Thursday 22nd August 2019

Resource Clips


Battlefield correspondent

Rex Murphy sees human casualties in the war on Canada’s resource industries

by Greg Klein

Rex Murphy sees human casualties in the war on Canada’s resource industries

An SRO audience paid rapt attention to Rex Murphy’s VRIC speech.

 

There’s something inspiring about a Newfoundlander—a Newfoundlander born in Newfoundland before it even joined Canada—coming to the West Coast largely to defend Alberta’s oil and gas sector. Actually Rex Murphy’s message applies to Canada’s resource industries overall, focusing on the people who work in them, their families and others who helped build the country. He sees the chasm between those who find fulfillment in employment and those who would shut down the industries that provide it.

Rex Murphy sees human casualties in the war on Canada’s resource industries

A National Post columnist who’s somehow tolerated by the CBC, Murphy proved a huge hit with an overflow crowd at the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference 2019. “As a journalist, I’m in a room full of achievers,” he quipped. “This is a very awkward spot.” But unlike most journalists, he neither ignores nor celebrates an enormous shift in Canadian society.

He remembers miners from Baie Verte and Buchans who frequented his mother’s restaurant in the 1950s, “the gentlest of men” despite their gruelling work. But important as mining was, Newfoundland’s main source of survival was fishing. That changed dramatically in 1992.

That’s when 31,000 people, “at the stroke of a pen on a single day, were completely removed from the Newfoundland inshore fishery. Something that had gone on for 450 years, that defined the culture, the humour, the idiom, the songs, the pattern of settlement, the whole idea of Newfoundland, was wrapped up in that fishery…. For the first time in 500 years no one could jig a codfish and have it for supper. But also it was 31,000 people abruptly unemployed.”

Proportionately that would have been 660,000 people in Ontario, he added. One man he knew, desperately hoping for a job in Hamilton, sold his house for seven plane tickets. “That’s how rough it was.”

Rex Murphy sees human casualties in the war on Canada’s resource industries

But as one regional resource economy collapsed, another boomed. Alberta’s oilpatch needed workers. Murphy calls it “one of the great rescue operations of Canadian Confederation, which most people still haven’t even heard about…. It was one of the great moments, unsung, of Confederation at work, where one region of the country, very willingly, allowed a strange bunch with certainly a stranger language to wander into their province … one of the great songs that we should be singing, that the enterprise of Alberta and a primary industry rescued one of the great social and cultural blows of another part of the Confederation. Did you ever hear about it?”

We more likely heard vilification, often coming from activists, celebrities, media and increasingly Ottawa, he maintained. “You heard every criticism you could hear about poor Fort McMurray. Even after the fire they went after it…. You had the oil price decline, you had the burning of Fort McMurray, you had a flood in Fort McMurray, you had the departure of capital from Fort McMurray, you had the layoff of engineers in Fort McMurray, and what did they decide was the cure? Let’s bring in a carbon tax.

“I mean, the poor creature’s already laid out on the morgue table and they want to take another few shots at the head.”

Rex Murphy sees human casualties in the war on Canada’s resource industries

Resource extraction was vital to the generations who built this country, Murphy emphasized. “It is only in a country as prosperous as our own that we get to the point where we denigrate and derogate the essential industries that brought us precisely to where we are.”

Prosperity, or at least just simply work, can provide intangible benefits too, he pointed out.

“Do you know what it’s like not to have work? There’s no psychological stress greater except loss of a loved one or breakup of a family…. It’s not just the work, it’s not just the paycheque, it is the fulfillment of the human personality.”

Although often incredulous, Murphy’s cri de coeur falls short of actual despair, especially when laced with homespun humour. Nevertheless a despairing thought might occur to listeners who wonder whether the intangible value of an earned paycheque matters much in a culture of entitlement, or among those who find remuneration in activism. As for work’s fulfillment of the human personality, maybe another type of personality has gained prominence, one that finds fulfillment in espousing fashionable convictions and obstructing useful projects.

What remains to be seen is whether the people he speaks for are declining, in numbers as well as influence. Maybe previous generations could have offset such a fate by producing a few more Rex Murphys.

Videos of VRIC 2019 presentations will be posted online in the coming weeks by Cambridge House International.


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