Most of us who have lived through the turbulent teen years know what it’s like. You want to be noticed...but noticed for the right reasons. You don’t want to be noticed and laughed at for wearing rubber boots to school in Grade 7 (true confessions of this economist!), or for being picked last by the jock captains in high school gym basketball (sigh).
But you do want to be noticed for having the correct Jordache jeans, the highest mark in calculus, and the latest Texas Instrument calculator in its faux denim vinyl case (I did much better on these indicators).
Canada has had its share of being singled out and embarrassed on the global stage. We’ve been picked on by our international peers for our inaction on carbon reduction, for supply management programs in agriculture, and even for poor results in sports. In 2010, Canada was humiliated by being denied a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Most hurtful of all, we are too often not noticed at all by the other kids in the hall. Invisible. Irrelevant.
But 2012 might mark a turn-around for Canada—at least as far as grabbing some well-deserved positive attention. Consider three recent events that put us solidly at the cool kids table.
This essay was originally printed in Alberta Venture magazine, November 2012
Corporate boardrooms and MBA programs are breeding grounds for the professional cliché, and like the once-venerable cocker spaniel, the overuse of concepts like synergies and strategic plans eventually renders them an ugly imitation of their former selves. In the last few years the word innovation has been added to that dubious list. This is especially troubling because innovation in its true form is essential to economic progress. It would be a shame if it becomes so overused and so devoid of meaning that it gets tossed into the intellectual trash can of jargon.
What if this week’s economic news makers were releasing music CDs? Here’s how some of the reviews might read:
Artist: Barack Obama
CD title: “Off the Cliff”
Rating: **½ out of five
A follow-up to his 2008 debut CD Yes We Can, Barack Obama returns four years later with this strangely titled CD. The songs on this collection are mostly remixes of previously recorded material, but will resonate with listeners who feel that there isn’t anything else worth listening to.
Fans of Barack Obama will buy this CD no matter what, but the tracks are mostly uninspired and lack the same hopeful drive that permeated his first album. The one exception is the final track on the album, Off the Cliff, which is about taxing the wealthy. Its haunting, driving rhythms are compelling and the listener will get the sense that something very, very bad will happen if American legislators cannot arrive at a consensus over the budget before the end of the year.
Other than this track, however, most of the others are a bit bland. It’s the kind of CD that makes for mediocre background music at a party (perhaps the Democratic convention), but not one that you’d listen to over and over again. Good enough to sell to 52% of the population, yet not able to draw America together. In fact, some people in Texas want to separate over this album.
Artist: Jim Flaherty
CD: “It’s Not Our Fault”
Rating: *** out of five
Breaking from tradition, Canadian country artist and Finance Minster Jim Flaherty surprised no one this week with the release of this collection of sad songs.
After plenty of peppy, upbeat tunes over the past seven years, including his #1 hits Canada is Awesome! and The Deficit Gone by 2015, it was time for a departure. A few songs, particularly the title track, pin the blame of Canada’s financial mess on others. It’s trendy these days to blame Europe and the United States for Canada’s economic mess—and indeed the blame is justified. Still, there is just a tinge of whininess to this CD that seems unbecoming of Mr. Flaherty.
His fiercest critics in the music world, including hip-hop artist Thomas Mulcair, were quick to jump to the conclusion that Flaherty’s music is tired and dishonest to listeners. Others were less hostile, concluding that the decision was not his to make. Unless he wanted to slash transfer payments to the provinces or individuals, Flaherty had no choice but to release this sad, sad CD.
Artist: The Angry Spanish
CD: “Trash This Place”
Rating: * out of five
For a band that has delivered so much amazing artistry in previous CDs, including Manchego Cheese and Barcelona, the latest effort from heavy metal band The Angry Spanish is a huge disappointment. They’re clearly furious about something, and it shows in this CD.
In the first track, entitled We Hate Austerity, they openly encourage starting fires and overturning vehicles to protest funding cuts. The target of their rage is the Spanish government, which is imposing austerity measures required of them by Germany, the IMF, and the European Central Bank. While one can reasonably sympathize with The Angry Spanish over the unpleasant cuts to their wages and government services, listeners may grow a bit tired of their rants and violence. One listen and you can’t bear to hear it again.
CD: “Oil in America”
Rating: ** out of five
The Paris-based band IEA, also known as the International Energy Agency, raised eyebrows this week with the release of its latest CD, Oil in America. While the band has been around for decades and has had steady hits in the past, listeners will either love or hate its latest attempt.
Most of the themes in this collection are predictions about how the United States—still the world’s biggest consumer of oil—could actually become the globe’s most prolific oil producer by the year 2020.
It was a shock for many in the music word, but some of the tracks are catchy and are getting heavy radio play. Critics aren’t so sure that IEA has done its homework. Are they just projecting with a straight line some of the recent trends with U.S. oil production? And can a straight-line projection be trusted? A lot can happen between now and 2020.
Whether it is fact or pure fiction, this CD is reportedly causing trauma in some music markets. If the US really does become self-sufficient in oil in eight years, what does that mean for a province like Alberta?
Even though some Alberta music lovers are quickly tuning out the IEA, the songs are at least worth a listen.
A friend and his wife, both from Western Canada, talk about the time they were relaxing in the Upper Hot Springs in glorious Banff.
They struck up a conversation in the pool with a Quebec City couple visiting the Rockies for the first time. Impressed with the view, one of the Quebeckers said: “I like your mountains.” To this, my friend’s wife astutely replied: “They’re your mountains, too!”
The story still makes me tingle with warm, patriotic feelings about what a great country Canada is. But if those mountains could be mined, sold and accrued to Alberta’s government coffers in royalties, then a less generous response to the Quebecker might be: “Yes, they are my mountains. And you can’t have them.”
After having put up with seemingly endless months of political showmanship and campaigning, our American neighbours will finally vote next Tuesday for who they’d like as president. It’s an enormous decision for undecided voters, and, if polls can be trusted, the election could be extremely close. Few crystal ball gazers are yet willing to make a solid prediction of which man will win: the incumbent Barack Obama, or the challenger Mitt Romney.
A lot hangs in the balance of the Nov. 6 vote, especially for Americans. But the results of the election will have some implications in Canada and Alberta, as well.
Is it possible to gauge which candidate would be better for Alberta’s economy?