten years include Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.

Credit: Robson Fletcher; @CBCFletch

The fact that Calgary’s 20-24 year-old population ebbs and flows, seemingly with the boom and bust, isn’t news. That Edmonton’s cohort has remained fairly steady doesn’t really raise any alarms. However, a growing segment of youth is often considered to be akin to entrepreneurship and change. If Alberta’s largest cities are not enticing this group, that should be cause for concern.

One comment Robson captured was from a young woman who left Calgary for Toronto. “In all my jobs (in Calgary), we used software platforms from, like, 1995 or something like that, which is when I was born, and it just doesn’t seem like anything is really moving,” she said.

A similar sentiment came from Little, whose comment is backed by data showing that Canadian companies in general don’t seem to be embracing the technology of the future at the same rates as their competitors south of the border.

“When you start looking at the way technology is being embraced by our biggest trading competitor south of the border, the U.S., people are starting to feel pressure from companies coming in with better digital platforms, better customer experience and such,” Little said during a media scrum in Ottawa.

Technology is one major factor that likely stems from another, more disheartening place of ideology. Case in point: Little’s commentary didn’t make any headlines until almost a week after the Canadian Chamber of Commerce economic conference. Even then, it came from the Financial Post.

Bloomberg posted an interview with Little at the conference where he said the greatest issue facing his industry was “clearly” climate. Suncor is spending $1.4 billion on a co-generation facility to reduce their GHGs by 25 per cent.

Suncor has been leading the pack for years now in their commitment to think of both the energy future and the environment. But it hardly leads in the news.

Another young woman who left told Robson it feels like the only opportunities Calgary wants to offer is for oil and gas.

“They don’t want to work in oil and gas — either because of the environmental implications of it or they just don’t really see a future in that field — and feel like if they live in Calgary, that’s kind of a written-in-stone future for them. So they felt the need to move away.”

It’s not just people who move away that feel that way.

Since the change in government in April of last year, Alberta politicians speak of little other than oil and gas. The constant promotion of the industry, at what seems to be the expense of all others, is potentially having the opposite effect of drumming up support as some say it’s causing them to despise the industry.

Alberta’s war room, or Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), hasn’t been met with the usual suspects decrying the use of taxes for the government to do something “better” than industry itself. The office, which purports to have less than 10 full-time staffers, gets a $30 million dollar/year budget to “tell the truth” about Alberta’s energy industry.

Neither Suncor’s commitments nor Mark Little’s comments have managed to find their way into a news release from the CEC more than a week later.

The CEC recently defended its existence (and lack of promotion for energy projects that are neither oil and gas or located outside of Alberta) on social media with a tweet claiming “we absolutely give a crap about solar AND wind.”

“Our future is a mix of oil, gas, renewables, and whatever will provide reliable, safe, secure, and affordable energy to meet our, and by our I mean Canada [sic], energy demands.”

However, if one were to search the CEC site for “Suncor”, it returns nothing. “Vulcan”, the southern Alberta town that is home to the latest $500 million dollar investment in “Canada’s largest” solar farm, also went unnoticed by the $30 million dollar advertising and promotion wing of the United Conservative government.

In fact “solar“, “wind energy“, “nuclear“, and “hydro” all lead to the same two-word result: “Nothing found”.

The only search that produced any results was “Alberta” and “oil”. Because despite the pearl-clutching, the war room wasn’t created to promote Alberta as a destination for anything other than oil and gas dollars. Certainly, skimming $20 million from them to “tell the truth about Alberta’s oil and gas industry” and then promoting Alberta’s burgeoning green energy sector, or any other, may be met with some serious side-eye from the province with the highest level of unemployment in western Canada.

Whether it’s technology, policy, ideology or a combination of the parts, if Calgary, and Alberta, continue to reject the advancement that youth often propels, the entire province may find itself suffering from the economically-paralyzing inability to catch up – to Winnipeg.

This post contains opinion.

Deirdre is a freelance writer based in southern Alberta.

contact: dmaclean@countersign.ca, @Mitchell_AB on Twitter

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