Following the news that Conrad Black will be speaking at the 2020 Vancouver Resource Investment Conference, I wanted to revisit this speech from the one and only Rex Murphy at the 2019 event. Read on for a transcript of Rex's passionate speech about the important position primary industries play in the history of Canada. What role will they play in our future? The world is watching. We can do better.
First of all, good afternoon to all of you. If anybody is expecting a refreshing interlude of sanity at this stage, despair.
I want to say thank you very much for the invitation. I find myself out here in Vancouver in a very peculiar situation. I phoned back to Toronto and they're having one of their inglorious bouts of deepest global warming -- they're down to minus 26 right now. They'll be cutting the emissions even further.
Sometimes people ask me if I believe in climate change and I say I'm from Newfoundland -- we haven't had the same weather for 60 minutes in five hundred years!
I'm not really sure where to begin. What I should point out, I suppose, are a couple of things. It's a pleasure to be in a tropical climate for a change and also book this time of day. In the old days, when I was still at the Great Temple to political correctness you know as the CBC, they used to send me down to the main lobby where it was my duty to water the ferns and refresh the incense that we had dear to the statue of of Bishop Suzuki at around 7:00 at night, which it is now over there. You really cannot imagine how difficult that is for me not to be doing that right now.
I also find myself in a peculiar situation, as a journalist. I am in a room full of achievers and this is a very awkward spot. Even as a journalist I'm not quite the full thing -- my relationship to journalism is basically that of a streetwalker to the Department of Highways.
Time is brief and the issues are large.
I was thinking about this this particular session for quite some time. I was also thinking back, as I always do, to some of my own Newfoundland experiences when I was young, which is about the time that the pharaohs were getting wound up in the mummy cloth. When I was young in the late 1950s, my mother had a little, little, little restaurant and when the miners from Baie Verte would finally come home for vacation periods they favored our place. and I got to know an awful lot of them then. At 55, a person was old in those days. It's a new thing that we see 70s and 80s and 85 year olds.
They were the gentlest of human beings. The gentlest of men. There was one particular favorite of mine whose name was Dick Kennedy. After 35 years, this is going back 70 or 80 years ago now, of working in a mine this man still had the sweetest disposition. After a lifetime of utter exertion and the hardest possible kind of labour, he did it because he wanted work so that he could support a family so that his kids might have something better. I start off with that as an anecdote because I want to go to a general theme and then come back.
The idea of this particular talk is to talk about Canada's relationship to the resource industries. If there's one word to describe Canada's relation from the government on down, especially in the last three or four years, it is lunatic.
I could take you examples from any part of the country. Ontario was really, really, really, really ripe. For 14 or 13 years they bought into the ideology that if you had enough solar panels and windmills, then a genie would suddenly appear and sprinkle fairy dust all over the province. It was a province in which they could build up to 1 billion dollars worth of a gas plant and at during the very first days of an election they could decide to take it down and move it somewhere else. It was a government that, having adopted the green strategies, raised the power rates on unfortunate people -- people on fixed income. It raised the natural price of heating to such a point that over 40,000 Ontarians in 2017 and 2018 couldn't afford their own heat. Then, to make the lunacy complete, the same government that brought in the policies subsidizing false power and raised those rates, originally, then takes a subsidy from the taxpayer pool to allow those citizens to buy their own power. They created a situation in which they also had to be the solution for the problem the created.
The insanity that governs people who attach themselves to great causes and then forget what it is that they do -- is unbelievable.
You guys here are involved in one of the two principal industries of the entire world. There are two basic requirements for everything that is in the 21st century economies: they are energy, because without energy nothing moves, and they are minerals. These are the basic constituents of every technological, every industrial, and every every form of welfare that we have. If you don't have minerals you cannot build things. You cannot have the machinery, you cannot have the technology, you cannot have the resources to go out to sea to search for oil, you cannot have the planes, you cannot have the iPhone -- you can't have anything.
And if you have no energy -- if you have to depend on other sources, if you are contingent on your energy, then you cannot plan. Without energy, nothing else is. And without minerals to combine with energy, the entire basis of this civilization vanishes.
