Rock climbing in PE? Some schools are changing the look and feel of gym classes. (fitness & exercise)

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Jennifer, a freshman in high school, talked to her parents about choosing a PE class.

“I hated PE,” her mom said. “We spent half the time doing exercises like jumping jacks. Then we picked teams and I was always chosen last.”

“Boys didn’t have it any better,” her dad said. “When we played basketball, I never got to shoot because the better players wouldn’t pass me the ball.” Jennifer looked at her course outline. “I have to take Freshman Fitness this semester, but after that I get to choose. I can take weight training, aerobics, racquet sports, or even outdoor education. That sounds cool–we get to go hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing!”

“No basketball?” her dad asked.

“Oh, sure,” Jennifer said. “That, and volleyball, lacrosse, and soccer. And baseball in the spring.”

The New PE

A 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General found that 14 percent of the teens in the United States are overweight. Only one in four teens takes part in daily physical education classes at school. In light of this report, many physical education teachers are trying out new ways to teach teens about their bodies.

One of the pioneers of the New PE movement is Phil Lawler, the physical education district coordinator in Naperville, Illinois. In an interview on the The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, he said that traditional PE classes focused on the varsity athletes, who made up only about 30 percent of the student population. Lawler decided to concentrate on the 70 percent of students who aren’t varsity athletes.

Mary Ann Briggs, head of the physical education department at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, is another teacher who uses the New PE in her classes. She offers students classes that are fun and encourage healthy, active lifestyles. “In traditional PE, if you weren’t good at the sport, you didn’t get a workout,” she says. “Many kids just stood around the whole period.”

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A New Attitude

Briggs teaches an aerobics class where students move to music to get into shape. One of her students told her, “It’s the first PE class I’ve ever enjoyed.”

“These classes are not competitive,” Briggs said, referring to the New PE classes. “They give students skills they can use throughout life. No team or equipment is needed. I even have students taking more than the required PE.”

The activities for the New PE are ones that all kids can participate in, not just the varsity athletes. Besides fitness, these activities include kick-boxing, rock-wall climbing, mountain biking, and downhill skiing. Some gyms even resemble circuses, where students juggle, ride unicycles, and jump rope.

Not only do the classes have a new attitude, but the gyms also reflect the changes. Today’s visitor might mistake a high school gym for the local health club. The room is filled with free weights and machines, with students pursuing, individual activities.

Chris Moser, 15, is a student at Standley Lake High School in Westminster, Colorado. He’s on the varsity baseball team, but he also takes a fitness class. “I know I’m getting stronger,” he says about the class, “and I have more energy for baseball.”

What About Team Sports?

Briggs emphasizes that team sports are not forgotten in the New PE. “In Colorado, the state PE standards require three components: individual activities, team sports, and fitness training.” The New PE calls for smaller teams, which gives more chances for everyone to practice the skills. The baseball “klutz” is no longer banished to left field.

In team sports, players may be graded on whether they make a hit or a basket, on whether their team wins or loses. In the New PE, students can be graded on how well they stay within their target heart rate zones, and by how much they improve their cardiovascular fitness. In contrast to team sports, students are graded on individual improvement; they compete only with themselves.

Chris Moser thinks that, while many kids still like team sports, offering fitness classes gets more students involved in PE. “We’re only required to take one semester of PE, but I will take more,” he says. He thinks he’ll continue to do some sort of fitness workouts after he graduates.

Fitting PE In

Despite all the interest in preparing students for lifetime fitness, schools find that adding more PE to the curriculum is difficult. In order to give teachers more time to prepare their classes for the state- and federal-mandated academic competency tests, many school districts have had to reduce the amount of PE that students are required to take. Most high school students now take only one year of PE between 9th and 12th grades (One of the amazing PE activities is sewing/quilting/embroidering that helps students enhance their clever ability – said SewDone.com, the janome sewing machine reviews website.

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Lawler says these policies are a mistake. Recent brain research shows that the brain functions better after exercise. He points out that in Naperville, where students had daily PE classes, they scored first internationally in science and sixth in math.

Don’t be left out of the New PE. It’s time you poked your head inside the gym!

