Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

Mannkal Student Internship Blog

Fraser Institute

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 12

Gavin Rogers, 27 February 2017

It’s hard to believe that this amazing trip has already come to an end. Only three short months ago I was arriving in Vancouver, ready to tackle the adventure that lay ahead. I can’t thank Ron enough for providing me with a once in a lifetime opportunity, and everyone at Mannkal and the Fraser Institute that have made it happen.

I have learnt a huge amount and developed even more, much of which will be permanently ingrained in my character as well as many other pieces of knowledge that I hope to bring back with me to Australia.

Last Friday was my last day at Fraser Institute and many sad farewells were had. I’ve made an astounding number of great friends and professional networks in my time here. I have also wrapped up my final project, collecting statistics on oil transportation safety in the form of both tanker and pipeline, and delivered the results to my supervisor Taylor Jackson.

He has never faltered in keeping me busy with many interesting and valuable things to work on. I made a supply drop of Tim Tams in the lunchroom as a parting gift, and received a lovely goodbye card that had been signed by much of the staff at Fraser. I can honestly say that this has been one of the best and friendliest environments I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, work or otherwise.

This week I flew to the other side of the country to meet up with the other Canadian interns in Ottawa, where we are completing the enrichment program.

Already this week we have managed to squeeze in a myriad of interesting things. There was a debrief of our internship experiences as well as an outlook of Canada’s future direction and relations with Australia at the Australian High Commission. We had lunch and a foreign policy discussion with MP Tom Kmiec, a discussion about Canada’s fiscal timeline and policy with Macdonald-Laurier Institute Senior Fellow Sean Speer, and finally, a Chinese energy roundtable at the Department of Finance with Mannkal Director Andrew Pickford. There has been a plethora of discussions to absorb and it has been fantastic, I couldn’t ask for a more involved week.

Starting tonight and running over the next few days will be the Manning Centre Conference, our last hurrah before making our separate ways back to Perth.

I’m looking forward to meeting plenty more interesting people, and hearing the Conservative party’s leadership debate. For any prospective scholars that may be reading this, I strongly encourage you to get involved with Mannkal’s seminars and events in Perth. Apply for a conference or internship, you won’t regret it! Signing out for the last time, Gavin.

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 11

Gavin Rogers, 20 February 2017

My internship is coming to an end. Time has absolutely flown by; it is clichéd but true that the last three months have felt like one. I’m wrapping up my last week at Fraser Institute tomorrow, before heading to Ottawa for the enrichment program and Manning Centre conference.

I’ve been incredibly busy the past few weeks trying to fit in as much as possible before leaving, so this blog is unlikely to do all of it justice. I will try to explain it as concisely as possible.

Last Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of again meeting up with Julian, another Mannkal scholar who has been interning at the Manning Centre in Calgary. Together with my other Australian friend Michael, we went to watch a live gig.

This was not just any old gig, this was the latest album release by my colleague Bacchus and his grunge inspired band “The Belief Experiment”. They killed it!

Early on Saturday, the three of us then made our way over to Victoria. Something that has likely taken many people by surprise, including myself, is that British Columbia’s capital is not actually Vancouver.

The provincial capital is Victoria, a pretty and quaint town on Vancouver Island, separate from regular Vancouver and the mainland. Victoria is much smaller, and it has a rustic and mellow atmosphere of a regional coastal town similar Albany in Western Australia.

That being said, Victoria boasts a number of significant landmarks, such as the parliament building and beacon hill park. It was an extremely relaxing weekend and the perfect place to absorb a bit of culture before leaving British Columbia.

I finally made it to Stanley Park on Family Day, a public holiday in British Columbia and some other provinces. The weather was perfect, 10 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

My friend Hannah and I took to the bicycles and rode our way around the seawall, we couldn’t have chosen a better day for it. I wish I had time to do it a few more times, or even stay just to do it again in summer, but the show must go on.

I’m in the process of finalising my last project at Fraser, relating to oil transportation. I’m hoping to acquire some relevant statistics on the volume of oil transported by, and proportion of spills from, both pipelines and tankers.

