October 24th, 2020

Laying It Out: Dragons love ‘normal’ – they never get burned

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on October 3, 2020.

Let’s talk about CERB a little. But first, let’s talk about Forent Energy.

As reported in February by Press Progress, Forent Energy is a bankrupt oil company that left a number of inactive or orphaned wells within Alberta which the public will have to pay for.

According to information from both the Orphaned Well Association and Alberta Energy Regulator, Forent left behind 13 orphaned wells and another 18 that remain inactive. At a cleanup cost of $230,000 each, that means the public is sitting with a tab of about $7.1 million.

So, what does a small bankrupt oil company that is only responsible for 31 of nearly 100,000 abandoned wells have to do with a federal income replacement program implemented when a pandemic forced millions into unemployment?

Well, nothing really. Except for the fact that one of the listed directors of Forent Energy is W. Brett Wilson, a homegrown Prairie boy who went on to become a wealthy businessman and costar of the CBC series Dragons’ Den.

Wilson made waves on social media this week as one of a number of high-profile people to claim that CERB is making it hard for businesses to rehire staff, a fact he knows for sure because of unnamed “businesses” he owns that are apparently facing that struggle.

While he figures out how to deal with this catastrophic scenario caused by government handouts for his laid-off staff, I thought it might be worth noting that Wilson is worth about $300 million.

He’s but one of the listed directors for Forent, and yet he alone could cut a cheque to cover every abandoned well his company is responsible for and he wouldn’t even know the money was missing. Instead, he and his colleagues declared bankruptcy, stuck you with a tab of $7.1 million and Wilson won’t even respond to a question about it.

CERB payments, which were $2,000 a month (taxes pending, by the way), are the equivalent of a full-time job at $12/hr (40 hours a week for 50 weeks) and $24,000 a year. A full-time equivalent job at minimum wage in Alberta would pull in $30,000.

Wilson apparently owns multiple businesses where employees not only earn less than the full-time minimum wage threshold, they don’t even make the equivalent of CERB.

Keep in mind that each of these businesses Wilson is complaining about has been eligible for wage subsidies up to 75 per cent for the entire time CERB was around, and that program is getting a massive extension while, as of today, CERB ends and becomes EI.

Wilson is no more than a rich blowhard who has no clue what he’s talking about on nearly every subject he weighs in on, but he’s not unique. His attitude toward human beings who were laid off en masse because of a health crisis is not just a reflection of the kind of man Wilson is. It’s a reflection of the society we live in.

COVID presented a new way of looking at our society and oligarchs like Wilson desperately need you to forget the realities you’ve been presented with this year. Before the pandemic, it wouldn’t be hard for a man like Wilson to convince the public that the unemployed or down-on-their-luck were on their own, that they somehow contributed to their situation and the rest of us weren’t responsible for getting them back on their feet.

The pandemic should have shattered that mirage entirely the moment we hit lockdown and sent millions of our family, friends and neighbours into unemployment.

“Wait a minute,” we were supposed to say. “Could it be that people aren’t always at fault when they lose their job? Is it possible that circumstances beyond one’s control can thrust them into poverty? Maybe we should ensure these people have nothing to worry about financially in case this happens to me one day.”

Wilson wants you to forget that. Wilson wants you competing, blaming, fighting; he wants it because that’s how he’ll gain even more wealth. People like Wilson want society back to where it benefits them the most – one where individuals are in constant competition.

Wilson wants to own businesses where he can pay people low wages at part-time hours so he can maximize profits for his already massive bank account, all the while acting like he’s just another boot-strap go-getter who scraped and clawed his way toward that fortune. And now he’s claiming to be mad at the government for paying people to stay healthy and safe because that’s apparently more than he is willing to offer those same people to spend their days feeding his profits.

It’s been a long, trying year for everyone – especially those who lost their job – and it’s easy to see why people want to “get back to normal.” Just remember that the “normal” Wilson wants is the one where he gets rich off your labour and then sticks you with a bill when he’s done.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. He can be reached by email at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com, or follow him on Twitter at @shmitzysays

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