Tag Archives: Allan Gregg

How Canada neighbor became a rogue, reckless petrostate.

From Foreign Policy of all places 

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For decades, the world has thought of Canada as America’s friendly northern neighbor — a responsible, earnest, if somewhat boring, land of hockey fans and single-payer health care. On the big issues, it has long played the global Boy Scout, reliably providing moral leadership on everything from ozone protection to land-mine eradication to gay rights. The late novelist Douglas Adams once quipped that if the United States often behaved like a belligerent teenage boy, Canada was an intelligent woman in her mid-30s. Basically, Canada has been the United States — not as it is, but as it should be.

But a dark secret lurks in the northern forests. Over the last decade, Canada has not so quietly become an international mining center and a rogue petrostate. It’s no longer America’s better half, but a dystopian vision of the continent’s energy-soaked future.

That’s right: The good neighbor has banked its economy on the cursed elixir of political dysfunction — oil. Flush with visions of becoming a global energy superpower, Canada’s government has taken up with pipeline evangelists, petroleum bullies, and climate change skeptics. Turns out the Boy Scout’s not just hooked on junk crude — he’s become a pusher. And that’s not even the worst of it.

With oil and gas now accounting for approximately a quarter of its export revenue, Canada has lost its famous politeness. Since the Conservative Party won a majority in Parliament in 2011, the federal government has eviscerated conservationists, indigenous nations, European commissioners, and just about anyone opposing unfettered oil production as unpatriotic radicals. It has muzzled climate change scientists, killed funding for environmental science of every stripe, and in a recent pair of unprecedented omnibus bills, systematically dismantled the country’s most significant long-cherished environmental laws.

The author of this transformation is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a right-wing policy wonk and evangelical Christian with a power base in Alberta, ground zero of Canada’s oil boom. Just as Margaret Thatcher funded her political makeover of Britain on revenue from North Sea oil, Harper intends to methodically rewire the entire Canadian experience with petrodollars sucked from the ground. In the process he has concentrated power in the prime minister’s office and reoriented Canada’s foreign priorities. Harper, who took office in 2006, increased defense spending by nearly $1 billion annually in his first four years, and he has committed $2 billion to prison expansion with a “tough on crime” policy that ignores the country’s falling crime rate. Meanwhile, Canada has amassed a huge federal debt — its highest in history at some $600 billion and counting.

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Liberal critics like to say that Harper’s political revolution caught many Canadians, generally a fat and apathetic people, by surprise — a combination of self-delusion and strategic deception. That may be true, but though Canadians live in high latitudes, they’re not above baser human instincts — like greed. Harper is aggressively pushing an economic gamble on oil, the world’s most volatile resource, and promising a new national wealth based on untapped riches far from where most Canadians live that will fill their pocketbooks, and those of their children, for generations. With nearly three-quarters of Canadians supporting oil sands development in a recent poll, Harper seems to be selling them on the idea.

It gets better

THE SINGLE-MINDED PURSUIT of this petroproject has stunned global analysts. The Economist, no left-wing shill, characterized Harper, the son of an Imperial Oil senior accountant, as a bully “intolerant of criticism and dissent” with a determined habit of rule-breaking. Lawrence Martin, one of Canada’s most influential political commentators, says that Harper’s “billy-club governance” has broken “new ground in the subverting of the democratic process.” Conservative pollster Allan Gregg has described Harper’s agenda as an ideological assault on evidence, facts, and reason.

To be fair, Harper’s government does have a plan for climate change — pumping the problem to the United States and/or China. Oil sands crude transported to the United States by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, for example, could over a 50-year period increase carbon emissions by as much as 935 million metric tons relative to other crudes. And the planned $5.5 billion Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean would result in up to 100 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, from extraction and production in Canada to combustion in China — more than British Columbia’s total emissions in 2009. The 2012 National Inventory Report by Environment Canada, the country’s environmental department, actually boasts that Canada has partly reduced overall emission intensity in the oil sands “by exporting more crude bitumen.”

All this underscores Canada’s new reality: Just about any kind of rational evidence has now come under assault by a government that believes that markets — and only markets — hold the answers. Any act that industry regards as an obstacle to rapid mineral extraction or pipeline building has been rewritten with a Saudi-like flourish. One massive omnibus budget bill alone changed 70 pieces of legislation, gutting, for example, the Fisheries Act, which directly prohibited the destruction of aquatic-life habitats but stood in the way of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which must cross 1,000 waterways en route to the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, funding for Canada’s iconic park system has been cut by 20 percent in what critics have called a “lobotomy.” The CBC, the respected state broadcaster long scorned by Harper as an independent check on power, has suffered a series of cutbacks. The Health Council of Canada, which once ensured national health standards and innovation across Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, also got the ax. Furthermore, with the élan of a Middle Eastern petroprince, Harper appointed the head of his security detail to be ambassador to Jordan. And he did it all with nary a peep from your average Canadian.

More than a decade ago, American political scientist Terry Lynn Karl crudely summed up the dysfunction of petrostates: Countries that become too dependent on oil and gas riches behave like plantation economies that rely on “an unsustainable development trajectory fueled by an exhaustible resource” whose revenue streams form “an implacable barrier to change.” And that’s what happened to Canada while you weren’t looking. Shackled to the hubris of a leader who dreams of building a new global energy superpower, the Boy Scout is now slave to his own greed.

I would argue some of these points.  Canadian’s have risen up through Idle No More and we have protested much of what is going on.  The issue seems to be that neither oppositon party seems to be able to get any traction on these issues and articulate them in a way where it hurts the Conservatives until recently.

Why do we let politicians lie on television?

Chris Selley is dead on right.

