Oil and water don't mix at RBC

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At Royal Bank of Canada's annual meeting in Vancouver recently, executives faced more than grumblings from depressed shareholders and unhappy customers. A group of environmental and native activists made their way into the meeting to question the bank's involvement with oil sands development. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN), with offices in Edmonton and San Francisco, also staged a demonstration outside the annual meeting - and, at the same time, another one at RBC's Toronto headquarters.

The activists say the bank's status as a prominent Olympics sponsor and its 10-year, $50-million Blue Water philanthropic program (which funds fresh-water projects internationally) is incompatible with its role as a top financier of the Alberta oil sands, which many believe is a significant source of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Three activists inside the meeting room took the opportunity during a question-and-answer session to make statements about this. One, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, who is a member of the Lubicon Cree Nation, said in a statement after the meeting: "If RBC is serious about supporting clean water, why are they financing projects that are contaminating the lakes and rivers around my community?" Her band is fighting a TransCanada pipeline to the oil sands through its territory.

Two other RAN representatives in the meeting asked RBC chief executive officer Gordon Nixon to come to Fort Chipewyan, in northern Alberta, a community affected by oil sands pollution, to see the situation for himself. At first, Mr. Nixon ignored the request. But when pressed a second time, he told them that while he wouldn't promise anything, he would consider it.

OIL'S NEXT CHAPTER

Last week, CIBC World Markets chief economist Jeff Rubin made headlines with his prediction that American car sales may never recover to anywhere near the levels of the past few years because of the long-term disappearance of cheap oil and credit - we're talking half the sales of yore.

You may recall that Mr. Rubin is a $200 man - he predicted that oil would reach $200 (U.S.) a barrel prior to the economic meltdown. And he's sticking to that. He says the only reason gasoline is cheap is that "no one can afford to drive." When the recession is over, he projected U.S. gasoline prices will return to the $4 a gallon reached last summer. In fact, we have learned that Mr. Rubin has a book coming out on this very subject.

Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization will be published by Random House Canada in May. Advance word from his publisher in an e-mail to us has it that "it's a ground-breaking assessment of the future of the global economy in a world where 'cheap energy' is a thing of the past by the economist who was the first to predict triple-digit oil prices (and they said he was crazy)." We phoned Mr. Rubin to ask him for his prediction of sales for the book. But a spokeswoman from Random House told us the normally quotable Mr. Rubin isn't doing any media interviews until May.

Globe and Mail
PATRICIA BEST
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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