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The Trickle Down Effect of The Oil Sands

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It was a 2013 Heritage Softail Classic, retailed for around $22,000 before taxes. It was my fault, mostly. It happened at the gas station in Anzac. It’s a busy little station, and as it was Friday the parking lot was full of pickups. I had rolled to a stop next to a picnic table on a grassy spot by one of the two entrances. It took me less than five minutes to buy my cigarettes and return to the truck. As there was another pickup in front, I slid it into reverse and hit the gas. Within a half second I heard the unmistakable sound of metal on metal. I instantly hit the brakes and subconsciously looked around to see who was watching. Heads and fingers were swinging in my direction.

“What the f**k,” I whispered to myself.

I turned off the ignition and went to do some detective work. As I rounded the rear of the pickup the source of the sound became evident. Like a harpooned whale the Heritage Softail lay on her side as though waiting for an examination. She hadn’t been there five minutes before, now she was, broken, on her side, and I was the culprit. I am a motorcyclist and know from personal experience the inner anguish a motorcycle on her side can summon up. Instantly I whipped into action and had her back upright, all 750 pounds of her. I settled her onto her side-stand and gave her a closer look. Apart from a broken rear indicator she seemed rather unscathed.

I scratched my head and waited for the owner to return. When he did I came clean, he looked at me hard for a moment, saw my level of distress, then looked silently at the $22,000 speed bump. I watched as he assessed the damage and propped up the broken indicator with his index finger.

“Never liked those,” he said. “Been thinking of putting on a set of stubbies.” And that was that. A minute later we were sitting at the picnic table swapping motorcycle stories. He told me of how his wife had divorced him a couple years prior and how she’d taken everything, even the dog. The only thing he’d been left with was his Honda CB750 motorcycle. Apparently she didn’t know how to ride. Could’ve been a country song, I thought. He shared how he’d gone on a motorcycle trip on the Honda from southern Ontario to Brazil. Quite the haul. And now he was in Fort Mac, a friend had lured him up. He’d been hired on as a mechanic at John Deere and was turning his life around, had a ‘damaged’ Heritage Softail Classic to prove it. We talked for another half hour before going our separate ways, but not before he made me promise I’d go straight home without knocking any more bikes over.

The next day I was back at work. I was working for Wilco in Anzac, on the new $40 million Anzac Leisure Facility. I was in a Caterpillar D6T bulldozer which weighed a bit more than the Heritage Softail and wasn’t as quick out of the gate...but she was a beauty. I would sit in air conditioned comfort and push dirt with a six-way blade with Country 93.3 on the dial and contemplate life.

As I worked the future toboggan hill I thought about the mishap at the gas station. I thought about the rush of workers there, of Robert Redford’s comments last summer, and of Neil Young’s Hiroshima comparison. Pushing dirt allowed my mind to drift at will, and I started to think about the whole oil sands argument. The two clearly defined opposing sides, oil versus environment, and I momentarily clouded over. That was a huge debate, a debate that will continue long after I’m I started to look at ‘the other sides,’ for there are always more than two sides, they just get buried under the weight of the primary discourse.

I’m talking of the trickle down effect. Talking of Heritage Softail Classics and jet-boats on the Clearwater, of Mac Island and hockey arenas, of all the byproducts created by a massive influx of wealth. Modern housing, new schools, a $40 million leisure facility, a proposed 10 screen theatre, and expanding car dealerships. “Creature comforts,” some might say, not relevant to an authentic oil sands argument. But they are relevant, they’re relevant because they represent tangible evidence of a better standard of living, and isn’t that what we all strive for. Do we not want better schools for our children, better parks to enjoy nature, better facilities to maintain our level of health? And is there something wrong with rewarding ourselves with a toy or two after putting in some hard work, or going to an Imax movie in a new theatre. Just because we’re Canadian doesn’t mean we should have to feel guilty over a bit of self indulgence.

The trickle down can be seen and felt everywhere in Fort Mac. I felt it the first day I arrived. It gives meaning to hard work and buoys an optimistic spirit which passes from person to person in a subconscious form of camaraderie. It opens doors where doors previously didn’t exist, it sends money home to families in need, it calls on others to pursue dreams, but perhaps most importantly, it reinforces personal feelings of self sufficiency.

Are these bad things? I think not, but the larger oil sands debate will rage on, in the meantime the boom continues. People continue to arrive, new facilities are built, and wealth is distributed. The Anzac Heritage Softail Classic may be nothing more than a motorcycle to many, but it, and its owners response to my act, are proof that the trickle down effect is a very real, very positive, and very important side to the oil sands argument.


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