By: Andrew Nikiforuk | June 26, 2012
A new petro state has emerged in global affairs and its extreme political behavior has unsettled both Americans and Europeans alike.
For starters, the year-old regime has muzzled government scientists who are now accompanied by Soviet-like “minders” at public events.
It has branded environmentalists as “foreign radicals.”
It has abandoned its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce atmospheric pollution and effectively has no national plan to deal with climate change.
The state’s Auditor General has accused the government of lying to elected officials and concealing the real price tag for military aircraft: An astounding $25 billion.
More than 30,000 citizens have filed complaints with authorities accusing the ruling party of committing massive electoral fraud during the last election.
The same ruling party has gutted most of the country’s environmental legislation to quicken the approval times for pipelines and other oil and gas projects.
It also proposes to sell its supertankers of petroleum to three highly corrupt state-owned corporations ruled by the Communist Party of China. All comfortably deal with dictators and human rights violators.
Although this petro pirate may sound like Nigeria, Angola, Ecuador or Equatorial Guinea, think again. It’s Canada. That’s right: The northern mining giant that shares a border with the United States. It used to be a polite place – but the country’s gone rogue over oil.
Petrolized by bitumen exports and ruled by a Conservative Party that makes the Republican antics of George W. Bush look tame, Canada has become another dysfunctional petro state in full democratic free fall.
Even one of the nation’s most seasoned political analysts, Laurence Martin, writes that the nation’s oily leaders are breaking “new ground in the subverting of the democratic process.”
The resource behind this rueful transformation is bitumen, a costly junk crude that must be mined from the nation’s northern forests or steamed from deeper deposits. The unconventional hydrocarbon, which even Big Oil describes as ugly, comes with a much higher water, carbon and energy footprint than light oil.
Since the late 1990s a bitumen boom, driven by rising oil prices and give-it-away royalties, has created the world’s largest energy and engineering project in northern Alberta, a western province home to the Rocky Mountains, cowboys, and boreal forest. As a consequence, Canada now ranks as the world’s sixth largest oil producer. Oil lobbyists dominate the nation’s capital and bitumen now accounts for more than 30 percent of the nation’s exports. Not surprisingly, the nation’s embassies lobby against carbon taxes and low-carbon fuel standards abroad with Saudi-like enthusiasm.
Canada’s ruling Conservative party now vainly describes the nation as an “emerging energy superpower.” Its leader, Stephen Harper, a libertarian ideologue who brooks no criticism, is the son of an Imperial oil accountant from Calgary, Alberta – Canada’s Houston, Texas.
Harper, who makes policy announcements from foreign capitals, is also an evangelical fundamentalist Christian with a deep disdain for science, the media and environmentalism.
Although he refuses to publicly answer questions about his religious beliefs, his political actions tell an extreme story. In recent months he stunned the country by formally declaring war against environmental critics of rapid tar sands development. Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver, an investment banker and genuine one percenter, even dubbed opponents “foreign radicals” in an open public letter. At the same time the government reclassified Greenpeace, a civil organization established by Canadian journalists, as a “multi-issue extremist threat.”
To accelerate the approval of pipelines that would carry bitumen to the coastal province of British Columbia and onto supertankers destined for China, the federal government has rewritten every major piece of environmental legislation from the Navigable Waters Act to the Fisheries Act. It has also centralized key decision-making powers for major pipeline projects in the hands of Conservative ministers.
This broad policy change, buried in a recent documents, so shocked one columnist for the National Post, Canada’s leading right-wing newspaper, that he accused the government of “institutional duplicity” and “treating Canadians like fools.”
While government and industry PR folk spin fabrications about Canada’s environmental record (one of the worst in the industrial world), Scott Vaughan, Federal Environment Commissioner in the office of the Auditor General, reports that there are only 12 water quality stations for Canada’s 3,000 First Nations communities and just one federal water monitoring station operating downstream from the tar sands (which was, until last year, only calibrated to detect pulp mill pollution). Most of Canada’s resource extraction happens on or near First Nations land, and has long-lasting impacts on water, soil, and communities.
The data-antagonistic Harper government has so muzzled federal scientists that an editorial in the prestigious Naturemagazine demanded that it was “time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.” Harper responded by providing Soviet-like chaperones for Arctic scientists at a recent Montreal conference, much to the nation’s global embarrassment. “It’s going from bad to worse,” says Andrew Weaver, one of the nation’s top climate researchers and a critic of government scientific censorship.
Given that Canada’s prime minister and his cabinet ministers now receive a portion of their paychecks from bitumen taxes (not one petroleum cent is being saved federally), just about everyone expects the level of tension, intimidation and conflict to rise steadily in the country. And yes, you read that correctly: We’re talking about Canada.
Andrew Nikiforuk is a Canadian journalist and the author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.