DESIGN Your Own PE PROGRAM

Imagine that you’re a high school PE teacher. What kind of a program would you design to appeal to a student like yourself? In choosing activities, think about which ones you can continue to do after you graduate, which ones you can afford, and which ones you like.

Include some activities from each area:

Aerobic activities include:

Jogging
Dancing
Bicycling
Swimming

Weight training activities
include:

Free weights
Machines

Team and doubles sports
include:

Baseball
Soccer
Racquetball
Tennis

Individual sports include:

Rock climbing
Archery
Kickboxing
Self-defense

All in for the First Amendment: the stakes for our fundamental-freedom

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John Lennon’s juvenile paean to debonair nihilism, recently featured at the closing ceremonies of the XXX Olympiad, asks us to “imagine” a world in which there’s “no religion.” A careful examination of the Obama administration’s record on religious freedom suggests that this Lennonist Kool-Aid has been deeply imbibed at the White House, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice–and because of that inebriation, America’s first freedom is under severe assault.

This crisis is also a tremendous opportunity for the Republican party. Early this year, religious freedom became the surprise issue of the current election cycle. Yet over the past eight months it has also become a great clarifier: an issue that makes unmistakably clear the stakes on November 6, when the choice before the electorate will be between two dramatically divergent visions of the American future.

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The first imagines an America in which the robust institutions of civil society make essential contributions to the common good, and do so according to their own convictions and principles of organization. The second imagines an America in which the national government occupies virtually the entire public square; here, the free and voluntary associations of civil society are reduced to state functionaries, tolerated so long as they do Leviathan’s bidding.

Throughout the nation’s history, this first vision of American possibility has often been embodied in religious institutions, doing the works of education, health care, social service, and other forms of voluntary charitable activity. And in those works, Americans espousing a wide variety of religious beliefs have come to live an experience of tolerance in which differences are engaged within a bond of civility and a common commitment to the Golden Rule. The alternative America promoted by the administration is, despite a veneer of piety, deeply secularist, aggressively intolerant, and hegemonic. Nor is the administration’s secularity a benign one, seeking a place in the public square for the religiously tone deaf; this is aggressive secularism, demanding a public space scoured of religiously informed moral conviction and insisting that religious institutions measure social, charitable, and educational work by the state’s secularist standards.

In the first vision of the American future, religious conviction underwrites religious freedom, and citizens live tolerance because, as the late Richard John Neuhaus put it, they understand it to be God’s will that they be tolerant of those who have different understandings of God’s will. Thus throughout 2012 the defense of religious freedom has been mounted by a coalition of Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and Mormons whose religious convictions compel them to defend the religious liberty of all. In the alternative America being built by the Obama administration, robust religious conviction, and religiously informed moral argument, are considered the great threats to civility and tolerance; the truly democratic public square, the administration seems to suggest, is a radically secularized public square.

But this is manifestly absurd and profoundly undemocratic. For hegemonic secularism denies to fellow citizens the right to bring into public life their most deeply held convictions, even as it seeks to conscript believers’ institutions into the state’s service. And, as in Europe and Canada, where an aggressive and exclusivist secularism has taken deeper root, homegrown hegemonic secularism is informed by deeply troubling assumptions about the nature of religious conviction, and thus about the meaning of religious freedom in full.

The first indicator of serious trouble on this front came in December 2009, when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a major address on the Obama administration’s international humanrights policy at Georgetown University. Describing the administration’s top-priority issues, Secretary Clinton jettisoned decades of American human-rights policy and spoke, not of “religious freedom,” but of “freedom to worship”–which she then linked, in a litany of priorities, to the right to love as we “choose.” Religious freedom, in other words, is a kind of privacy right: a matter of lifestyle choice, involving certain leisure-time activities, of no more public consequence than the choice to go to the movies rather than the symphony. On this view, “freedom to worship,” construed as another lifestyle liberty enjoyed by the Imperial Autonomous Self, exhausts the meaning of “religious freedom.”