Statistics show that spills from both pipelines and tankers have declined dramatically over the past few decades. In addition, studies by the Fraser Institute have shown that pipelines have become an increasingly desirable method of transportation, proving to have far fewer spills than rail when compared under equal volumes.

When examining issues of a highly contentious or political nature such as these, it’s important to examine the fundamental statistics and information behind them, which I’m grateful to be doing. Research based on empirical evidence is why I wanted to intern at Fraser in the first place, and it has delivered.

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 10

Gavin Rogers, 13 February 2017

Last weekend Bacchus, Josef, Snow and I took the opportunity to head up north and stay in a cute little wooden cabin. It was forecast to snow a large amount in Vancouver, so we figured we might as well go all out and just commit to a stay in the mountains. The sea to sky highway that took us to Birken winds its way up through a plethora of awe-inspiring peaks and valleys, the scenery is easily some of the best I’ve ever seen in my life.

The first thing I noticed in our cabin was the “please do not feed the bears” sign. Later that evening Josef told us the Native American folk tale about cannibalistic supernatural spirits known as “Wendigo”, who would search the Northern forests relentlessly for new victims to feast on.

Legend has it that the Wendigo would grow in proportion to their meals, so that they were simultaneously both gluttonous and emaciated from starvation, leaving them eternally ravenous and never satiated. Foreigners are always talking about how dangerous the Australian outback and its animals are, but after seeing that sign and hearing about cannibalistic spirits I was feeling considerably more concerned for my safety in our cute little cabin! Nevertheless, we had an amazing time.

I also managed to squeeze in a hockey game, where unfortunately the Vancouver Canucks lost 4-1 to the San Jose Sharks. How does a Canadian hockey team get beaten by one from sunny California you might ask? Good question, I have no idea.

The finishing touches are being placed on the 2016 mining survey as we prepare it for release soon. It’s astounding how much work goes into these final reports and publications. I’ve personally witnessed four revised versions, and on the most recent I still managed to pick up a rounding error that had mixed up the ranking order on one of the charts.

Accompanying the survey itself must be all the necessary ancillary documents, so I have also been preparing a set of notes for Ken and Taylor that will serve as reference material when they are inevitably contacted by the media. I would love to share some insights from the survey but it is all still top secret until release.

However, I have made some ground with the social licence literature review. As I venture deeper into the research, it has steered away from general CSR concepts and into a more detailed examination of governance and rule of law. The more I read, the more I realise that social licence most likely emerged from the failures and inefficiencies of bureaucracy.

Civil society has grown frustrated with Government’s lack of effective and meaningful solutions to their concerns, and exploration companies have grown frustrated with the ever-increasing burden of regulation to wade through. The result has been social licence, a tumultuous concept that allows companies and stakeholders to negotiate elsewhere.

Since it is largely exempt from the rule of law it is consequently also unfair and inconsistent, granting excessive power to obstructionist minorities. Yet, it has still somehow become a necessary measure beyond reliance on Government. Unbelievable.

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 9

Gavin Rogers, 6 February 2017

After finishing up last week’s blog on Thursday afternoon, without hesitation I eagerly scooted off to meet up with some friends to celebrate Australia day. Earlier in my trip I had the grand idea of looking up an “Aussies in Vancouver” Facebook page, and lo and behold I managed to meet a bunch of great people from it.

I know you’re probably thinking how clichéd and unadventurous that sounds, but they have been great companions throughout my time here and a few of them I hope to stay in contact with when we’re all back in the motherland.

Along with Australia day itself and all the traditions that come with it, January 26th also marks the day of one of my best friend’s birthday. This has fostered Australia day into becoming somewhat of a religious experience for me, and I look forward to it more than Christmas and my own birthday.

This year round was no exception! We enjoyed the triple J hottest 100 at a bar downtown and courtesy of a Pabst Blue Ribbon promotion (American equivalent of VB for those that are unaware). I even won a singlet! Perhaps an insulated parka would have been more appropriate, but beggars can’t be choosers. I also got the opportunity to bring in the Chinese New Year with the Fraser family! I’m officially all celebrated out.

