None of us has heard the actual plans for the Algonquin Hotel. We know that most of the hotel workers were laid off several weeks ago.
So what’s the deal? As a citizen of St. Andrews and of New Brunswick I was a co-owner of that hotel. Now it’s owned by Southwest Properties in Halifax. They put up $4 million as a retainer on the place, and we, the citizens of New Brunswick, lent them another $20 million.
Did our government put any restrictive covenants in place to protect our interests in this sweetheart deal? Do we get the first right to repurchase the hotel should the new owners decide to sell within a certain timeframe? Or a restriction on carving up and parting out the property to other developers? Or keeping the golf course in one piece? Or hiring and training locally?
The real question is, of course, why weren’t we told anything? We don’t even know anything about other bidders for the property.
Increasingly governments are behaving as if they’re secretly working for the economic interests of corporations rather than for their citizens. While corporations get invited to full disclosure on privatization deals, the public gets...nothing but silence. Before and after the deal.
There’s now a rumour floating around that New Brunswick’s ferries will be privatized, sold to the highest bidder. By now this has an unsurprising familiarity. It falls in line with the aborted sale of NB Power to Quebec, or the federal sale of the Atomic Energy Corporation Limited to SNC-Lavalin last year. Or the privatization of Petro-Canada. These were all significant investments by our government in Canadian infrastructure that the private sector was unwilling or unable to do.
Petro-Canada is a poster child example. Formed in 1975 to protect Canadian oil resources (from American exploitation) after the OPEC oil embargo and with a $1.5 billion federal cash injection plus the roll-in of government-owned Panarctic Oils and Syncrude, it quickly became a leader in Canadian business. During the late ’70s and ’80s it acquired Atlantic Richfield, Pacific Petroleum and Petrofina, and later the Canadian service station chains of British Petroleum and Gulf. By 1985 it was a dominant and highly successful energy company…owned by us. And by 1988 it sponsored the Calgary Winter Olympics.
By 1991, under Brian Mulroney, our control of the Crown corporation was gutted. The majority of the shares were sold (19 percent was kept by the government) and within months chunks of the business were being sold off, share prices dropped and staff was slashed from 11,000 to 5,000. The Canadian oil industry was now safely back in American hands. This was all depressingly similar to the Avro Arrow story two decades earlier.
Finally, the Liberal government under Chrétien put the remainder of the shares on the block in 2004. In 2009 Petro-Canada merged with Suncor, a subsidiary of the U.S. Sunoco corporation. The merger created Canada’s second largest company. Nice of us to help them along.
So where are we? And where are the people we elect to inform us and protect our interests? Simple answer: asleep. Here in our little county we have town councilors who’ve literally sat on council for over a decade. Unless we challenge our representatives we’re at the mercy of those who do challenge them: the special interests that want something for themselves or their corporations. We might start by clearing the slate by not electing any of the old, familiar names.
And then there are the global concerns, for which we have no answers. At this level most people just give up thinking about it. “Climate change? What can I do about it?” they ask and move on.
But there are answers. First, we need to educate ourselves about our current situation on the planet. To do that we need to separate the corporate misinformation from the real information. It’s no easy task. Second, we need to rethink the role of economics and government.
Economics (or money) is not what we think it is. It isn’t real. Resources are real. Human enterprise is real. But finance is an elaborate rigging of the game. We need to detach ourselves and our governments from corporate and financial rigging. That means holding our politicians accountable—to us. Third, we need to begin to act as if Earth’s resources are limited. That means being willing to challenge all of our assumptions. For example, that cars are a modern necessity, or that daily commuting and long distance tourism are a birthright. They are not.
In short, we need to start opening up discussions among ourselves about our own common future. And we have to start learning to work together (instead of competing for cash) to build better societies. Because business as usual will soon be impossible. And we can see the clear signs in front of us with rising fuel costs.
For my part I have to ask, what would my town look like without a tourism industry? Or without conventional cars and trucks? That reimagining process leads our thinking in entirely new directions. It may even keep us awake at nights. But at least we won’t be asleep as the future unfolds.