That dumbed-down notion of religious freedom has driven the Obama administration’s foreign policy for four years: in part because of the administration’s anorexic concept of religious-belief-as-lifestyle-choice; in part because of the ” absolute priority the administration gives to what it unblushingly calls the “LGBT agenda” in its international human-rights I policy. And if this is how the Obama administration thinks about religious freedom in the world, it should be no surprise that it has taken a similarly dumbed-down approach to religious freedom domestically. At home, as abroad, “religious freedom” for the Obama administration seems to have neither public character nor institutional expression. And if religious freedom should collide with the “LGBT agenda,” the war to redefine marriage, or the defense of the abortion license created by Roe v. Wade, well, the first freedom would just have to give way; after all, HHS and Justice weren’t preventing Americans from attending church, synagogue, or mosque, were they?

While a generally statist cast of mind explains a lot about the Obama administration, the aggressive secularism that seems to inform administration policy helps illuminate what might otherwise remain murky in several areas.

Why, for example, would the administration have sought to undercut the “ministerial exception” to equalemployment-opportunity law, unless it refused to concede that religious convictions give rise to religious communities, which have the right to structure themselves according to those convictions?

Why would the administration have refused to defend a federal statute, the Defense of Marriage Act, unless the lifestyle-choice and LGBT agendas trumped yet again, and unless the administration regarded biblically informed convictions about marriage as mindless prejudices unworthy of democratic citizens?

And why, to cite the most prominent case, would the administration try to compel the educational, charitable, social-service, and medical institutions sponsored by the Catholic Church, and conscientious Catholic employers, to provide “reproductive health services” that the Catholic Church regards as gravely immoral? The administration has ample means to distribute contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, and to facilitate sterilizations; it can meet its public-policy goals–however misguided–without coercing Catholic institutions and Catholic employers into what their Church teaches is wrong. So why bother? Because, it seems, the administration considers lifestyle libertinism the real “first freedom,” just as it regards religious insti tutions as mere vehicles for the delivery of state-defined and state-approved “benefits.”

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The First Amendment is first because of an accident of the ratification process, but in this way, as in other ways, the Founders and Framers built better than they knew. Religious freedom is the first of civil rights for two related reasons. It defines a sphere of community-forming conviction and conscience into which coercive state power may not tread; and in doing so it creates an essential condition for the possibility of social pluralism (or, if you prefer, it inoculates the democratic body politic against the totalitarian temptation built into all political modernity). When the state acknowledges the true first freedom, it acknowledges its own limits. When the state protects the true first freedom in law, it promotes the integrity and flourishing of civil society, even as the state fulfills its constitutional obligation to be a partner with civil society in forming a “more perfect union” in which the “blessings of liberty” are secured for the present and the future.

Religious freedom is not, therefore, one of “those issues” from which opponents of the Obama administration should shy away for fear of frightening the horses. As Governor Mitt Romney suggested in his recent speech in Warsaw, the quest for religious freedom–not merely “freedom of worship,” but religious freedom in full–was a key to the Revolution of 1989 in central and eastern Europe and the demise of European Communism. The defense of religious freedom in full can similarly be a key to strengthening the United States as a responsible and compassionate political community in which religious conviction underwrites civility, tolerance, and respect for the rule of law, and in which civil-society institutions, including religious institutions, play a full role in education, health care, and social service.

The soft totalitarians of “lifestyle choice” have spent considerable energies, these past four years, in efforts to reduce the first freedom to the mere protection of individual preferences for private recreational activities. Enough of that is enough.

The stakes could not be higher. The cause could not be more compelling. It is time to be all in for religious freedom, and for religious freedom in full.

Mr. Weigel is AL.C distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

Business education: fostering entrepreneurship

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Not long ago, the idea of educating entrepreneurs seemed absurd. After all, conventional wisdom says that entrepreneurs are born, not made. If entrepreneurial courses were offered at all, they were generally an option tacked on to other business degrees for those nonconformists who didn’t aspire to a job in a big organization.

But the economy has changed. Jobs are hard to find. A large proportion of new jobs come from self-employment and from new companies that didn’t exist a few years ago. A StatsCan report in August 2013, for example, said that self-employment accounted for almost 40% of new jobs since the previous August. And November 2013 saw 19,100 new self-employment jobs versus 2,500 new salaried positions.

Meanwhile, educators have realized that while they can’t turn everyone into Steve Jobs, they can provide the tools and the environment to make success more likely for those with the drive to thrive on their own. The result has been an explosion of entrepreneurial programs at colleges, universities and within economic development initiatives. A recent white paper from the Council of Ontario Universities identified 33 entrepreneurship programs in Ontario universities alone–and that was not an exhaustive list.

