By Maureen McCall
Some people know W. Brett Wilson from the TV show Dragon’s Den as “the Dragon with a Heart”.
A lot more know him from his investment banking career – co-founding First Energy Capital Corp, then founding Prairie Merchant Capital and for his innovative philanthropy. Still others know him for his inspiring book “Redefining Success- Still Making Mistakes”
I had the opportunity this week to speak with Brett Wilson about his career and his current thoughts on Canadian business and recent events. In the seven years since writing his first book, Wilson has continued his journey building his company, his philanthropy and his message. He’s arrived at the conclusion that in 2019, “Critical thinking is a lost art”.
In our interview, Brett described the evolution of his concepts.
“I realized that a lot of people were slipping in what I call critical thinking. They were taking words for granted and believing them as they were posted. The worst case is environmental activism or alarmism, where statements are made that are false. For example, that the TMX pipeline will increase tanker traffic and destroy the southern whale population. The reality is that it is less than half of one percent change in the amount of traffic that occurs in the area where the population of the southern killer whales live. Half of one percent makes no difference whatsoever. And yet it sounds good. It tells a story and that’s just what alarmism builds on. They now try to chase 12 to 16-year olds who don’t have the time nor the background to fact check. It’s that absence of fact checking that’s cost our governments, our people and our industries massively- by allowing alarmists and extremists to capture the flag. Critical thinking is overdue.”
With the exponential growth of data and information one could arrive at the conclusion that the issue could be that people just don’t have time for fact checking and questioning but Brett had a different take on the issue.
“Part of the challenge is the time to fact check and the other part is no urge or desire to fact check. People just accept statements as true. “The ice is shrinking”…or “polar bears are dying”…people just accept that these statements are true. Whether they have the time or not, they don’t even think to question it, which is why I keep pressing this critical thinking concept.”
In reference to the pervasive influence of environmental alarmist claims, Brett’s identification of the history of the public conversation is clear.
“A lot of critical thinking is getting the data and the facts. Unfortunately for the oil industry, those who lead, act and work in the oil industry assumed incorrectly ten years ago, that logic, honesty and integrity would prevail. Well, logic doesn’t prevail and right now we have a bunch of people scrambling to make claims. Interestingly, in the last few weeks in the election, the rhetoric around the carbon tax has gone away. Kind of interesting that it has gone quiet, but the reality is, if you layer on a chart of growth of gasoline demand for the last twenty years, and then drop on to that chart the carbon tax effect, the line is a straight line- it is virtually unchanged in terms of its growth. The carbon tax is supposed to change your behavior. The fact is that for twenty years, carbon taxes as they are imposed, have made no change whatsoever to human consumption or behavior. Why? Because a lot of things we do with energy in Canada are tied to keeping us warm, keeping us travelling, keeping us working, building, ploughing, and growing- things that are built into our system. “
Brett also addressed the flawed concepts behind the current trend to be overly critical of Canadian emissions and energy intensity while giving other developed countries a “hall-pass”.
“We are criticized by alarmists for having the highest energy intensity on a per capita basis of many of the developed nations. Well, we are also the most northerly. We’re the most sparsely populated. We are the most economically advantaged and we export. So logically, we have to put more energy into products- using them, growing them, extracting them- more than any other country that is simply a consumer does. So, we get tagged with all the greenhouse gases associated with pulling items out of the earth whether it’s soil or potash, uranium, diamonds or pulp and paper. Because we are so sparsely populated, we are going to, by definition, have a high per capita energy intensity. Yet, we get attacked for being high in per capita intensity. Alarmists take one data point and pretend it’s a fact. They’ve been able to do this, and the Oil and other extractive industries have been slow on the uptake because they’ve assumed honestly, integrity and fairness would prevail.”
With Canada in the middle of an election campaign – a very intense time for information, disinformation and persuasion- Brett commented on the challenge to voters.
“Right now, we have several parties are doing nothing but trying to buy the naive voter- using camping trips to buy votes. I’m not letting any party off the hook; all of the parties are getting criticism from me. I said on Twitter a while ago, I want a leader who is tough but fair. And we have neither tough nor fair.
The Liberals have actually acknowledged that they are going to grow our national debt by something like $20 billion a year and it’s as if they don’t care.
I’ve seen people summarize all of the foreign donations of the current Canadian government -and it’s measured in the billions- without providing for clean water and transportation and safety on the site of every First Nation in Canada. I know for example, that every First Nation that builds a house with government funds has 200 applicants on average for that one house. In the meantime, we are giving away billions to other countries. Critical thinking would say “solve your problems at home first and then, with a robust economy, be a little generous to the rest of the world” instead of this optic of being generous to the world and then going into debt to solve our own problems. It doesn’t make sense.”
In Brett’s book, he commented on the 2008 Economic collapse and characterized it as not strictly a financial crisis, not the crisis of credit but a crisis of morality. In reference to the question “Are we back in the same place as we were in 2008?” Brett had clear insight.
“The crisis of morality in 2008 was greed. In my mind it was just people loading up on structured financings that fed Wall St, that gave money to the pension funds and everyone thought it was a wonderful house of cards until someone pulled one of the bottom cards. Where are we today? We’ve let the vocal minority capture the flag and influence outcomes. So, I’m saying, half of one percent or less of the population has taken control of the 20 or 30% of the population who assume that honesty, integrity and fairness is in play. As a result, we are not getting honesty, integrity and fairness.
The lunacy of one extra tanker a day versus the three thousand ships a day that go up and down the Straits of Juan de Fuca – one vs. three thousand- and that one is the one that will kill the planet? No, I don’t think so. So, we’ve got an anti-pipeline, anti-fossil fuel, anti-investment “Industry”. Global demand for oil still continues to grow at one to one and a half million barrels a day. It was ninety million barrels a day ten to fifteen years ago. Now it’s one hundred and one, or one hundred and two barrels a day.
So, for Canada to pretend that by, shutting down our Oil industry, disrupting our economy and ruining our country that these actions will somehow be an example and a benefit to the rest of the world? I don’t think so. Can we do better? Yes. Should we focus on pollution? Yes. I happen to believe that pollution is far more important than greenhouse gas emissions as an issue.”
In the end, a conversation with Brett Wilson is a journey itself, into what shapes our values as much as our thoughts and beliefs.
I expect the journey will be continued on Oct 10th as Brett delivers a talk on “The Lost Art of Critical Thinking” at the Calgary Petroleum Club.