09/17/2012 11:05 EDT | Updated 11/17/2012 05:12 EST

The Power of Dirty Oil Money

Many things are written and said about the oil sands, and one of the allegations frequently made is that the oil derived from the naturally occurring bitumen is "dirty", tainted with the stain of environmental destruction. While that debate rages on one rarely hears about what happens to some of the money generated by that so-called "dirty" oil. One may hear about corporate profits, and royalties, and high salaries - but one very rarely hears about philanthropy.

Philanthropy isn't just alive and well in the Fort McMurray region - it is thriving and growing. For six years the local United Way has been the per capita champion of donations in this country, raising 7.1 million dollars last year alone (and given we have a population that currently hovers around 100,000 that is pretty astonishing). Small local charitable events often raise tens of thousands of dollars, and some even climb into the stratosphere when they raise $150,000 or more on a single evening. It is said this is a giving community, and there can be no doubt when one looks at the numbers from any given event or fundraising drive.

Even smaller efforts reach amazing heights, such as the local young man who decided to raise money to build a well in Africa and instead found his efforts rewarded with enough donations to build four. Nathaniel Crossley is that young man - and he is only ten years old, a tenacious child who has been embraced by a community that believes in giving.

Yes, we give and give and give in this community, supporting our local charities but also supporting causes like the Stollery Children's Hospital. And employees who work here but reside in other communities take their hard-earned cash home, and one can safely assume they give there, feeding their dollars into their local charities. And where does this money come from? It comes from the salaries of those who are employed in the oil sands. It comes from the industry that is occasionally reviled as dirty. It seems that "dirty" oil is generating some "dirty" money that is doing a tremendous amount of good.

I suppose you could spend a lot of time debating this in a philosophic way. You could opine about whether or not the industry is "dirty", and if you conclude it is then you could debate if the money derived from it being used for philanthropy is somehow cleansing. You could come to the conclusion that the money is tainted and therefore no matter how it is used it is not "good" money. I don't spend a lot of time debating that angle, though.

No, what I do is I look at our local non-profit organizations and feel delighted that they are well supported. I see that our philanthropic spirit is strong and vigorous, and that we believe in our responsibility to our fellow man. I choose to be proud of our United Way and our fundraising galas and our young humanitarians like Nathaniel Crossley. I choose to see that the money, whether you see it as "dirty" or clean, is making some concrete difference in this world, touching the lives of others and changing their existence, ranging all the way from our local homeless population to children in Africa. I cannot speak for you, of course, but in my opinion, that money, "dirty" or not, has power, and it's nice to see that power doing some good in a world that desperately needs some good in it. So call it dirty if you want, but consider the philanthropic impact that "dirty" money has before you condemn it entirely.