“At one time, (entrepreneurial education) didn’t have credibility as an academic pursuit,” says Steve Farlow, executive director of the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship at Waterloo, Ont.’s Wilfrid Laurier University and head of its LaunchPad entrepreneurship program in neighbouring Kitchener. “But over the last seven years, especially the last two or three, really meaningful programs have become available at nearly every college and university across Canada.”

Participants in these programs come from various demographic groups: immigrants who can’t find work in their previous professions, women at home with children, young people frustrated by the tight job market, downsized workers in their 40s and 50s, and even seniors looking to stay active and earn some extra income.

“People are recognizing there are a lot of things they could be doing, and options are open to them,” says Sharron Hyman, an instructor in the entrepreneurship certificate program at Seneca College in Toronto. “But an entrepreneur first needs to know what they want to do and how. Hobbies and passions can be turned into a business, even a home-based business, but it doesn’t happen without dedication and hard work. Our job is to make sure they go in with their eyes wide open.”

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But educators also say that even participants who do not ultimately launch a business still benefit from the insights of an entrepreneurial program as a foundation for a career. “Students going out into industry are going to be expected to be more entrepreneurial in their roles,” says Tanya McDonald, associate vice-president of research and learning enterprises at the Centre for Innovation at Alberta’s Olds College, which bills itself as the most entrepreneurial college in Canada. “Learning how to start and run a business feeds a natural inclination to find new ways of doing things, and that is invaluable in the work world today.”

Startup Success Achieving Liftoff from the LaunchPad

While Wilfrid Laurier University’s LaunchPad breaks the mold in a lot of ways, executive director Steve Farlow says that it also borrows from the best examples around North America. First, it is open to any Laurier student–undergraduate, graduate or alumnus–from any faculty. It is both a 12-week course and a program that continues year round. Participants submit a business idea with enough detail for a panel to determine that it has a competitive advantage and that it’s scalable–more than just a job for a sole owner or partnership. “We make no judgments,” says Farlow, “but we want to see whether they are willing to grow and learn.”

Once accepted, a business gets space in the Laurier LaunchPad area in the Communitech Hub in downtown Kitchener. More advanced businesses move to LaunchPad space in the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo. While these incubator settings are a big help, a major difference-maker is the structure and resources that the LaunchPad offers. There are two or three entrepreneurs-in-residence, eight to 10 mentors and numerous so-called community partners offering services like accounting, legal assistance and market research. Jim Moss, his wife, Jennifer Moss, and chief technical officer Lance Mohring have a success story with their Plasticity Labs Inc. The venture got its start at LaunchPad in October 2012 with The Smile Epidemic, a concept that uses social media to improve people’s happiness and well-being.

The Smile Epidemic mobile app soon spun off into the Plasticity platform, designed to increase happiness in the workplace. Plasticity Labs has corporate clients in II countries.

For Moss, the support from LaunchPad was invaluable. After hanging around the Communitech Hub exploring his idea, he took the entrepreneurship course and the free office space offered by LaunchPad. “There was also mentorship,” Moss says, “so I started to feel this ecosystem of support.”

Once past the incubation stage, the partners moved to the Accelerator Centre, where further services and mentorship were available, with LaunchPad continuing to pay for their space. Now, while no longer in the program, Plasticity and its seven employees remain in the building but the business pays its own way. “It would likely have taken three years to do what we’ve done in a year if we’d been on our own,” says Moss. “To be honest, I don’t think we would have pursued it.”

New Business Attracts Early Buyer

One year into his bachelor of commerce in entrepreneurial management at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C., Aaron Smith took part in a volunteer program helping to build a home for a single mother in Costa Rica.

Smith found the experience very fulfilling and wanted to make volunteer travel experiences more easily available. He and some classmates decided to take part in the BCom’s Venture Challenge. In the Venture Challenge, entrepreneurial management students raise money for charity by starting a business from scratch and running it for five weeks. They also create a business plan and pitch to real investors.