My search continues this week for good quality contrarian articles discussing social licence. As a reminder from last week, social licence can be loosely and contentiously defined as the intangible relationship or informal agreement between a mining company and the civil society in which it operates. Ken, the director of Natural Resources at the Fraser Institute, is writing a piece critiquing the inherent ambiguity of the term, and has tasked me with finding literature sources beyond the traditional status quo.

Much like Trump’s justification for draining the swamp, the gradual adoption and entrenchment of social licence into the extraction industry over the past two decades has left its implications largely unquestioned.

The vast majority of literature resounds with this suggestion, stating that social licence is now a critical aspect of the extraction industry. But rarely elaborating on what explicit benefit or clarity it provides beyond legislated and regulated social and environmental policies. Interestingly, according to interviews by the CSIRO, the executives of a number of large mining firms in Australia agree with this sentiment.

It is likely that they have had little say in this becoming the norm and are simply keeping the peace.

It is intriguing that such a vague concept could be considered an optimal solution for any stakeholder, be it the mining company themselves or the civil society in which it operates. Surely contractual development and environmental obligations would provide clearer strategy direction for executives and greater surety to the expectations of civil society? I’m not sure that I will get to the bottom of this any time soon, so don’t hold your breath.

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 8

Gavin Rogers, 30 January 2017

Well then, Donald J. Trump is now the President of the United States. I’d be lying if, pre-nomination last year, I said that I thought this would ever come to fruition. I’m sure that I’m equally as worried and curious as everyone else, about what will become of the US’ giant petri dish experiment. While some of the world sits back waiting for the show to begin with eager eyes and bowls filled to the brim with popcorn, Canada is anxiously standing near the front of the queue with a list of questions that need answering.

Trump’s protectionist and domestic-business friendly policies will place Canada in uncharted waters. Renewed support for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline projects has many people cheering, although it remains to be seen how petroleum exports to the US will be affected by potential border tariffs.

Another concern is to what degree Canadian and foreign investment will make its way south as regulation and corporate tax rates are slashed. If anyone has a crystal ball and is willing to share their insights on these and numerous other questions, please get in contact with me. Otherwise, we are just going to have to wait and find out how things pan out the old-fashioned way.

Pipelines are understandably all the rage right now, as the oil and gas industry searches for new ways to improve efficiencies and profit margins, and political actors hit the ball back and forth across the court to fit their own respective agendas. I’ve gotten involved in the action myself as of Monday, with a new research project analysing the relationship between Commonwealth rule of law and a term known as social licence.

From my understanding thus far, social licence was a term coined by the extractive industry in the late 1990’s, and represents the intangible relationship or informal agreement between a mining company and the civil society in which it operates. You could say that it’s a modern adaption of Corporate Social Responsibility, with a greater emphasis on direct interaction and discourse with local populations rather than a centralised corporate strategy. More on my results next week!

Amongst all the political commotion and research, I made sure to get out and confuse myself even more by checking out some of the nonsensical exhibits on offer at the Contemporary Art Gallery. The beauty of Contemporary Art Galleries is that you can interpret as much or as little meaning from the works as you choose, and you will always be right. There was nothing confusing about the Afghan cuisine that myself and colleagues enjoyed on Tuesday though, it was objectively and undeniably delicious.

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 7

Gavin Rogers, 23 January 2017

Vancouver’s winter trend of unrelenting rain was bucked this season, with many locals more surprised than I was to see the amount of snow we’d gotten over the past two months. This week saw a return to the norm. The snow seems to be slowly disappearing and the rain has made a reappearance, drizzling down timidly but consistently for the past week. Despite never truly experiencing it before like many Vancouverites have every year, the dribbling rain feels fitting and comforting, as though I’d been missing it the whole time.

At Fraser, I’ve predominantly been occupied with updating the master data files for the Petroleum and Mining Surveys. With around 220 different jurisdictions to update across the two surveys, there’s a lot of copying and pasting to be done. It can feel a little tedious at times, but it has been a good breather from some of the more complex projects I’ve worked on thus far, and I’ve learned other interesting things in the meantime thanks to the wonders of earphones and podcasts. The Fraser Institute is held in high regard for its research. Taylor and Ken who I work with in the Natural Resources centre field many questions from media, politicians and others regarding the results of their surveys. It is crucial that they have a reliable database to refer to when answering specific questions regarding the trends of their survey results over time.

