Imre Szeman

Oil, Energy & Canada’s Future

Petrocultures: Oil, Energy and Canada’s Future

McGill Institute for the Study of Canada Conference 2014

in collaboration with the Petrocultures Project, University of Alberta

February 6-7, 2014 at McGill University

One of the key developments shaping social and political debate in Canada in the twenty-first century has been the country’s emergence as an energy superpower. The confluence of new technologies and price per barrel has made it profitable to excavate the oil sands, while a process known as ‘fracking’ has opened up access to new, large reservoirs of shale gas. With oil and gas come money—and power. The spheres and sites of political and economic authority and influence in Canada are undergoing a major shift whose end result will be a transformed national identity. Once seen as a curse, the idea that Canadians are back to being (in Harold Innis’ memorable phrase) hewers of wood and drawers of water is now seen as a blessing allowing us to weather recent economic storms and promising to help keep the country strong in changing and uncertain times.

Petrocultures 2014 will bring together leading figures to discuss and debate the role of oil and energy in shaping social, cultural and political life in Canada at present and in the future. The significance of oil and gas extends well beyond economics and politics, and this event will address Canada’s petroculture across a range of sectors. Labour is being transformed in the country as people commute thousands of miles by plane to work in the energy industry. The desire of foreign companies to enter into the energy sector may challenge Canada’s commitment to free trade. The costs and consequences of automobility have made many Canadians re-evaluate the shape and structure of their cities. Controversies over cross-border pipelines have led to bigger questions about the degree to which the country’s energy resources might be used for public benefit as opposed to private profit. At the same time, Canadian artists and cultural producers are addressing the broad social changes we are undergoing and inviting us to reconsider the direction our economies, societies and cultures are taking. Finally, as citizens become more aware of our reliance on petrocarbons and the impact of petrocultures on the environment, all of us must grapple with what these issues mean for how we live today and how we might live in the future.