Sunday, January 10, 2016

Economic migrants

Rafael B. Cruz, the father of Republican Presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), lived in Canada between 1970 and 1974. He and his wife (a US citizen) ran an oil services company. The discussion around the natural born citizenship of Ted Cruz has covered many angles, but it's strangely silent on the economic climate which would have factored into the decisions of Rafael Cruz and Eleanor Darragh about where to live.

In the early 1970s, global oil prices were still low but production was peaking in many mature oil fields in western countries, including in Texas, and the big potential lay in the Middle East. However, Alberta was literally protected from the full effects of Middle East competition by a Canadian federal government oil policy which restricted oil imports to the Atlantic provinces and eastern Ontario. The rest of the Canadian market was reserved for Canadian crude, which essentially meant Alberta crude (the effects of that policy persist into the Keystone XL debate). That price differential meant excess profits which  made it a good time to be in the Alberta oil industry -- or to move to there.

In 1973, everything changed. The Arab oil embargo moved the import price far above the western Canada price and now Alberta had a major incentive to export outside its protected market. But precisely for that reason, the federal government was casting a covetous eye on the profit and production potential of Alberta oil, and looking at significant price and export restrictions to enforce a revamped national oil policy. At the same time, the Trudeau (Pierre, not Justin) Liberal government was looking at ways to restrict foreign ownership in Canada, given a perception that many industries, including oil, were US-owned. This culminated in de facto preference for Canadian control of corporate investments, and Canadian citizenship would be necessary but not sufficient to prove control. Finally, to exert more federal control over the oil industry, and to ensure investment in expanding production, the state-owned Petro Canada was established.

In short, by 1974, Alberta was in an "oil war" with the federal government that, whatever its outcome, was going to limit the extent of the party. Texas, with its more integrated and politically connected oil industry, must have looked like a better bet; the land of JR Ewing awaited. So the Cruz family moved back to the USA.

If the oil price spike of 1973 had not happened, the Cruz parents might well have decided that Alberta was the cushier long-term opportunity. Ted Cruz would therefore have deployed his social skills at UBC and his political skills to be in the running for Premier of Alberta or maybe even Prime Minister of Canada. That's the strange thing about migration -- the what-ifs become exponential. You'd think those possibilities would come with a little self-awareness about the random things that can happen to people. Ted Cruz doesn't display much of that.

UPDATE: Short version of the above -- the current Ted Cruz situation is all the fault of Pierre Trudeau. There's significant evidence that Rafael Cruz intended to make his life in Alberta until Trudeau declared war on the Sheikh Yaman-eh oil profits in the province. 

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