Earlier this week, the BOE Report published two separate accounts discussing Rachel Notley’s role in addressing Alberta’s bleak economy – which for the most part can be read as the province’s oil and gas industry.
The first, written by Terry Etam, suggested that part of the reason why the province’s oil business is in the shape it’s in is because of past government policy (or lack thereof). Prior to the NDP recently taking office, Alberta was governed by the Progressive Conservative party for forty odd years. During that time, as Terry points out, there seemed to be neglect on the part of politicians to deal with the abandoned well issue, prudently manage the province’s heritage fund, and pave the way for critical infrastructure to be built.
That said, many people wouldn’t have been remiss to interpret Terry’s piece (especially if one were to only read the title) as a critique of the PC’s putative hands-off governing style and a ringing endorsement of Rachel Notley. After clarifying with Terry, he said that was not his intent. His intent was to point out that certain issues Alberta is now facing have been decades in the making, and that they are not solely due to the NDP taking power just over one year ago (despite what many disgruntled people are prone to say). According to Terry, how Rachel Notley and her team are currently addressing these issues was not the point of his article.
In response to Terry, the BOE Report’s Publisher Josh Groberman wrote a rebuttal. In his piece, Josh argued that while yes there were certain things that the PC’s did blunder on, overall, the NDP has done virtually nothing to help the provincial economy recover from of one of the worst downturns in the province’s history. For Josh, the main point of his article was to point out that many of the initiatives introduced by the NDP have not been at all constructive to the provincial economy, and that if a more conservative political party were to be in power, the province would be a happier place.
Comments on each article were charged. When Terry’s was published, it did not take long for individuals to express their extreme loathing for Rachel Notley and to shame the BOE Report for publishing, in their words, such drivel. And when you read the comments on Josh’s piece, the feeling that probably best describes their words is relief. Above all, it became quite clear that, for a wide swath of Albertans, mere mention of the province’s political scene touches on a pain point. After all, when is politics not divisive and contentious?
But by publishing Terry’s article and then Josh’s rebuttal, the hope was to convey certain attitudes to our readers. With respect to Terry’s article, it was a reminder of the importance to think critically, to not be fall victim to ‘recency bias’, and to not lose sight of the forest for the trees. For Josh’s piece, it was a reminder that pragmatic problem solving is the only way forward for our current provincial leaders despite what has happened in the past.
As you may have already heard on the BOE Report’s latest podcast, Terry and Josh will both agree that yes Alberta is in a mess that was not entirely caused by low oil prices. And they will both agree that the way the NDP has played the cards they’ve been dealt is far from perfect.
So if both past and present politicians are at partial fault for the problems Alberta now faces, the question is how can Alberta’s political leaders change their thinking to steward the province forward? In answering that question, perhaps it would be best for our current and future provincial leaders to embrace a style of thinking critical to, of all things, improvisational comedy. This way of thinking can be best summed up by looking at a situation and thinking: ‘Yes…and, rather than ‘no…but.’
For instance, several years ago acclaimed writer Michael Lewis described his year spent covering financial disaster tourism by traveling to, among other places, Iceland, Ireland, and Greece. When trying to figure out how Greece managed to find itself in such spectacular financial ruin, Lewis happened upon a group of Greek monks that managed to be the lightning rod for much of the Greek population’s ire at their state of the union. At that time Greece was on the brink of sovereign default, and the monks were at the heart of a political scandal that ultimately led to the new Greek government responsible for revealing the country’s incredible habit of corruption.
What did the scandal involve? As Lewis explained in his piece, in several short years the monks were able to return a decrepit monastery to its former glory and also shrewdly leverage ancient property deeds into a commercial real estate empire. How the monks managed to do what they did was the root of the scandal. Most Greeks suspected government corruption. When Lewis visited the monastery, he was able to ask the monk most people thought responsible for the monastery’s stunning success and infamy, what the heck was going on.
As Lewis wrote:
“How on earth do monks, of all people, wind up as Greece’s best shot at a Harvard Business School case study? After about two hours I work up the nerve to ask him [the monk]. To my surprise he takes me seriously. He points to a sign he has tacked up on one of his cabinets, and translates it from Greek: the smart person accepts. The idiot insists. He got it, he says, on one of his business trips to the Ministry of Tourism. ‘This is the secret of success for anywhere in the world, not just the monastery,’ he says, and then goes on to describe pretty much word for word the first rule of improvisational comedy, or for that matter any successful collaborative enterprise. Take whatever is thrown at you and build upon it. ‘Yes … and’ rather than ‘No … but.’ ‘The idiot is bound by his pride,’ he says. ‘It always has to be his way. This is also true of the person who is deceptive or doing things wrong: he always tries to justify himself. A person who is bright in regard to his spiritual life is humble. He accepts what others tell him—criticism, ideas—and he works with them.'”
Now, at this point, you may be wondering how Greek monks have anything to do with Alberta…and I wouldn’t blame you. But there are takeaways from the anecdote.
If Alberta’s provincial leaders are looking to do what’s best for Alberta, why not do as the Greek monks did when they approached the problem of restoring their decrepit monastery to its former glory. For whichever political party that happens to be in power, consider approaching the problems facing the province in a “yes…and” way. That is, to not feel wed to past party policy promises. To objectively weigh all the data points when making decisions on raising or cutting taxes, and introducing new legislation. And to be as unbiased and pragmatic as humanly possible in looking for ways to improve Alberta’s state of affairs.
I think that is something that both Terry and Josh can agree on and maybe, just maybe, the odd social media troll.