Centre of the Continent

Thoughts from the middle of North America

Gas Addiction & The NDP Intervention

Jack Layton Winnipeg A27 2011

So here we are in the final few days of the 2011 federal election campaign and the Conservatives are on the attack.  According to them the Jack Layton Cap and Trade plan will raise gas prices. Let’s do a logical fact check. Gas prices are going to rise. Whether it’s Prime Minister Jack Layton, Iggy, Harper or even Elizabeth May.

The question then becomes where you want that money to go. Right now all increases mean bigger profits for the oil companies. Do you really think they are suffering? No – they are not. Do you believe that they will pull out of Canada? No – they’re here because the oil is here and not because of what any particular government is doing. At very least, the new tax dollars can fund the search for and development of alternatives and not just to pad corporate pockets.

Welcome to the realities of addiction. This is a process that should have started years ago but no parliament had the will or the courage to do it. There are many aspects to curbing fossil fuel dependency and as with any addiction the longer you wait, the worse it gets. I will be the first one to admit that green energy sources aren’t ready for prime time but who’s fault is that? It’s our leader’s and ours. We need to demand that green energy and transportation alternatives be made a priority and we need to elect a parliament that is willing to take the initiative on making it happen.

Addiction. A frightening word I am using deliberately. It is so easy for me to point out the similarities between our dependency on oil and an addict’s dependency on a given drug. It started with big business and the industrial revolution but let’s fast forward to the mid 20th century. In 1947 Canadians bought 159,2051 new passenger cars. By 1956 that number had exploded to 407,7102.  While that extreme rate of growth did not continue, in 2009 it was 863,1613. What does this mean? We all were happy about it really. New cars represented the freedom and prosperity that was the hallmark of the post war baby boom. We didn’t know what we were doing was bad. I mean we all could see in our cities where the most cars were concentrated smog starting to visualize but we had no grasp of the long tern effects.  There were a few forward thinkers for sure but for the most part, cars were good – more cars were better.  This is the experimentation phase for us addicts. We had the means and we all wanted what the “cool kids” had. The cool kids were the well off and the well off had cars.

Somewhere in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s people saw what was happening. Air pollution was visible and affecting health but cars weren’t yet seen as the problem so much as industry. Even hippies happily drove their lovebugs. To their credit, they were smaller more efficient cars and the economically-challenged youth were likely to carpool. But at this same time the car had been marketed into a right and not a privilege. Owning a car had become not a luxury but a perceived necessity.

Addiction had taken hold. We could not let go. Our lives were now designed around keeping that addiction alive. Cities, highways and indeed a massive chunk of our economy was built around feeding and supporting that addiction. The combined might of the “dealers” – oil companies and car manufacturers – had made them major players in our politics.  And there were limitless resources to keep our dependency alive.  (I invite everyone to research what happened to electric streetcars in most cities.  Safe to say that auto and oil had a hand in the demise. That will be a whole other post some day.)

And so it grew. In 2009 there were 20,706,6164 registered vehicles in Canada.  That’s a ratio 1 for every 1.645 persons in the country. And most of us would say we “need” that vehicle. Some are right for the infrastructure has been built around just that. And don’t get me wrong, some people absolutely do. I’ll use the recent developments in Winnipeg as an example. In the suburbs, public transit service is poor and even I would not argue that.  Winnipeg Transit would argue that there is less demand. All of this is true. An addict might well feel that there are no options.

Here’s the reality.

There are options but they must be requested and in most cases demanded. Ultimately, we as the addicts must take the first steps. Gas prices, for no matter what the reason, will continue to rise. The cost both in terms of our health as individuals, and as a nation will depend on the choices we start to make now.  This will apply to our economic wellbeing and our environmental survival. It will be difficult. It will be painful. It should have been earlier, it will be worse if we wait longer – the intervention must happen now.

We know the way out – deep down most addicts do. Green fuels and technology and public transit. Simply put, the only way to lessen the amount of money we have to spend on gas in the long run is to buy less gas.

We can do this.


1,2 – Statistics Canada, Canada Year Book, 1957/1958, Retail sales of new motor vehicles, 1947 to 1956 –http://www65.statcan.gc.ca/acyb02/1957/acyb02_19570941009-eng.htm

3 – Statistics Canada, New Motor Vehicle Sales: 2006 in Review – http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-621-m/11-621-m2007054-eng.pdf

4 – Statistics Canada, Canadian Vehicle Survey: Annual – 2009 – Catalogue no. 53-223-X –http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/53-223-x/53-223-x2009000-eng.pdf

5 – Wikipedia, Population of Canada by Year  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_population_of_Canada_by_years


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