The Sorcerer's Apprentices: Canada's Super-Bureaucrats and the Energy Mess
Alexander Craig is a freelance journalist in Lennoxville, Quebec.
The complex world of Canadian energy and government intervention therein is so basic to our economy that any enlightenment should be welcomed. Peter Foster has already plumbed the market successfully with his bestseller, The Blue-Eyed Sheiks. In his new book he displays once more the talents of a skilled polemicist, this time making a blistering attack on Liberal government policies and the politicians and bureaucrats who plan and implement them.
It’s very much a full-frontal assault. The author wastes no time in attempting to be dispassionate. His chapter headings ring off the thoughts of the great conservative economists such as Hayek. He dedicates one chapter to a no-holds-banned denunciation of “Galbraith the Guru.”
Surprisingly little attention is paid to the international scene. It might fit the author’s intentions to blame nearly everything on the super-bureaucrats, but surely what was happening in the world economy in the 1970s had some influence on Canada? There’s practically no mention of what was going on in the United States, but over and above providing a useful comparative perspective, isn’t this of basic, over-riding importance to the Canadian economy?
The author is an experienced and accomplished journalist. He deals well with a complex topic. He is seldom careless and is basically consistent. At times, the book reads like a strident, unabashed string of accusations — the term “Ph.D.,” for instance, becomes almost a term of abuse — but he conveys well the ambience of the locales (Ottawa, Calgary and Toronto) and of the players. There is a considerable amount of value in what he says and, heaven knows, the public servants in Canada generally have an easy ride from the not particularly investigative media.
Some of the information, while confidently handled by a writer who is on the inside track, is a bit dense. Fortunately, however, the chapters are short and the writing generally punchy. The lay reader might have been helped by one or two tables or other means of showing changing prices, or the contribution of other energy sources (despite its subtitle the book only looks at domestic oil and gas).
One of Mr. Foster’s recurrent complaints is that the Canadian public has little interest in or concern about the country’s economic system. Provocative books such as his, which refresh our memories of the Trudeau/Lalonde versus Lougheed struggles, the National Energy Policy and the short-lived rise to fame and fortune of Dome and other such companies, should help to remedy that situation somewhat. No one could accuse the author of being objective, but his lively and informative account makes good reading and raises some fresh questions.