I used to struggle with the number of hours kids spend playing mindless video games. Minecraft, Farmville, Tropico, Settlers …. there seems to be an endless supply of, and demand for, non-violent nation-building games.
I used to think they were wasting their time. But I have come to develop great hope that they in fact are developing the skills to run our province with much greater foresight than previous generations.
Think about it. If you were given this wonderfully productive piece of land called Alberta, what would you do? What would you build? How would you create a society so productive and so prosperous that you would be the envy of the world?
Imagine digging a hole in the northeast part of the province and discovering what is now the Oil Sands – an endless supply of thick, dark, peanut butter like substance worth trillions of dollars. Would your first move be to build a railroad or pipeline and ship it out of here? Or would you build upgraders and refineries, petrochemical facilities and manufacturing factories that allowed you to control the market on everything from jet fuel to fertilizer to plastic toys?
Imagine planting a farm in southern Alberta and you were able to produce high quality Durham wheat. Would your first move be to harvest the crop and put it in rail cars to be shipped to a pasta plant in Italy? Or would you consider building your own pasta company, under a Canadian brand that exports and competes worldwide?
Imagine raising cattle on some of that land. Would your first move be to sell your young cattle to someone across the border who will beef them up before sending them to a slaughterhouse? Or would you consider building your own beef processing plant, a steak & hamburger restaurant chain or Alberta BBQ beef skewers which are exported to China.
Just daydreaming here … but you get the point.
Occasionally, opportunities present themselves to re-start the game, and to make better decisions. Over the past decade, building value-added upgraders and refineries didn’t make a lot of financial sense as margins were better from existing refineries south of the border. But now as labour becomes more available, input costs come down, the Canadian dollar falls, technologies are improved, risk of building upgraders/refineries have been mitigated, and neighboring provinces refuse unrefined products through pipelines, it’s time to think strategically and make some nation-building investments.
We can keep shipping stuff out of here and shipping out our wealth in the process. But these video-game-addicted kids are telling me that’s not the best way to win the game.