A famous bumper sticker permeated the Alberta psyche back in the 1980’s, at the height of massively high interest rates and Trudeau’s energy plan that drew millions of dollars from Alberta’s oil-laden coffers to support the economic needs of the rest of Canada. The bumper sticker read, “Please God, give us another oil boom, we promise not to piss it away this time.”
You see, though I was alive I was very young, but my impression of the meaning of that sticker is that the Alberta government and Albertans in general had taken the just-ended oil boom for granted, just as a calamitous economic crisis (that was causing people to default on mortgages and lose their jobs at alarming rates) had begun. Alberta had allowed the concept of a free market to reign supreme, where oil was itself ‘pissed away.’ Big oil companies came, drilled and exported with little in the way of royalty payments to the province and its tax payers. What was collected was also ‘pissed away’ on salaries, expensive homes and cars, with little saved – either on the government or personal level. This left Alberta in no better a position than many other provinces during the 80’s. People walked away from mortgages and unemployment levels were among the highest in Canada.
Enter the 2000’s. Again, oil peaked (as noted on this blog), this time at about $140/barrel towards the end of the decade. Times were rich in Alberta and oil companies were seizing land by literally dropping territory markers from moving helicopters in order to secure exploration rights. Oil sands developers were climbing over each other to invest billions in on-site technology and infrastructure. No greater was the evidence than 20-year-old migrant workers from throughout Canada buying Corvettes and F-350s with cash. Home values tripled in Fort MacMurray in less than a year. A Bentley dealership opened in Calgary and quickly became the highest volume seller in North America. $10 million construction plans for homes modelled after historic castles were making front page news in the Calgary Herald. Life was grand. But little was done in the way of savings. Saying the word royalty was sinful, but once oil plummeted back to $30/barrel the oil companies were moving out, unemployment reigned, and as part of the global economic crisis, Alberta’s home prices fell up to 30%. I suppose it’s logical that the short-term thinking that promotes Bentley sales and prevents savings would prohibit us from remembering our mistakes from two decades ago.
I thought up a new bumper sticker that ought to catch on nicely here in BC, where we’re experiencing literally a renaissance of the famous Sockeye Salmon migration that had been decimated in the last decade. You see, the Sockeye, a species of Pacific salmon, migrates from the ocean into the fresh water Fraser River and up it for several hundred kilometres in order to spawn its young and create a new generation of Sockeye. Tragically and yet naturally, the salmon that do migrate into the river never return to the ocean. Their migration is one way; their instincts incredibly innate, primal and mortal. Should they not fall victim to bears, birds or nowadays commercial and recreational anglers, the fish will spawn and then die upstream. Their bodies will feed animals and their carcasses will enrich BC’s inland forests with unequalled amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients.
In the last decade, salmon migration numbers have been shockingly low. Expected runs of 10 million fish have been in reality 1 to 2 million. So low that fishing licenses have been terminated and fishing seasons closed before they’ve begun. Fisheries and generational ways of life have been exterminated. It was feared that BC was experiencing the consequences of years of overfishing and habitat destruction similar to what Canada’s East Coast endured with their Cod industry.
But then this year a purported record high of 25- to 30-million Sockeye ran up the Fraser, providing everyone with relief and thousands of commercial boats and hobbyist fishermen with licenses, albeit for no greater a limit of time or catch than usual. It’s been heavenly. People reported that fish have been literally jumping into their nets. As I drove from Vancouver to Calgary last Sunday, I passed a stretch of the Fraser River near Chilliwack and saw hundreds of people lined up every ten feet along the shoreline for kilometres with lines in the water.
One has to wonder, but I do have confidence, if we’re being mindful not to annihilate this population of fish before they have a chance to spawn.
And thus my idea for a new, ‘catchy’ (sorry for the pun) bumper sticker to appear in BC, based on Alberta’s historic example:
“Please God, give us another big sockeye run, we promise not to overfish the shit out of it this time.”