It is therefore really, truly perplexing beyond a range of human understanding that here in a country as vast as ours with geographical reach second only in the world and a population of meager 33 million that we have been granted by divine providence the most rich arena of natural resources, probably, proportionately to anyone on the planet. Secondly, I came into this conference this morning and this is an amazing gathering. This is not flattery to you. The idea that there are something like 7,000 or 7,500 people here in the downtown of Vancouver under a tropical sun representing the one of the two most basic resources of the world, especially now, is amazing. I would have expected half the governments of Canada to be present at this gathering, to at least shepherd and deepen their understanding of what it is about natural resources that gives Canada the standing that it has.
Think back a while. Just look at Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal -- any of our major cities. Look at what life is like there. Look at what our own life is like, compared to other countries of this world. This is not chauvinism. We have a spectacular level of prosperity. We have wealth like we have never known it before. We have institutions that are grounded in a tranquil setting. We have a high reach of science. Our medicine is first class. The education, the banking system, and the business community... We have, at our disposal, resources that our grandparents could not have dreamed of.
The things that are happening in 2018-2019 have been almost exponentially a leap beyond the capacities of 1960 or 1950.They could not dream of this.
This man Ted Kennedy that I mentioned -- at 55, he had white hair, a cane, and had lived a burdened, hard life. If he could only picture this particular moment in a hall as great as this, he would be staggered.
How did this come to be? It came because in the original moments of Confederation of this country -- what were the driving forces? What were their pioneer energies? It began with the explorers and the miners. Mining, geography, and pioneering are intricately intertwined. What was the character of the people that were involved in those early days? The immense capacity to take severe risk. A physical hardihood that we, perhaps, have forgotten what it is.
The ability to live on the barest of resources while still pursuing some possibility of self-advancement.
In their heads at that time, it was not just looking for the nugget -- that's a cheap shot. The idea was always present as it was with this man Kennedy that, if he gets something that raises his station then it's part of something that will be an inheritance for his children or hers. There was always a driving impulse in the early Canadians, whether they cleared lands, fished, or mined that they were building something. Successive generations of Canadians, most of them doing the hard toil, going to the hard places, taking the largest risks and bearing the greatest labors -- these are the people that have brought this country to the station that it is today.
Here we are in full possession of that inheritance. And what's going on at the political level? How are we treating this? It is only a country so prosperous as our own that can afford to forget the original sources of that prosperity.
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. The source of social and political wealth begins in the primary resource sector and unless you build on the primary resource, you have no country.
Having advanced as far as we have, we have lost the consciousness of how good we have it. There's a whole movement across the country of playing down, obstructing, pushing aside, complicating, and over-regulating to cut down the very industries that brought us here in the first place.
I only have one joke that I'm going to share with you. It is really funny. I have to tell you that because otherwise you won't recognize it.
When Mr. Trudeau was still campaigning, he made one very solemn declaration. He made it several times. He said, one of the reasons that he was in politics and one of the reasons why we should have a new government was that when he got in government and became prime minister, he was going to restore trust in the processes of the National Energy Board. He was going to restore trust in the processes of the National Energy Board. Now, I traveled the country a fair bit. I get back and forth all over the place. I remember I was in Twillingate a little bit after that and there was a huge storm that wiped out most of the most of the shore. Big disaster in Twillingate. I went in and the old gentlemen were hovered around -- one guy looks at the other guy and says, "I wonder when it's going to happen? When can I start again to trust their processes of the National Energy Board?" The next day I was over in Ontario, went to the coffee shop in the early morning and the old men were chatting it up -- a big scandal occurred and the first thing they said was, "Oh, I wonder -- do you think we're gonna get the processes of the National Energy Board back into our trust?" Where is this coming from? When you look at the province of Alberta and Saskatchewan, you realize that in that particular location where we have another primary resource and we have hearings that take seven years. The Keystone XL took 10 to 11 before Mr. Obama got around to saying no. You have pipelines cancelled before they even begin. You can have a decade trying to get permission to do something. Can you possibly imagine what it would be like if in this day and age someone stood up somewhere and said, "I want to build a railway across the country." They would be taken out and put in a hemp noose, invite Greenpeace to light the fire underneath them. Even on small things...
