It was hard for me to imagine how Leading the North 2014 could be any better than the Leading the North conference I attended in 2012. I mean, the 2012 conference was where I met Ian Hill the first time, someone I have come to respect and admire. And it was where I met Peter Mansbridge (after admittedly stalking him on Twitter). I mean, how can you top Mansbridge?!?
Yet Leading the North 2014 managed to top the 2012 conference, and I was honoured to be in attendance for the majority of the speakers at the conference. It was a wide-ranging conversation about oil sands, education, communities, cities and life in the north. And it all began with a rousing address from Rex Murphy of CBC, noted radio host and the most ardent ambassador our region has.
Rex Murphy is not from Fort McMurray, but somehow he has become impassioned in his defense of us and what we do in this region. Perhaps it is because he comes from a place that has fought its own battles with the media, a province that has seen hard times and been the focus of some negative attention from the world. However it happened, though, Rex is now firmly on our side in the raging battle to win hearts and minds, and we are truly lucky to have him.
Anyone who has heard Rex on radio, television or in person knows that he is a captivating speaker. He enchants the audience with amusing anecdotes and tales. It is clear he has a sharp intellect and keen wit. I was delighted to be present when he addressed the Leading the North delegates with his comments on what we do in Fort McMurray.
Rex said many things, including that we need to be proud of what we do in our industry that provides tens of thousands of jobs and fuels the economic engine of the country. He spoke of all the benefits we provide to families across the country, providing employment and opportunity to tens of thousands of people who come here to work. He told us we need to stop apologizing for what we do, stop internalizing the criticisms of those who disparage us, be proud of the great enterprise in which we are engaged...but it was one comment that captured me.
Rex Murphy said we are the new national dream.
I read Pierre Berton’s book “The National Dream” at a very young age. I was captivated by the story of building the railway that connected our country long before air travel made us global citizens. I found the tale of how it contributed to the development of Canada as a nation intriguing, because the railway changed our nation.
And Rex Murphy is, in my opinion, right. The oil sands industry is the new national dream for Canada.
We are involved in an industry that employs people from all across our country – and all over the world. It is an industry that provides not only employment but hope for families who live in provinces where the unemployment rate is high and families struggle to make ends meet. It is an industry that inspires the development of new technology, and technology that can and has been applied in other industries around the world. It is the place where young professionals like engineers can come right out of university, their degrees fresh in their hands, and make their careers and be engaged in fulfilling and challenging work.
Like it or not, it is the industry that fuels the economy of this country, and provides income for hundreds of thousands of people through the industry and associated support industries.
There are those who express environmental concerns about oil sands development, and to be honest I share those concerns and continue to believe we can and must do better to protect our environment and develop our resource in a responsible way. But having those concerns in no way negates the tremendous benefit our industry creates for the people of this country, and for so many who have come from other countries to share in our industry, our community and our dream.
The national dream.
I don’t write often about industry because my focus is normally our community, but that should never be misconstrued as my having any shame or guilt about what we do in this region. We provide employment for tens of thousands, we provide families with opportunities and hopes and we are able to allow people to dream about the future because what we do fuels not just our cars, not just our economy , but dreams. National dreams.
Thank you, Rex, for reminding me and hundreds of others to be proud – and to continue sharing what we do as we continue to build the new national dream in Fort McMurray.