Smith launched the business using his own funds. The company, GoVoluntouring.com, aggregates volunteer opportunities for overseas nonprofit assistance agencies like Earthwatch, Global Vision International, and volunteering agencies like Iko Poran in Brazil. Volunteers can search opportunities based on criteria including budget, destination, project, time frame and personal characteristics, such as age, religion and fitness level. Within six months of launch, Flight Centre offered to buy the company, and Smith agreed. He remains managing director of GoVoluntouring as a subsidiary of Flight Centre.

GoVoluntouring has connected more than 20,000 volunteers with projects in more than 120 countries. Smith credits Royal Roads for opening his eyes to doing business responsibly and sustainably. “What made the Royal Roads program different was the focus on social responsibility–people, profit, planet,” says Smith. “It was and still is a big innovator, taking a more holistic view in integrating social responsibility into every aspect of the business.”

He adds that entrepreneurial education helps make starting a business more attainable. “The table can be set,” he says. “Then it’s just: ‘Do you have the risk threshold to take it the rest of the way?'”

Getting into the Entrepreneurial Spirit

At Olds College, entrepreneurship is for everyone–and everyone starts with their very own lemonade stand.

It’s a digital lemonade stand, but the concept remains the same: Sell lemonade and make a profit. That’s the idea behind the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, an iPad app and “gamified course” that every student in a program of 16 weeks or longer must complete in order to graduate from Olds.

The course contains 12 modules, starting with “Are You an Entrepreneur?” and continuing through sections like locating your business, marketing and human resources. Each module contains readings and a quiz.

“You start the game by filling pitchers and selling lemonade in a town called The Blands,” explains Toby Williams, director of entrepreneurship and international development at Olds. “More and more of the game opens up as you go through the course content. After taking the marketing section, for instance, you can start to advertise.” You can also make decisions to upgrade the stand, speed up production, hire more employees and so on.

The app was launched in September, and 70 students had completed the course by Christmas.

“The skills of entrepreneurship are helpful whether you go on to start a business or not,” says Williams. “Starting and running a business gives students a look at what it takes to be successful in whatever they do.”

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A Program That Fits

One challenge of educating entrepreneurs is that every business is different–products, business models and industries differ.

At Seneca College, participants in the entrepreneurship certificate program can tailor the program to their needs. The three mandatory courses cover how to write a business plan, business law and customer relations. Normally, three electives are chosen from a list that includes accounting, marketing, e-business, management skills or international trade basics. But the electives list is not set in stone.

“If a student has a particular business in mind, they can apply to take a different course that is relevant to their industry,” says Barbara Pimenoff, program co-ordinator in the faculty of continuing education and training at Seneca. “They might be interested in a web design course in order to build an e-commerce website, for instance. Or someone else might be interested in taking a sales course.”

For the same reason, entrepreneurs need to know what it is they want to do, says Sharron Hyman, a long-time instructor in the Seneca program. Seneca’s courses are very good, she says, but the entrepreneur still must have a vision. “They have to have a plan A and plan B. They have to make decisions and pursue their passion.”

Caption: Hatley Castle at Royal Roads

Caption: Students and alumni working in the LaunchPad space.

Caption: Aaron Smith as a volunteer

Caption: A town called The Blands

Caption: Newnham Campus, Seneca College

Caption: Digital lemonade stand in the town called The Blands

Corporate tax breaks drive student debt

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Tuition for students at public universities has more than doubled since 1987, leading to a crushing burden of student debt.

During the same period, the share of corporate income taxes as a portion of state revenues has dropped by 35 percent.

Large corporations have effectively blackmailed states into offering lucrative “incentive” packages to keep them from pulling up stakes and moving their plants.

The highly profitable Boeing, which made a whopping $3.9 billion in 2012, managed to extort a record $8.7 billion package from Washington State, while squeezing painful concessions on pensions from machinist union members in the state.

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Nissan–also rolling in profits–managed to wring $1.33 billion out of Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation. Although it is benefiting from the largest incentives ever offered in the auto industry, Nissan is failing to live up to its obligation to provide well-paid jobs. A third or more of its Mississippi workers are “temps” who start at around $ 12 an hour.

Overall, corporate tax breaks are a bad deal from every angle. Greg LeRoy cited in his The Great American Jobs Scam a 2002 study that tax giveaways to corporations in one state “created only 9 percent of the jobs they had forecast.”

