This just in: Alberta can stuff its fossil fuels into a hole in the ground because Ontario will boom thanks to green energy. The story comes from the CBC but it must be true because it’s full of phrases like “Sophisticated new analysis” and “those in the know”. Whereas we hicks are going um it didn’t really work in Germany, California or Britain or, for that matter, Ontario, so what’s different here? Tell us, O “those in the know”.
Those in the CBC claim they’ve arrived at something momentous that less enlightened souls are just staggering toward. “The people in charge of investing your money for the long term are in the throes of a wrenching internal conflict that is reshaping Canada and the world…. those in the know say the private sector is already embroiled in its own painful energy investment transition…. it inflames the long-term political fault line between those regions that depend on the oil and gas sector for their livelihood and those that don't. Sophisticated new analysis shows that the interests of the fossil fuel-based economy so important to places like Alberta no longer coincide with the well-being of the country's centres of finance and industry, principally — but not only — in Ontario.”
Now it’s hardly going to solve Canada’s unity woes to hear that Ontario will prosper if Alberta goes down in lack of flames. But whether something is good news has no bearing on whether it’s accurate. So what’s the argument here?
“As French energy giant Total adds its name to the list of companies expecting oil demand to peak in a decade as electricity use doubles, finance specialist Ryan Riordan sees a changing mood within the Ontario investment sector and within the Ontario government, which so recently fought an election against carbon pricing, low-carbon energy and the green transition.” And it is true that Doug Ford seems to have campaigned right and governed left, a time-honoured strategy for securing a single term in office. But when the expert you all wanted to hear from, an associate professor of finance at Queen’s, says “I think particularly the provincial government is at an inflection point” it only tells us that politicians are vulnerable to trendy schemes that let them sacrifice other people’s money and livelihoods for applause and headlines.
The CBC goes on to tell us that “Riordan's research shows that it's become increasingly clear that the success of Ontario's financial and industrial sectors depends on a quick move toward a low-carbon transition.” To which we respond in the usual manner: If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?
Seriously. If you knew something the financial markets didn’t, something that affected billions of dollars in investment capital, would you write some paper and tell everyone, or run down to your broker (or these days, to your computer to teleconference with your broker) and yell “Buy buy buy”.
The CBC thinks Riordan does know more. (And again, parenthetically, we wonder if the reporter moved their savings into solar before or after filing the story.) “What others have called ‘fossil-fuel entanglement’ has meant the province and even Canada's respected pension and banking sectors may have been acting against their own best interests by investing in a fossil-fuel sector that could see sharp losses.”
Oh. So the pros with skin in the game don’t believe this fairy tale. But some state-funded academic does, along with some state-funded media outlet. To be fair, Riordan did use to be a financial markets guy. But now he’s all into “forest fires, storms and melting ice” along with, what else, computer modeling, of financial markets rather than climate but equally likely to yield bankable predictions.
The CBC chortles that “Now, new developments — including expectations that Ford will build electric cars in Oakville — are forcing Ontario into the realization that its future economic advantage is more closely aligned with making the shift to a low-carbon economy based on an entirely different energy source.” Well, yes, except that this manufacturing initiative is the result not of consumer demand but of federal and provincial government subsidies. Just like the Green Energy Act disaster that forced Ontario to adopt “an entirely different energy source” over the past decade which proved to be a job-killing money-destroying dead end. The fact that a firm thinks government subsidies are worth grubbing after doesn’t prove they think the product would be worth investing in without them; if anything it says the opposite.
Still, open and shut, right? Well, wrong. The CBC grudgingly concedes well below the fold that “some analysts fear that another keystone of the Ontario economy, the long-term investment sector — the smart money that manages insurance and pension money 20 or 30 years into the future — is still struggling to make the transition.” So the smart money is dumb. But governments are smart.
Riiiiight. And we’d love to gamble our retirement savings on that proposition but alas we need the money.
One more person with a lot of money needs to be heard from here. “As former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney has repeatedly warned, decarbonizing the global economy means that at some point in the coming decades, the value of fossil-fuel assets will fall toward zero.” So doubtless he’s divesting. But oddly “Adam Scott, director of Shift, a group that monitors the way Canadian pension funds invest their money, worries that institutional investors, including the Canada Pension Plan, have not done enough to secure their assets against a precipitous decline.”
Oh. So even the government is dumb here. But the CBC is smart.