Land of LITTLE Rain & BIG Consequences

“The real people of the West are infrequently cowboys and never myths…and they confront the real problems of real life in a real region…they live in a land of little rain and big consequences.” (Wallace Stegner, The Sound of Mountain Water, 1969)

We don’t need the Conference Board of Canada to tell us our province’s economy is shrinking, we’ve learned to watch the landscape for the signs. 

The land has taught us what ‘vulnerable’ look like & feels like.

Vulnerable looks like CFOs of junior & mid-cap energy companies heading to Toronto & Montreal, cap-in-hand, begging for investment. Qualified people hitting the exit, heading for greener-fields in other places while property taxes rise for those who remain. 

It’s lunacy that an energy-rich province is Canada’s economic laggard. Vulnerable leaders need to confront brutal realities head-on.

The newly-elected, fresh-faced conservative government is hell-bent to loosen up the ties that bind Alberta’s economy. The boldness of their moves offers hope. Clinging to the status quo has failed us in a world uncoupling from globalism, but it will take more than lower corporate taxes & less red-tape to attract & retain investment. The signs point to a need to revive that collaborative culture that built Alberta.


Economists track statistics and while numbers are useful, no volume of stats matter if you don’t build an authentic culture & your own narrative.

Historian Yuval Noah Harari says it best:  What we believe matters, not necessarily what’s true. 

Other Canadians know this.

Toronto, epicentre of a province with the highest non-sovereign debt in the world is riding high on their belief in a winning culture—the city is ground-zero in Canada’s financial and AI universe & now entrenched in Raptor fever.

Quebec has always known what it believes to be true about its province. Quebeckers make their own decisions, not only on questions like who gets to immigrate to their province but now,  who will speak for Quebec on the Supreme Court of Canada. 



Stegner nailed it: We know that in our resource-rich province, water is our vulnerability.

“Say of the quintessential West that it is extravagantly endowed, but that it has one critical deficiency, water, and that therefore its soil, its watersheds, its timber, and its grass are all vulnerable….”

July 2017 706
Milk River in southern Alberta


That’s a strength, a cultural asset of growing relevance as the climate changes.

Say of the West, too, that it has been plundered and has plundered itself, but that little by little whole communities and districts have learned how to manage their environment and have made superb living places out of their oases.”

(Wallace Stegner, The Sound of Mountain Water, 1969)

And again, as the land teaches us, nothing stands still. There will be new pressures. 


Canada has 9% of the world’s accessible freshwater; most of that water flows north to the Arctic Ocean and Hudson’s Bay. With climate change heating things up, old and even taboo notions of bulk exports of water from Canada—especially our North—to the United States are bubbling up. 

Gary Doer, former ambassador for Canada in Washington predicted disputes between Canada and the U.S. over water would make the Keystone XL pipeline clash “look silly” by comparison. Peter Lougheed, former premier to Alberta, said that freshwater was more valuable than crude oil.

Did you know that Alberta is a recognized gateway to Canada’s North? Americans see that.

If we’ve got what Americans want—access to freshwater—it would be naive to not anticipate increased pressure to export.


Despite all the noise about divestment of energy stocks, the world still needs Alberta’s petroleum. 

At the same time, the ground is being prepared for inclusion of another resource choice; we’re approaching another crossroad of environment & the economy. Are we recognizing the signs?

The next critical resource is freshwater & our province’s access to the North opens the door to unique opportunity for Alberta.

Freshwater diversion is a hot button, as Lougheed discovered when he suggested diverting Alberta’s northern water to the more heavily-populated southern communities in the province. Backlash could feed divisiveness and the growing separatist mood in Alberta; straining Canada’s increasingly fragile confederation.


Five decades ago, Peter Lougheed and his political team figured out a way to lead Alberta from an agrarian backwater to a formidable hydrocarbon economy. Albertans came together and built an attractive place to live and work. Then, Albertans knew what they believed to be true about Alberta.

We’re not suggesting a wade into the murky waters of nostalgic regret; rather, we’re encouraging Albertans to remember what we believe. To recall what we’ve learned. 

In Stegner’s words: Little by little, whole communities learned how to manage Alberta’s environment and we’ve made superb living places out of our oases. 

It’s in us & this place to do it again.

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One thought on “Land of LITTLE Rain & BIG Consequences

  1. Many years ago when I was in grad school in Oregon and saw the mighty Columbia near Astoria, I predicted then that if there ever was another invasion of Canada it would be to get water diverted to the US. The Columbia River Treaty already gives most of the control of the entire river to the Bonnyville Power Authority. A bit of a far out scenario that has been run by me by a colleague was that the mighty Mackenzie may be diverted to flow south and the oil pipeline used to supply water to the US. Afterall, who uses all that Mackenzie fresh water anyhow? 🙁

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