I'm sure most of you, at one time or another had a chance to go to Banff. It's one of the great beauty spots of the world. The Banff Springs Hotel -- that great stone cathedral. I had my little nephew there years ago when he was about 9 and took him out there up on the ski lift where you look around all the mountains on your way up. Then, you see down below the great valley and river running out in front of the Banff Springs Hotel. Something about it all -- the sublimity of the mountains, the river running in front, the lake, and then this great stone castle. The harmony between the hotel built by men in the century when you didn't have the machines we have and the scenery -- it's just too beautiful to believe. The injection of human spirit in a landscape completed the scene. Can you now imagine if you went to Banff Springs Park and you wanted to build something? In this day and age? We have somehow become an induced into thinking, at least our government has, that any initiative that unleashes the natural forces of the economy, that supplies people with work and jobs, that looses enterprise, that calls into play the forces of technology and the advanced engineering techniques that we hold first position in almost all the world -- those things are looked upon as dangerous. Those things have to be delayed so long that they no longer happen at all. Why is there such insistent obstruction to the exploitation of the most basic resources that we have in this country? That have brought us to the point that we are now one of the most favorite countries on the very face of the earth.
Let me give you one other little anecdote. A long while ago, when Joey Smallwood was premier -- he was a very strange man, by the way. He used to hold his cabinet meetings in his own head and even they weren't well attended. In fact, his idea of a caucus was to have a second thought, which is one more than a lot of them are having these days. Smallwood had a great love for Newfoundland and he had a slogan,which today would have him in pillories. He knew that we were a rock. There wasn't a hell of a lot of soil. The fishery was there, but not everyone can fish. It was the 20th century and his slogan was "Develop or perish."
What he was saying was that unless Newfoundland got other industries and unless it developed its resources beyond the marine level, that somehow or other, over time, Newfoundland would just blur itself away. He understood, in other words, that employment is a bigger thing than simply the notion of a job. Jump forward to 1993-94 when we had the collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery and 31,000 human beings, men and women... 31,000 men and women 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. It was much more than a cultural blow. In a single moment, for the first time in 500 years no one could go out and jig a cod fish to have it for supper. Also, it was 31,000 people abruptly unemployed. Proportionately, if that it happened in Ontario -- if you would picked up the Globe & Mail the next morning, which I would advise you not to do, if you picked up the Globe & Mail the next morning then you would read a headline that 660,000 people lost their jobs overnight. That's the proportion. In other words, I'm pointing out a moral. Newfoundland was stricken. It happened that one of our great natural resources was going through a boom. This was before the period of national energy processes and endless hearings, court obstructions, environmental protest, false protest, foreign financing targeted directly at the resource and Alberta was enjoying good times. Over a fairly short period of time, my own close friends went there. So many people did. There was one man I knew on the northern peninsula who sold his house for seven airplane tickets to get to Hamilton to see if he could get a job -- that's how rough it was. Suddenly, Alberta was there and so many of our crowd got up, took the least job first, worked their way around, and it was one of the great rescue operations of the Canadian Confederation, which most people still even haven't heard about. It was one of the great moments, on some, of Confederation at work, where one region of the country very willingly allowed a strange bunch with a different accent and certainly a stranger language to wander into their own province. It's 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? Did anyone ever point out that one of the most dynamic moments of modern Confederation took place in the 90s when one whole province was rescued by another? No. But you heard Neil Young, who has a few strings loose on his particular guitar... You heard Leonardo deChinook heading up there and discovering new weather patterns. You heard every criticism that 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 of a Fort MacMurray, you had the layoff of engineers in Fort McMurray -- and what did they decide was the cure? Let's bring in a carbon tax. The poor creature was already laid out on the morgue table and they wanted to take another few shots at the head. Where does this come from?
I use the word lunatic. It is.
