“Nothing Venture” 5

The novel about a workers’ attempt to buy an oil refinery. The (true) background story continues –

Once the executives came back from New York they didn’t inform us of any change in Imperial’s stance, but now the expressions of cooperation became, “if and when the refinery is put up for sale …” – clearly, the powers at Exxon in New York had changed Imperial’s mind.

At the same time, the people in Alberta’s Conservative government who had been accessible to us suddenly became hard to contact. Phoning one of the contact people always resulted in a receptionist saying, “I’m afraid Mr SoandSo has just stepped out of the office” or “I’m afraid Mr Soandso is across the road”. “What is your number? I’ll tell him you called.” And then it would seem that the phone lines out of Edmonton must all have gone out of service.

Ever been given a run-around? We had a front row seat to one. Suddenly the urge to increase rather than decrease the amount of oil processing in Alberta had become much less compelling – on the part of the government, at least. We tried to get the media on our side, but the media in North America is owned by the same people we were looking to badger. I did manage to get an interview with Barbara Frum at “As it Happens”, the long running CBC radio investigative program, but I had just come off night shift at the refinery and wasn’t my best – and it seemed she had already decided her responses and only wanted my answers to confirm them. I never did hear the interview broadcast, I believe it only ran in Eastern Canada.

We fell back on our one politician who would speak to us, Grant Notley, the lone opposition member in the legislature. Yes – it was definitely a run-around. He was very familiar with the procedure whenever he attempted to question or investigate a government activity. Democracy? Never in Alberta.

With Imperial Oil’s annual shareholder’s meeting coming up, Bill our company president, bought one share in that company – that entitled us to a seat in the meeting. He and I flew down to Toronto and checked in to the Royal York. We first called all the news media in town to let them know we were setting a time for a press conference. We had one reporter respond and gave up our idea of holding a big show in a rented meeting room. The reporter who showed turned out to be someone very familiar with all the Imperial executives and who expressed the concern that we could be out of our depth,

We visited Imperial’s head office and spoke to the manager who had been most supportive of our bid to keep the refinery running. He didn’t say much, but his farewell words were, “Keep your dukes up.”  We attended the shareholder meeting and watched all the little puppets in grey suits jump up at the rehearsed times to ask the planted questions so the CEO could give the prepared answers. Bill managed to get a microphone and asked our question about the fate of the workers’ offer to buy the refinery. The answer was a string of pablum about business conditions, business secrecy, and the way the company executive was the authority to do what was best for the facility and the shareholders.

The few people at Calgary Refining and the 2000 or so at their joint venture partner Mohawk were up against the largest of the huge Big Five oil companies. Working through both democratic government and free enterprise had proved futile. It was hardly an equal contest, but we looked around for a way to swing some of the action to our favour. Next time I will cover the effect on our industry partner – and our search for a new one.

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One Response to ““Nothing Venture” 5”

  1. joylene Says:

    Finally, answers to what I’ve been asking for too long. Thanks for sharing this, Chris. This explains a lot.

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