Still, the flow of taxpayer dollars to big companies continues at a rate of about $80 billion a year at the state and local levels.

“Corporations pay an ever-shrinking percentage of overall taxes related to their wealth,” says Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, “while investment in higher education and aid to middle class and lower income students plummets.”

This sets up a downward spiral for a majority of Americans, Ross points out.

“Ordinary families not only have to pay more for public services because corporations are being let off the hook for a fair share,” he says, “but they also have to pay more for higher education and training. And they go into decades of debt at the same time these same corporations benefit from the highly educated, highly skilled, productive workforce.”

Two-thirds of U.S. college students staggered under a debt load averaging $25,250 in 2010.

According to the One Wisconsin Institute’s comprehensive national survey on student debt, unpaid student loans seriously reduce home and auto ownership among working adults.

It now takes the average student loan debtor twenty-one years to pay off her college loans. Rates of homeownership are 36 percent lower among people still carrying student debt. And student loan debt accounts for $6.4 billion in reduced new vehicle sales annually, according to the report.

State after state has made meatax cuts to universities and technical colleges.

In Wisconsin, where two-thirds of corporations now pay no state income taxes at all, under Governor Scott Walker and the Republican state legislature, students have endured a 30 percent cut to technical colleges and a $200 million tuition increase over four years for the University of Wisconsin system schools.

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For many of these students, job prospects will remain bleak as the very corporations so richly “incentivized” to generate jobs here prove to be far more inclined to be “job creators” in China, Mexico, and India.

Infographic by Sari Williams

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based journalist whose work has appeared in, among others, The Progressive, Z Magazine, Progressive Populist, Extra!, American Prospect, Isthmus, and In These Times, for whom he blogs on labor issues at workinginthesetimes. com. He also teaches labor studies at the University of Illinois. Bybee edited the weekly Racine Labor for fourteen years.

Fuelling up a new future: Premier Brad Wall sells Saskatchewan energy in D.C. ‘We’re not Iran,’ he points out, reassuringly

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When the newly minted Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall arrived in Washington last week on his first official foreign trip, his first order of business was to clear up a small matter of geography. “We are not North Korea. We are not Iran,” the energetic 42-year-old told anyone who would listen, including U.S. cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, energy executives and assorted government officials. Clarifying Saskatchewan’s location outside the Axis of Evil was important, because Wall came to lobby for a waiver to exempt Canada from international rules on nuclear non-proliferation. It’s not that “humble and unassuming Saskatchewan”–as Wall calls his province–wants nuclear weapons. It just happens to produce more than one-quarter of the world’s uranium–and sits on some 750 million pounds of the stuff. “We are the Saudi Arabia of uranium,” he says. And he would like to do some thing more lucrative than simply mining it: have private companies enrich it.

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But that is an activity restricted to a few select countries, and Canada is not on the list. Wall wants Washington to back his quest at the next meeting of the G8 nations. “We want to look at the value chain–that includes nuclear medicine, research and development, and enrichment,” Wall told Maclean’s in an interview. “The market is very significant around the world. There are a number of new reactors planned in the U.S. and even more in China. The technology they are using is the kind that requires enriched uranium.”

Uranium is just one part of Wall’s grand vision for turning his traditionally struggling province, whose population has stagnated since 1929, into a high-tech “North American energy centre.” Wall’s centre-right Saskatchewan Party, which took over from the provincial NDP in November after a landslide election victory, foresees a financial bonanza in following Alberta’s energy development lead. The premier informed his startled American audiences that Saskatchewan is the ninth biggest supplier of oil to the U.S.–already sending them more than Kuwait. And Saskatchewan is sitting on 1.2 billion barrels of recoverable conventional oil and an estimated 1.5 billion barrels of potential oil sands reserves. “The dinosaurs didn’t stop dying at the Alberta border,” he quips. Calgary-based company Oil-sands Quest has invested $160 million in exploring the province’s oil sands. Wall’s energy minister, Bill Boyd, says he hopes to see oil from the sands flowing in two years’ time.