My colleague Andrew Coyne recently renewed his call for political advertising reform — specifically an end to anything even remotely resembling a public subsidy for it, which I could not possibly support more; and a requirement that party leaders voice their own ads, which somewhat offends my free-speech Spidey senses. But as the Conservatives prepare to roll out some Justin Trudeau attack-mailers, at taxpayer expense, featuring an outrageously misleading quotation, I keep coming back to a perplexing question: We wouldn’t stand for the level of dishonesty and deception we routinely see in political advertising if it came from someone selling pickup trucks, hamburgers, underwear or shampoo. So why the hell do we put up with it from people trying to sell us the people who will run the country?

I have heard the justifications for the exemption of political advertising from Advertising Standards Canada standards any number of times, and at no time have they ever made much sense to me.

It’s impossible to evaluate the truthiness of an ad during an election campaign. So? Do it afterwards and report back. Political advertising isn’t just a campaign phenomenon anymore anyway. Not hardly.

Voters understand and discount hyperbole. That doesn’t seem to be what the parties think, or else they wouldn’t constantly rub hyperbole in our faces.

We need unfettered dialogue and debate in politics. Amen, assuming equal right of rebuttal. But then why not afford people selling vastly less important products the same leeway? I’m reminded of an amusing scenario that Allan Gregg recently imagined: Burger King accusing McDonald’s of using beef rife with botulism, and McDonald’s firing back by claiming that Burger King’s product is swimming in E. coli. And just wait until Wendy’s gets in on the act! Why should politicians be afforded this absurd slanderous luxury if burger joints aren’t?

The Harper Government Assault on Science

Please read Allan Gregg’s amazing speech.  Here is a part of it.

My concern was first piqued in July 2010, when the federal cabinet announced its decision to cut the mandatory long form census and replace it with a voluntary one. The rationale for this curious decision was that asking citizens for information about things like how many bathrooms were in their homes was a needless intrusion on their privacy and liberty. One might reasonably wonder how knowledge about the number of toilets you have could enable the government to invade your privacy, but that aside, it became clear that virtually no toilet owners had ever voiced concerns that the long form census, and its toilet questions, posed this kind of threat.

Again, as someone who had used the census – both as a commercial researcher and when I worked on Parliament Hill – I knew how important these data were in identifying not just toilet counts, but shifting population trends and the changes in the quality and quantity of life of Canadians. How could you determine how many units of affordable housing were needed unless you knew the change in the number of people who qualified for affordable housing? How could you assess the appropriate costs of affordable housing unless you knew the change in the amount of disposal income available to eligible recipients?

And even creepier, why would anyone forsake these valuable insights – and the chance to make good public policy – under the pretence that rights were violated when no one ever voiced the concern that this was happening? Was this a one-off move, however misguided? Or, the canary in the mineshaft?

Then came the Long Gun Registry. The federal government made good on their promise to dismantle it regardless of the fact that virtually every police chief in Canada said it was important to their work. Being true to their election promises? Or was there something else driving this decision?

Then, came the promise of a massive penitentiary construction spree which flew directly in the face of a mountain of evidence indicating that crime was on the decline. This struck me as a costly, unnecessary move, but knowing this government’s penchant to define itself as “tough-on-crime”, one could see – at least ideologically – why they did it. But, does that make it right?

Then came the post-stimulus federal budget of 2012 which I eagerly awaited to see if there would be something more here than mere political opportunism.

It was common knowledge that this government had little stomach for the deficit spending that followed the finance crisis of the previous years. And knowing that the public supported a return to balance budgets, it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to be presented with a fairly austere budget document. That the government intended to cut 19,000 civil servant jobs – roughly 6% of the total federal workforce – might have seemed a little draconian, but knowing what we knew, not that shocking.

As part of this package, it was also announced that environmental assessments were to be “streamlined” and that the final arbitration power of independent regulators was to be curtailed and possibly overridden by so-called “accountable” elected officials. Again, given the priority this government places on economic, and especially resource development, this was not necessarily unpredictable either.

`But when then the specific cuts started to roll out, an alarming trend began to take shape.

  • First up were those toilet counting, privacy violators at Stats Canada – ½ (not 6%, but 50%) of employees were warned that their jobs were at risk.
  • 20% of the workforce at the Library and Archives of Canada were put on notice.
  • CBC was told that it could live with a 10% reduction in their budgetary allocation.
  • In what was described as the “lobotomization of the parks system” (G &M – May 21, 2012), 30% of the operating budget of Parks Canada was cut, eliminating 638 positions; 70% of whom would be scientists and social scientists.
  • The National Roundtable on the Environment, the First Nations Statistical Institute, the National Council on Welfare and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science were, in Orwell’s parlance, “vaporized”; saving a grand total of $7.5 million.
  • The Experimental Lakes Area, a research station that produced critical evidence that helped stop acid rain 3 decades ago and has been responsible for some of our most groundbreaking research on water quality was to be shut down. Savings? $2 million. The northernmost lab in Eureka, Nunavut awaits the same fate.
  • The unit in charge of monitoring emissions from power plants, furnaces, boiler and other sources is to be abolished in order to save $600,000.
  • And against the advice of 625 fisheries scientists and four former federal Fisheries Ministers – saying it is scientifically impossible to do — regulatory oversight of the fisheries was limited to stock that are of “human value”.
  • To add insult to injury, these amendments was bundled in with 68 other laws into one Budget Bill, so that – using the power of majority government – no single item could be opposed or revoked.
  • On the other side of the ledger however, the Canada Revenue Agency received an $8 million increase in its budget so that it had more resources available to investigate the political activity of not-for-profit and charitable organizations.

Ok, so now the facts were beginning to tell a different story. This was no random act of downsizing, but a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of government decision-making – namely, using research, science and evidence as the basis to make policy decisions. It also amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who might use science, facts and evidence to challenge government policies.