By Malcolm Carter, September 2019
Not everything in politics is easily understood or even meant to be understood, however some things are more obscure than others.
Why, for example, does the Trudeau government have a seemingly schizophrenic attitude towards our economy? On the one hand, like other parties, they voice the need for wages, benefits, jobs, heath services, education, protection of the environment … all the wonderful benefits of an industrial society, but on the other hand they seem to be trying to stick it to Alberta.
Just in case you have been at the cabin and there hasn’t been enough wind to recharge the batteries, Alberta has been trying to get more of its petroleum resources to tidewater, so that it can sell its products to other markets besides the US.
Despite the need, and after years of study, the Northern Gateway pipeline was axed, the Energy East pipeline was slashed and the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline almost bled to death. There was a lot of hand-wringing and whingeing in Ottawa, fingers pointed at BC and Quebec, “What can we do?” but there were only feeble attempts to resurrect these projects.
After any incentive to continue jumping regulatory hurdles was extinguished, the Liberals put Trans Mountain on life-support by buying it. Eventually, the Liberals leveraged a carbon tax on Albertans and an agreement to limit industrial growth, then reluctantly gave TMX the go-ahead.
On the same day, to thwart the inevitable green squeal, the Liberals declared a Climate Emergency. The media covered the emergency with scary video of bikini-clad sun worshipers shielding themselves from a climate gone crazy by slathering on sunscreen. Climate Emergency is double-speak for getting rid of fossil fuels (and of course the modern economy) and is a concession to rabid environmentalists.
More appeasement followed, including Bill C-48 halting tanker traffic on the West Coast. Strangely no mention of banning similar ships on the East Coast, I guess orcas outrank right whales. And then Bill C-69 that increases the number of regulations needed for resource projects. Death of resource industries through a thousand regulations, is it any wonder that my investment advisor advises buying US stocks and why large numbers of investment dollars are fleeing south to states with more welcoming regulatory laws?
For some time I thought this was all the silly, superficial “virtue signalling” of a pampered helicopter set showing off their greener than thou labels; then I had a chance conversation with an Ottawa insider.
Mingling at dinner, I asked what he had been doing in Ottawa between stints with NGOs and embassies. He told me that he had been working on an advisory group to the Trudeau government. The agenda was not the development of five year policies, the usual event horizon for a government, but to extend the vision into the further future, 20 to 40 years out.
His starting point, expecting me to agree, was that the present economic model was seriously flawed and had to be replaced. I bit my tongue. He continued, people expected too much, unregulated consumerism was unsustainable and Canadians would have to make do with less. The government would have to take more control over people’s lives enforcing an austere lifestyle. Economic man is the enemy and we would have to have a strong global government that would redistribute the wealth to poorer nations. Fossil fuels would be phased out on an accelerated timetable and air travel would be limited to need.
My tongue broke free; I said that I believed in progress through more gradual changes and that the sudden imposition of a frugal existence would cause a revolution. He smiled, nodded and agreed. I read this as ‘Bring it on!’, a response that is sort of a modern day version of “Just watch me!” I continued, he was advocating an experiment in socialism that could be extremely dangerous and could kill thousands of people. Suddenly he seemed to realize that I wasn’t the intellectual he thought I was and turned back to his food.
So does this mean that Canada has its own Star Chamber? Wow! Perhaps an offshoot “Aurora Chamber”, a secret group of the illiterati, scheming to foist a dystopian future on the masses for their own good. The plans seem to have exuded from the pages of the Leap Manifesto, a socialist, if not Marxist, blueprint to be levered onto the unwashed by guilting us with the bogyman of Climate Change. Even the NDP, despite the advocacy of many of its members, has not been silly enough to adopt the elitist “Leap”.
Have we already started to leap? After all, why would the government strangle one of its great economic engines? But you remember that Trudeau did say,
“We can’t just shut down the oil sands tomorrow. We need to phase them out.”
What better way to rub Alberta’s nose in the tar than to seek the advice of Gerald Butts, the reincarnate praised for drawing up the entire Liberal platform and the onetime president and CEO of World Wildlife Federation Canada. Perhaps his vision of a future Canada snubs the stale focus on wage and wealth inequalities, replacing it with the elite WWF vision of humans living in harmony with their environment, conserving biological diversity and sustaining natural resources.
A seductive vision isn’t it, so why do I interpret this as an end to logging, mining, fisheries and petroleum industries.
And if you think that Gerald is a one off, how about Trudeau welcoming Steven Guilbeault to run for the party in a Montreal riding. His credentials evidently include radical environmentalist, activist of the year, past director of Greenpeace Quebec and an avowed opponent of the Trans Mountain and any other pipeline. Just the kind of open minded, un-invested zealot I want making decisions about my future.
One can almost hear those investment dollars fluttering south with the monarchs.
If you are one of those who think those fat-cat Albertans have it coming, remember that for many years Alberta has been a principal contributor to equalization payments, sums redistributed to have-not provinces to assure similar services. And with more than a touch of irony, for many years, Quebec, executioner of Energy East, has been the main recipient of equalization payments; this year, $13.124 billion out of a total pot of $19.619 billion. Over $1500 for each il, elle and zel. Don’t misconstrue this as an argument against equalization or Quebec; it is an argument for us all benefiting from the powerhouse that is the oil sands and an argument against the hypocrisy where BC and Quebec won’t take a hit for the team.
Perhaps you think that Alberta should be rolling back its industry to prevent the desecration of its environment. Alberta is a vast province (662,000 sq km), with a vast amount of boreal forest of which something less than 1000 sq km are disrupted by the oil sands. That is a lot of disruption, open pits, tailings, holding ponds, great eyesores that blot the media news scape but it represents only 0.15% of the land of Alberta. To put that in scale, it is about the area of my compost compared to the size of my yard and I wouldn’t want to have the compost filmed then extrapolated to the state of my yard. In a simple cost benefit analysis, the oil sands create much of the wealth that funds environmental projects nationwide.
I am reminded of a skit from Monty Python. In this context, “What has capitalism ever done for us?” The answers are legion, modern lifestyles better than those of the rich and famous of a few decades ago. Capitalism with a social conscience has brought better nutrition, health, entertainment, travel… Luxuries that I could not have imagined as a boy. And the wealth keeps spreading to other countries where lives are lengthened and poverty lessened. Sure you can point to its faults but the present system seems to be self-correcting and seems to be creating a better world for most. Small steady gains are much safer than rapid, imposed changes, they just take patience – and we have the time. There are abundant examples of rebellion against authoritarian regimes, including Brexit as a response to Brussel’s creeping control over the states of Europe, the Gilets Jaunes demonstrating against the imposition of carbon taxes in France and the Hong Kongers protesting imposed laws from totalitarian China.
Hopefully Canadians won’t buy into the climate con game. The hucksters shrill, “Time is running out, do it now!”, “Only 11 years left”, “Leave it in the ground”, “Zero carbon emissions by 2050”.
Though I have to say there is kind of a nostalgic appeal to returning to the easier, simpler, golden world of our childhood. A dream, kind of like going to the cabin with all the enjoyment of boating, marshmallow roasts and swimming, forgetting the chopping wood, prickles, bugs and a gruelling winter. Ah yes, all the romance of the cabin, but you won’t be able to come home.