Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Does Ottawa Really See Canadians as Useless?
This is directed mainly at the Conservatives but it applies to the Libs too. Tar Sands boosters, which includes most of our MPs on both sides of the floor of the Commons, routinely cite bitumen as vital to the Canadian economy. Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff referred to the Tar Sands as the "beating heart of the Canadian economy" throughout the 21st century.
What then is this "beating heart" and what would Canada and the Canadian people be without it?
If there was ever a case of going for the low-hanging fruit, petroleum extraction is it. Nobody has to create the resource or nurture or defend it. Nature and circumstance created it millions of years ago in various spots around the world, some that are now deep beneath the seas. So we don't get any credit for creating the resource.
We don't get any credit for discovering it either. Long before Euros got here, native Americans were using the stuff to waterproof their canoes. It was right there on the surface. We did work out ways of extracting and upgrading it but that hardly ranks up there with mapping the human genome. And, besides, a lot of that wasn't even done by Canadians but by Big Oil.
It doesn't help that this "beating heart" comes with potentially defective valves. Things like direct and indirect carbon emissions, consumption and contamination of surface and groundwater resources, deferred costs and subsidies and a host of unresolved and potentially unresolvable environmental impacts.
In fact, it's unclear that the Tar Sands are even that beneficial to anyone except the multinationals that exploit them and their foreign customers. Put a realistic price on Tar Sands carbon emissions (direct and indirect) and on the water used and toxic waste water accumulated and on the general environmental contamination and costs of genuine reclamation and factor in the costs of bitumen pipeline spills and, worst of all, a tanker catastrophe or two on the British Columbia coast and the bottom line, especially for Canada, sinks to the seabed. It's only by keeping these costs off the books, by ignoring freebee giveaways, subsidies, deferrals and never-never indulgences that the Tar Sands can be made to look particularly lucrative.
If the Tar Sands, laid bare, are a marginal proposition at best, a beating but diseased heart, what about the rest of the Canadian economy? What about the "Dutch Disease" that even researchers hired by the Harper government had to acknowledge as real? We're already skimming the take on the Tar Sands but what of the negative impacts bitumen inflicts on the rest of the economy? Our government and Alberta's dismiss that as nonsense but it's not a problem they can dare admit without putting their own necks on the Headsman's block.
It may not be until an environmental catastrophe hits the BC coast or the MacKenzie watershed (the world's third largest), and until the massive deferred costs go unmet and the Alberta government winds up, yet again, destitute that we come to realize that Athabasca's Black Gold was actually Fool's Gold and that we were very deliberately, meticulously Conned. Where will we be then? What will we be? I expect we'll be a deeply fractured society in no end of trouble at the very moment we and the rest of the world will be facing turbulent change. And that seems to be the future ordained for us by the Petro-Pols of Parliament Hill.
Maybe there's another strain of "Dutch Disease" - one that targets political leadership. Why work formulating complex, time-consuming and even politically risky policies and measures to give your public the education and skills required for the future and to stimulate long-term economic activity beneficial to the nation when you can simply invite foreigners in to mine your lands in exchange for modest royalty handouts? And why not keep real costs and impacts off the books when that pimps up the bottom line for both the resource giants and their political beneficiaries? And, besides, all those deferred costs and consequences will be kicked well down the road for distant leaders to confront.
Maybe it's not that Ottawa sees Canadians as useless as much as they see us as profoundly stupid. And maybe we should start seeing them as profoundly lazy and criminally self-serving betrayers of the public trust.