Murky in McMurray

I often imagine the oil price as the fickle girl at the dance.  You know the one I mean.  The good looking one standing along the wall inviting you to come over with a friendly smile and hopes of good times ahead.  Just as you begin to walk over the lights go out and the music stops. When the lights finally come back on and the deejay puts on an extra lively song, you glance over where the girl was standing, but she is gone, and you begin to lose hope that she'll ever come back.

Friends and colleagues got laid off at Keyano College this week, more victims of an untenable deficit and an absolute imperative to trim expenses.  Good people, talented and hard-working people, have joined the unemployed ranks from the public and private sector as this downturn settles in like a bad cold that just doesn't want to go away.  I feel for each and every one of them, and the folks near the top who had to make the difficult decisions.

Driving around our community, evidence is abundant that we are in a tough spot.  Vacant business locations, which were inconceivable a few years ago, are popping up with increasing frequency.  Rumours abound of business teetering on the edge, unable to generate enough cash flow to keep the doors open.  

We are currently at the mercy of a commodity price that we have absolutely no control over.  The sputtering value of oil has driven down the value of the Canadian Dollar and is playing havoc with all oil producing nations from small petrostates to oil giants like Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.  

I've sparked a number of conversations about the idea of convening a diversification summit.  If we are ever going to be in a position to withstand wild swings in the price of oil, we have to be able to shift our resources and operations to other revenue producing activities.  The capacity to design, manufacture, and fix things in this region is extraordinary.  We have some of the smartest people on the planet within our midst.  Why not engage them to design a different future, an economy that is resilient, flexible, and responsive?  Why not use this downturn as an excuse to begin to fix the boom bust cycle that has defined this community for over 30 years?

Is my head in the clouds?  Probably.  I'm a systems thinker and maintain a belief that anything is possible if you put enough of the right people in the room to design a solution.  I just finished watching a film called The Imitation Game about a group of mathematicians who were put in a room with the singular task of solving the unsolvable: how to beat Germany's Enigma machine.  It was hard; it took time; and there were moments of utter frustration; but they did it.  

Meanwhile, I hope you will focus on being mindful during these challenging times.  Look out for your neighbours, offer an encouraging word, and exercise kindness as much as you can.  It will carry us through.  


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