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The Politics of Tar Sands

Issues such as proposals to build the Keystone and Enbridge “Gateway” Pipelines, intended to carry Tarsands oil out of Canada, are receiving growing public scrutiny, and that often exposes bias or applies public pressure on isolated elitists, as some of our Federal, Provincial, and State politicians have become; it almost always surprises citizens when they see a verbally violent reaction from those exposed to the bright lights of accountability. When pressure from citizens,  the typically disenfranchised, taken for granted, democratically and regulatory downtrodden, a generally silent, amorphous group like the citizens of Canada and the United States,  begins to mount, the threat this poses to special corporate and political interests is often enough to trigger a nasty, often derogatory and insulting backlash, one not uncommonly characterized by a sustained assault in the media.

We’ve just seen such behavior from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and just a week ago we saw it from one of his right hand men, Energy Minister Joe Oliver, who raged about the “disgraceful” behavior of another elected member of Parliament who expressed considerable doubt about the so called “benefits” of the Keystone Pipeline.  Harper, in his recent outburst during an interview (15 January 2012) on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation network, insulted President Obama , accusing him of making the decision to delay the Keystone Pipeline for “very bad political reasons”, after he’d earlier threatened him by saying the decision to approve the pipeline was a “no brainer”. He then attempted to intimidate Americans again, using the Iranian – Hormuz straits seaway fuss as a reason for the U.S. to abandon regulatory standards and processes, suggesting mid east oil is about to dry up. As he is want to do he did not point out that much of the Tarsands oil from a Keystone pipeline will be exported from the U.S.  He then used innuendo to attempt to force the U.S. to capitulate to corporate demands by threatening to take the Tarsands ball (oil) and go play with China! He then went on to belittle regulatory protection for North Americans, particularly Canadians, by emphasizing that scrutiny of costs and impacts are “delays” that are not fair to the “companies involved”.

To Harper-watchers this threatening attack on citizens and regulatory processes is no surprise. Harper is a person whose political mind was honed by the National Citizens Coalition, one of the most extreme corporate lobby groups in the world, and by a group of ultra conservative political scientists at the University of Calgary, where he became a rabid market dependent economist. Upon entering politics, he lay largely ideologically dormant for years until he succeeded in maneuvering a majority in the House of Commons for a very severe Conservative Party. Then he veered to the extreme right, as he’d been cultivated to do, attacking democracy and citizens with methodical determination.

Like the nastiest of all conservatives, Margaret Thatcher, Harper and the Federal Conservatives do not believe there is such a thing as “society”. This is a man and political party that do not view people as citizens; in their eyes, people are consumers and customers, or “clients”, and that means they are fodder for corporations. Harper and the Federal Conservatives are ideologues that believe that corporations know what is best for the people; in true Orwellian fashion, they call that the National Interest.

Apparently “certain” interests from the U.S. are to be vilified if they support and collaborate with the Canadian People, an interesting perspective from a Prime Minister and government that worship globalization. But rather conveniently, other “certain” U.S. interests, are to be met with quiet and triumphant fist pumping. Take, for example, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and Congressman Bob Latta, who refers to environmental protection as “an assault” on the U.S. They were amongst a number of U.S. legislators who were wined and dined through a rose tinted tour of the Tarsands, who then, not surprisingly, stamp their approval on this “sustainable” and “secure” activity.

Americans and Canadians should be aware that these pipeline battles are not about Canada and Canadians, or about Americans. They are about multinational oil and gas corporations and the poison pills they’ve been able to insinuate into the political system, people who spend enormous amounts of tax dollars and an inordinate amount of publicly funded time undermining democracy and attempting to divorce citizens from their resources and political processes. They have managed to escape democratic accountability because they have for half a century worked on convincing the people of North America that the oil and gas industry can walk on water and, when is so frequently necessary, they can and will step with impunity in the face of Canadians.

Harper blustered that Canada wont be the U.S.s “giant national Park”. There is not much doubt that various interests – the oil and Gas industry is a paramount one – have aided and abetted the Canadian governments determination to avoid protecting landscapes and all the vast and irreplaceable ecological benefits that these invaluable gems bestow upon Canadians. Americas National Park system includes over 33 million hectares (82 million acres) in 390 units in all but two states. Tens of thousands of Canadians visit those parks to escape industrialization, mechanization and commercialization. Canada’s National Park system consists of 38 units and 26 million ha (64 million acres) almost all established over two decades ago, and the country just happens to be 30 million ha larger than our southern neighbor! Worse yet, they are increasingly falling prey to a deliberate corporate agenda of commercialization and privatization. Add to Americas federally managed land base wildlife refuges (193 million acres; 78 million ha) and National Forests and Bureau of Land Management holdings (453 million acres; 183 million ha),   landscapes which have no Canadian federal managed equivalent, and the disproportion between the countries is simply immense. Harper did get this one right; Canada is not in danger of becoming a “giant National Park”! The reality is, unless Canadians get someone with leadership and vision skills to “pull our bacon out of the fire”, there will remain few National Parks in this land “up north”!

It is generous of the Prime Minister to grant Americans the “right to make their own decisions”. But apparently what’s good for the goose is bad, bad for the gander! Those pesky upstart Canadians, how dare they speak up at the Enbridge/Gateway hearings. And how dare they take a global, or even continental, view of what are continental and global issues. Why this could “morph into a public free for all”, shrieks one industry loyalist. Just because multinational corporations pour billions of dollars into influencing decisions, even taking outright control of Canadian sovereign land and resources, and TransCanada spends millions coercing Americans to abandon their citizen and property rights and sign off on Keystone, since when do “peasants” have the same privileges? Or could those citizens actually have “rights”? It appears, at least according to Harper and Oliver, that Canadian citizens have no right to insist on a regulatory review, let alone participate in one. There is no “we the people” in Canada according to the oil and gas industry, the Fraser Institute or the National Citizens Coalition, or their disciples like Harper and Oliver. Harper has further signaled he intends to enforce his corporate agenda, making sure regulatory affairs are “done on a timely basis”, not so subtle code for “we will neuter those who think the oil and gas industry should not be given a free ride”. He has pinned his reputation and welcome in the boardrooms of Canada and America on making Canada a leader in a conservative war on environmental and health regulations; another pseudonym for turning the oil and gas industry loose in an essentially lawless political landscape.

These are interesting and dangerous times for democracy and “we the people”. As citizens, including the majority that did not vote for the eventual ballot box “winners”,  Canadians (and Americans, for that matter) face ever more formidable resistance to our ability to exercise our right to direct the actions of government, and then to hold them accountable. Citizens, we the people, haven’t until more recent times, expected or recognized oppression by those that have been elected. But my, how times have changed. Now its us against them.

Brian L. Horejsi is an ecologist living in Canada.

 

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