This is an industry that provides employment. That's why I told a Newfoundland story. Do you know what it is like not to have work? There's no psychological stress greater, perhaps, than the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a family. Man or woman who is used to earning their own way, not to have the succor and dignity -- a dollar earned is always better than one given. There is nothing so damaging to a domestic arrangement then the loss of dignity that comes with the fact that you can no longer claim you are earning your own and providing for your own. A job is a core of dignity and to attach to a great enterprise, be it mining or others a huge project to be involved in some communal endeavor -- it's not just the work. And it's not even just the paycheck. It is the fulfillment of the human personality to do great things.
Even the offshore drilling -- I watched them building an offshore rig for three years. Do you know how complicated an offshore drilling rig is? They had 5,000 people over three years building this thing. It has more parts than 10 moon shots. I've always said that the rig should be on the stamps! They are the very apogee of human technology. And, yet, if some some fool comes down and parks one windmill in downtown Toronto, we will have the burden of the North American press wondering if the blades are going around. Sixteenth century Holland was a great country, but I don't think we want to go back.
We mis-value the things that count, that's what I'm saying. We mis-value the industry that you are in. The idea you could have 7,000 people on Canadian soil dealing with one of the pre-eminent most necessary industries of modern civilization and it could be passed by even the most secondary politicians? The idea that, in this country, which we inherited on the labors of those people in the primary industries over the generations, that the very industries that helped us to build Canada are now the only ones under a microscope -- that have no friends and are subject to policies that work to repress... They're going to explode Alberta if someone doesn't wake up soon. They are introducing stresses into the political dynamic of the country because we don't appreciate what's right straight in front of our eyes. Primary industries respond to primary human needs.
Employment is a tremendous gift. It is so much more than the people in government seem to understand. The appreciation for it is deserted.
The resources -- the education and technological resources that are called into play by your modern industry and the others -- is one of the great boasts of Canada. And yet it gets so little attention. The slightest element of criticism on any major natural resource industry will get blown across the waves. You are under intense microscopic scrutiny. I remember those damned ducks that landed in some pond up in Fort McMurray -- they had all of North America before them. They had GPS given them by nature. They searched and searched over vastness of square miles to find the one place they couldn't land. It became the story of the year. Anyone brings up those ducks I have words for them.
I'll wrap it up. I'm getting the hook. I want to end up on a small little yarn because I've been more serious than I normally am. It's a little story I like to tell about when in 1997 we invited Queen Elizabeth to come over and celebrate 500 years that Newfoundland had been a colony and the fact that John Cabot in 1497 headed off for Peking or Beijing and ended up in Bonavista, which is a maritime error of some considerable scope. Even in 1497, it's not too easy to mistake Beijing for Bonavista. Bonavista didn't have a Chinese restaurant until 1987.
Anyway, I gotta make it short because I know I'm late. This is true. It was a big deal. She came over and ended up in Bonavista when there was rain, sleet, snow, fog and you couldn't see her. Really! They had the camera crews everywhere, but no one could see her. Very quickly, they improvised. They took her into St. John's and brought her indoors. They brought her to a biscuit factory, which is well-known in Newfoundland -- Purely Biscuits. They brought her into this biscuit factory and they had the television cameras there, so everyone could see her. She was in Purely Biscuits. The Newfoundlanders knew it. She was on a dais, like I am now. In front of her are three steel vats with three thousand pounds of warm biscuit dough being whirled by giant blenders. There's a guy in the stage with a white coat at the machine who presses the button to stir the biscuit dough. She's on the stage, walks over to where he is and -- I can't do the accent -- but she looks up and she says, "What are you making, sir?" Long pause. And he says, "$13.50 an hour, Ma'am."
Let me wrap it up in two sentences. You're involved in a core and a central industry. It is not appreciated. It is more often put down than it is supported. The core industries that built this country are the only ones now that are in the shadow and the shade. If we want to maintain the structure and prosperity that we have, we have got to revert to some very sensible thinking about using the resources that Providence or God has given this country. Thanks for your patience.
Learn more about the 2020 VRIC, https://cambridgehouse.com/news/8687/he-built-one-of-the-worlds-largest-newspaper-empires