I fit in a good amount of wandering over the weekend, as you can probably tell from my pictures. Around a 20-minute walk from where I’m staying is False Creek, one of the main waterways surrounding downtown. False Creek is a beautiful inlet itself, but the walking path alongside it also joins some of Vancouver’s key attractions together. After taking in some of the scenery and watching the ducks and kayakers cruise lazily past, I made my way to Granville Island.

On Granville Island, there is a huge variety of quirky shops, breweries, and art galleries in addition to the well-known Granville Island Public Markets. All of which were impressively unique and genuine compared to some of the other markets I’ve been to. After hearing that they’re the best in town, I couldn’t help but grab a few donuts from Lee’s donuts and make my way further down the creek to Kitsilano beach. It may not be summer, but that wasn’t going to stop me from plonking down on a log and breathing in the fresh Pacific air. I was in a prime position to take in the gorgeous view of English bay, with parked up tankers and mountains dotted in the distance, and low-lying clouds of fog drifting between them. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 6

Gavin Rogers, 16 January 2017

I hit the jackpot this week. Right behind where I sit and go about my daily business, lies the Fraser Institute’s entire rolling archival library. It is a truly impressive collection of statistical records, classical pieces, modern analyses of age old economic questions, and a multitude of other authored works. Due to the age of digitisation, it has steadily become more neglected and underutilised over the years. Since there are plans for an extensive “new year, new office” style refurbishment, it has go.

In case my first sentence didn’t give it away, this story doesn’t end in tears. Not only is the library making space for a new and improved intern space, which unfortunately I won’t be around for to appreciate, but also the obvious: free books! Fraser’s president Niels got first pickings, stowing away a few cherished and timeless pieces that won’t make it to the recycling bin. Following that it was first in best dressed, pure free market competition. I spent a solid two or three hours poring through the collection and despite there being no Hayek, Friedman, Rand, Smith, or Mises remaining on the shelves, I still managed to pick up a stack of great stuff.

A few lucky members of the public managed to grab a few books, and the rolling archive shelves are kindly being donated to the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. I already have two books from home that I need to finish, but now I’ve also got something to read about privatisation, Australia’s welfare habit, entrepreneurship, biology based economics, income inequality, and most important of all: why Canadians and Americans will never get along. I just hope I can jam it all in my suitcase.

Christmas round two

The indulgence doesn’t end there. On Saturday, myself and some of my colleagues made our way to the fondly dubbed “Hong Kouver” part of town for a vibrant and noisy dim sum session. In keeping with the theme of this year being full of surprises, I went all out with the weird dish food tastings, but I couldn’t bring myself to try the chicken feet. Macy’s justification was that the sauce is amazing, to which I argued: why not just have the sauce with a normal part of the chicken?

Dim Sum with Macy, Snow, and Alejandra

Today the debate was replaced with silence, as we were all too busy enjoying our Indian feast that had been delivered via Canada’s substitute of banned Uber Eats: Just Eats. The market will always find a way around! And boy am I glad that it did. After spending the last week being endowed with a mountain of presents in book form, and eating far too much food, it almost feels like Christmas all over again.

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 5

Gavin Rogers, 9 January 2017

2016 marks the third year in a row that I spent New Year’s Eve celebrating somewhere other than Perth, if you consider Pemberton to fall under that category. On this occasion I had the pleasure of counting down the clock in Seattle, Washington with fellow scholar Julian. Much to everyone’s surprise and delight, a little bit of celebratory snow started falling from the sky shortly after midnight.

Since snow is unusual for Seattle, and the timing was particularly coincidental, I’m going to take it as a lucky omen that 2017 will be full of new surprises. However I couldn’t spend the rest of the year standing around pondering whimsically, there was work to be done.

