29 Mar 2015

Liquid Gold

Canada is a commodity-driven economy, as any textbook will confirm. Vast swathes of land are firmly in the grip of extractive industries, and the country's wealth and fortune is intrinsically linked to the price these resources fetch on world markets.

The precious liquid comes in different grades, ranging from light and delicate to dark and sticky, as determined by strict guidelines. Applications vary, but all of the grades store an abundance of energy and can refine everyday staples that deliver precious power to humans.

It is no surprise, then, that the crude product and its derivatives are sought after around the world. Traditionally sold barrelled, it is easy shipped anywhere. Nonetheless, Canadians are very keen on a projected pipeline that would give its producers a direct conduit to the massive US market to the south - no surprise given how addicted the Americans are to the stuff. That pipeline project remains in limbo as the administration in Washington chews through its merits.

A blatant delay tactic from a country keen to protect its own inferior producers, fumes Canada. Not at all, retort the Yankees. They claim serious concerns about the environmental effects of Canada's production methods. Some tree huggers talk of nefarious long-term health impacts and wide-spread deforestation.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as my third visit to one of the production plants last week showed. Quite the contrary, the trees were very well cared for and the entire site sat harmoniously in a peaceful late winter landscape. Only a light smell in the air hinted at the sticky business going on in the boiling room.

Not being an experienced commodity trader myself, I had arrived in the assumption that I could fill up my personal reserves on the cheap at the site's very own factory store. But I was mistaken, for the spot price per liter sat far above the market price in Montréal. I had to content myself with the small samples offered directly off the production line.

The corruption and inequality associated with the resource curse notwithstanding, Canada is really fortunate to sit on such a green and renewable source of energy. The source of the liquid gold has become the quintessential symbol of the Great White North. Deeply grateful, in 1965 Canadians even put it on their flag. And I will now put it on my pancakes. Eat this, Greenpeace!

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