Petrocultures 2014: Oil, Energy, and Canada’s Future

McGill Institute for the Study of Canada’s annual conference examines how oil and energy shape our national identity
Published: 21 January 2014

One of the key developments shaping social and political debate in Canada in the 21st  century has been the country’s emergence as an energy superpower. The confluence of new technologies and price per barrel has made it profitable to excavate the oil sands, while a process known as ‘fracking’ has opened up access to new, large reservoirs of shale gas. Questions of safety surrounding how our oil is extracted and transported dominate national headlines. With oil and gas come money and power. The spheres and sites of political and economic authority and influence in Canada are undergoing a major shift. Will the end result transform our national identity? 

The McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) is bringing together leading figures to debate the role of oil and energy in shaping social, cultural and political life in Canada at its annual conference, “Petrocultures 2014: Oil, Energy and Canada’s Future. The two-day event will be held at the McGill Faculty Club, 3450 McTavish St., Montreal, on February 6-7, 2014.

“I am truly excited for this year’s conference, and the subject couldn’t be timelier,” says MISC Director Will Straw.  “We’ve assembled a fantastic group of speakers, with very different points of view, and I’m hoping for a spirited and informative debate.  Here at the MISC, we are not afraid of controversy – so this year we certainly picked a fitting topic!” 

Speakers include Northern Initiatives Executive Director Ken Chapman; Équiterre co-founder Steven Guilbault; Sun News provocateur Ezra Levant;Canadiana cowboy country musician Tim Hus; journalist Martin Patriquin from Maclean’s; Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations spokesperson Eriel Deranger; PowerUp Canada’s Tzeporah Berman;  filmmaker David Dufresne (Fort McMoney), scholarsRichard JandaChristopher Ragan, and Imre Szeman, and more.

Topics of plenary and keynote sessions include: 

Is ours a petro-economy? Can we afford our way of life? 

Who owns our oil? Who is buying our oil? At what price? And how do First Nations treaty rights come into play?

How safe is our oil? From Lac-Mégantic to Fort McMurray, questions of oil safety are front and centre. Who can we trust to ensure the safety of our oil?

Knowledge, Expertise and Economy: Given the decline of “traditional” media such as newspapers, what tools work best for engaging citizens around issues related to petroleum and resources?

“The Cultural Politics of Oil”, keynote address by Imre Szeman, Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies, University of Alberta 


Special events:

Cultural evening: hosted by Martin Patriquin, journalist at Maclean’s magazine, featuring a performance from the play Rig: An Oral History of the Ocean Ranger Disaster, by McGill theatre students; readings and photo exhibition, plus a rocking performance by Albertan country musician Tim Hus.  

Film screening and discussion: Fort McMoneya 2013 web documentary and strategy video game about Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada and Athabasca oil sands development, directed by David Dufresne.


For more details, registration, and the full program, visit the conference website.

Since 1995, the MISC has hosted large-scale annual conferences which foster informed, non-partisan discussions on issues affecting Canadians, ranging from Quebec-Canada relations, Aboriginal issues, citizenship and health-care to Canadian media, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, food, and cultural policy.

Twitter: #petrocultures

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