At our first morning meeting of the year, it was evident that everyone at Fraser was ready to tackle the year ahead. A recently completed study released today outlined how the province of Alberta has now lost its tax advantage in the region thanks to policy changes and new tax implementations over the past 18 months.

The provincial government has attempted to solve a burgeoning debt issue with increases in corporate and personal income taxes, rather than addressing the source of the problem: bureaucratic overspending. These tax increases are the last thing Alberta needs right now, as its heavily oil and energy based economy is still reeling from low commodity prices. The result of these policy changes will likely be the steady decline of Alberta’s economic growth, which has until now been better than all other provinces.

As well as the Albertan tax release, there are various other projects already underway. As for me, after spending countless hours trawling through the internet on the hunt for undiscovered petroleum and mining associations, the mailing lists for this year’s surveys are about as complete as I will be able to get them. In fancier terms, the marginal productivity of my time spent searching has decreased exponentially. For 2017, I’m moving on to bigger and better things.

Kenneth Green, Senior Director of the Natural Resources Centre under which I have been working, is due to begin delivering the first of many presentations at the end of January. The first will be in Stockholm in Sweden, and a later one in March will be in Toronto at the annual conference for the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada.

The key focus of Ken’s talks will be summarising and highlighting the results of both the 2016 Mining survey and 2016 Petroleum survey. For the large amount of different industry groups that are being presented to, there is a correspondingly large amount of customised presentations that must be made. Thus, I should be kept quite busy over the next week or so.

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 4

Gavin Rogers, 3 January 2017

This week has been one of both rest and adventure. I attempted to cure the previous week’s various ailments by hiding away in my room and taking it easy for a few days, with moderate success. However I did not let them prevent me from getting out and doing something over the holidays. I got in contact with fellow scholar Julian Hasleby, who is based in Calgary at the Manning Centre, and he agreed that we should capitalise on the break. Thus, I hastily organised our transport and accommodation, and we made our way across the border to Portland, Oregon, in the United States.

I figured that Portland would be an appropriate place to spend a few days over Christmas, a relatively sleepy little city known for its rustic and cosy atmosphere. Although there were no turkey feasts or shimmering Christmas trees on our coach, we were still pleasantly surprised to find that both the Portland locals and their boutique microbreweries were warm and welcoming. Upon making our way to the popular Wildwood Trail for a morning hike, the friendly bus driver was so happy to have us visiting her city that she gave us both day passes for free!

The Wildwood Trail itself was something of unparalleled beauty. It winds its way up the Northwest Portland hills passing by lazy, bubbling creeks and enormous moss covered trees. Aside from wearing inappropriate hiking shoes and being inundated with muddy decorations accordingly, the walk was one to remember. Even the downpour of rain halfway through could not dampen our mood. At the top of the trail was our prize, the glorious Pittock Mansion and a fantastic view over Portland. We’ve since arrived in Seattle with high expectations after the first leg of our trip, and we’re looking forward to bringing in the New Year with some fireworks over the Space Needle! See you in 2017!

Gavin Rogers – Fraser Institute | Week 3

Gavin Rogers, 3 January 2017

What a week! This one has been absolutely jam-packed with both ups and downs. As the office winds down for Christmas, the number of friendly faces dwindles as some of the Fraser staff visit family for the holidays. Alejandra appears to have one of the better deals, taking a trip to sunny El Salvador. Meanwhile, I continued to tinker away at the soon to be released 2016 Mining Survey, assisting with the vital final checks and finishing touches.

Falling commodity prices have placed a great strain on the petroleum and mining exploration industries over the past year, leading to the amalgamation or bankruptcy of smaller and less agile companies. Because of this the number of respondents to Fraser’s surveys has declined. We have begun the preparation for next year’s surveys by combing through the current mailing lists, looking for new avenues and opportunities to expand it and encourage participation.

After wrapping up a solid week with a few remaining stragglers from Fraser, I met up with some Australian friends. I managed to hitch a ride with one of them up to the Capilano suspension bridge, where they had an enchanting “canyon lights” night feature spread throughout the surrounding park. This nicely emphasised both the height of some the enormous trees there, as well as the slightly more unnerving enormous drop below the bridge.