But Wall’s visit and his energy-development agenda come at a particularly tense moment for Canadian oil interests in Washington. As Americans begin to become aware of the energy riches next door, they are also waking up to the environmental problems caused by strip mining, water consumption and carbon emissions related to their extraction. In December, President George W. Bush signed new energy legislation passed by Congress called the Energy Independence and Security Act, which includes a ban on the U.S. government purchasing alternative fuels that produce more carbon emissions than conventional petroleum. Depending on how the portion of the law known as Section 526 is interpreted, it could cover oil sands, which cause more carbon emissions than conventional oil. Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ottawa are concerned that a broad interpretation of the law could affect not only purchases by the U.S. government and the U.S. military, but also the private oil trade. Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson recently wrote a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman warning about “unintended consequences for both countries” if the energy bill is interpreted to apply to oil sands oil.

Wall’s visit was part of an ongoing effort by Canada to rebrand the sands. Speaking to a luncheon organized by the Canadian American Business Council, the premier read out a letter to the editor of the Washington Post written by one Brian Granahan, a lawyer with the Environment Illinois Research & Education Center, talking about dirty Canadian oil. The letter referred to “tar sands oil produced through a destructive process that has deplorable consequences.” Wall almost spit out the words: “Dirty Canadian oil? How about safe oil. Conflict-flee oil … energy traded between economies inextricably linked–not only by commerce, but by history. By friendship. By family. By values. By freedom.” Freedom oil. It has a marketable ring to it. Kind of like “conflict-free diamonds.” Or “freedom fries.”

Wall argues that he is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the oil sands, a goal his government plans to invest in as part of its first budget, to be tabled next week. He also boasts that, compared to Alberta, the development of the Saskatchewan oil sands will be less environmentally destructive because they are buried much deeper under the earth. Too deep, in fact, to be strip-mined. Instead, the oil is extracted by a process of injecting steam underground and “sweating” out the oil. The water that is used does not come from drinkable surface water sources, but from groundwater.

Likewise, Wall and Boyd are promoting Saskatchewan as a world leader in so-called “carbon capture” technology, which takes C[O.sub.2] emissions from large emitters and pumps them into geological formations underground. The largest carbon sequestration project in the world is in operation near Weyburn, Sask. C[O.sub.2] emissions from a synthetic fuel plant in North Dakota–6,000 tonnes a day–are piped across the border and pumped underground. Not only is the C[O.sub.2] safely stored, but the pressure forces Saskatchewan underground oil toward the surface, allowing oil company EnCana to extract 18,000 barrels per day. “We need to do a lot better job of telling this story” says Wall, noting that the international project gets some funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. He wants the U.S. to see Saskatchewan as part of its solution to energy independence. The governor of Montana is already musing about piping C[O.sub.2] from Saskatchewan into caverns in his state. (Wall is also lobbying the U.S. government to help fund a new project to develop “clean coal” technologies in his coal-rich province.)

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If Wall sounds optimistic, it’s because things are looking heady for Saskatchewan these days. “We’re not getting above our raisin’ but we’re feeling pretty self-assured,” he says of the province’s resources riches–including 80 per cent of Canada’s durum wheat crop at a time of a looming world wheat shortage. Saskatchewan is also leading the nation in retail sales growth, wholesale trade growth, growth in average weekly earnings, in new car sales, in commercial construction, and in residential construction, and is predicted to have the strongest economic growth in Canada this year–3.5 per cent. Asked whether he plans to open up a Saskatchewan office within the Canadian Embassy to press his case year-round, Wall says it’s “crystal clear” to him that Alberta’s already established and controversial office “has made an impact” But he’s still crunching the numbers. “There’s a cost factor there. It’s something we’re looking at.”

Meanwhile, Wall and Boyd had fun. They hobnobbed at a gala dinner at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, meeting the likes of John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia. They met with Bodman, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, and several members of Congress. By the end of his trip, Wall declares it a success. The energy bill? “We raised it on Capitol Hill and with the secretary of energy and I believe they are going to take another look at this,” he says. On the uranium question, “There was a pretty positive reaction.” Maybe so. But Bodman gave no concrete indication that anything was going to change on the energy bill, nor did he say that the U.S. would back Canada at the GS. Nonetheless, Wall plans to keep turning up the volume from Regina. “Right now we’re a tree falling in the forest,” he says. “We have to change that.”