Monday, September 27, 2010

We're Letting Canada Be Transformed Into a Petro-State and Nobody Cares

Stephen Harper doesn't care, in fact he's all for it.  "Special Ed" Stelmach is living the Petro-Sheik dream.  Even Mad Mike Ignatieff drools at the mere thought of Canada as filthy energy superpower. 

To this current crop of underwhelming leaders the Tar Sands are little more than easy money.   You don't have to lift a finger.   The stuff's simply there.   Others, mainly foreign companies, will gladly do all the heavy lifting.  They'll go in and scrape away the forests.   They'll dig the pits and boil the goop out of the ground.  They'll run it through their upgraders.   They'll build the pipelines to carry it away to the south.   All this they'll do and they'll write you a cheque for the privilege.   Hell, foreign nations don't even give you any trade guff.   They want the stuff, as much as they can get.

And that children is how Canada is being reduced to a creepy petro-state.   These pols gush buzz words like "ethical oil" and rave about bitumen as a key to national unity even as they sell our nation and its integrity right down the dirty Athabasca River.   Tar Sands observer, Andrew Nikiforuk, in today's The Tyee, shreds this nonsense that there's anything ethical about Athabasca:

For starters, oil has never been about ethics. It's always about the money and what economists call the paradox of plenty. While oil companies get rich, oil-exporting nations get poor. Louisiana may be a critical oil producer, but it sports outrageous poverty and some of the worst environmental degradation in the United States. John D. Rockefeller wasn't kidding when he called petroleum "the devil's tears." Moreover, oil discourages if not undermines ethical discussions. Oil money typically funds extremists from the left and right including such charmers as Sarah Palin and Hugo Chavez.
(Oil that is mined with shovels and trucks raises even more ethical challenges. As Mark Twain once quipped, "A mine is a big hole in the ground with a liar on top.")

BP and the China Petrochemical Corp., whose executives could use an instructor like Aristotle or Confucius, haven't invested in the oil sands because of bitumen's snow white character. They've done so because Canadian governments give away water for free, facilitate immensely profitable regimes with low rents and offer friendly regulators armed with rubber stamps more flexible than Gumby.
...All oil exporters, whether authoritarian or democratic, rich or poor, Christian or Muslim, share certain troubling characteristics. They typically don't save the money or collect their fair share of the revenue. They overspend and under-tax. They eschew transparency. They entertain hubris such as becoming "energy super powers." And they increasingly concentrate power into fewer and fewer hands. (Many such as Saudi Arabia and Harper's Tories also don't believe in climate change, a real revenue spoiler.) Oil can also give political parties such as Mexico's PRI and Alberta's Tories long and unhealthy regimes. A province ruled by one party for 40 years is not a maverick; it's simply a dysfunctional state where oil revenue has greased the wheels and hindered democracy.

...Unlike Canada, Norway had a vigorous debate about its oil wealth. Parties of both the left and right agreed to take oil revenue off the table and save it for future generations. That's why Norway now has a $400-billion pension fund. (Even the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has strongly criticized the management of oil wealth in Canada!)

Norway's oil ethics put ours to shame

Unlike Canada, Norway's government doesn't run on hydrocarbon revenue but on a national carbon tax. As a consequence, it morally represents its citizens as opposed to North Sea crude. Incredibly, its environment minister doesn't defend oil but advocates for land, water and trees. In contrast, the federal government of Canada has already pissed away $50 billion worth of tax revenue from the oil sands (mostly to lower the GST) while Alberta has saved next to nothing. To date, no Canadian political party wants to talk about these dramatic ethical lapses.

...Last but not least, let's examine the fundamentally tough and ugly character of bitumen, a non-renewable resource. It's not oil floating on sand or fair trade coffee, but a badly degraded asphalt-like junk crude that requires extensive upgrading. If you spread it on toast, you'll lose all your teeth because bituminous sand is four times more abrasive than diamonds. Steaming hydrocarbons out of the ground requires one-fifth of the nation's natural gas supply and billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

...To date, no Canadian politician has talked sensibly about the oil sands except for Alberta's former premier, Peter Lougheed. The statesman proposed six ethical standards: Behave like an owner. Slow down. Get our fair share. Save the money. Clean up the mess. And approve only one project at a time.

On this appropriate ethical scale, Norway gets top marks. In contrast, the governments of Canada and Alberta remain at the bottom of a very dirty barrel, a step above the worst but a valley below the best.

So maybe you loyal Liberals can explain why your leader wants your party and our country to wallow in the same muck that's the natural home to people like Stelmach and Harper?   Does he have no better vision for Canada than this?


LMA said...

Seems that very few people do in fact care.

CBC (Edmonton news) is reporting the results of an Ipsos Reid poll showing that Canadians are split over the Tar Sands, with 51% believing that the need for energy outweighs the environmental risk. What I found shocking about this poll was the finding that 30% knew nothing about the Tar Sands, and of the 70% who had heard about the Tar Sands, 22% were indifferent.

Really, I'm beginning to wonder whether or not we are simply spoiled as a nation, taking all our natural resources for granted, until it is too late to protect them. When people start falling ill from drinking contaminated water, and eating toxic, deformed fish, then maybe we will pay attention. It's disgraceful that the US seems more interested in the environmental damage caused by the Tar Sands than our own politicians these days.

Why is it that those who are passionate about the environment don't run for political office???

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi LMA. I think the survey you cite explains why enviros don't run for political office. The greens field a pretty good slate of candidates but the public doesn't yet back them. And the Tories, Libs and NDP aren't willing to rock the boat. With a gutless leader like Ignatieff the Libs are dead ground for anyone concerned about this.

At times I've wondered how Canada would survive without the Tar Sands. Imagine. We have all this land, all manner of resources and opportunities, a reasonably well educated and healthy workforce - qualities most other countries can only envy. Yet the lazy bastards who get to the top of our political parties feed us crap about how Canada will fall apart without the windfall of the Tar Sands.

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LMA said...

Well MoS, I guess there is good news in this poll as well as bad. Since the public is split over support of Tar Sands development, with half of Canadians being against expansion, there is a great opportunity for a leader with charisma, guts and passion to educate uninformed/undecided Canadians about the fact that the Tar Sands are a liability not an asset.

I didn't mean to dismiss the Greens as I support them as well as the NDP. However, we need some kind of coalition of Greens/NDP to increase their influence. The Liberals are indeed a lost cause as long as Iggy is leader.

This whole issue isn't going away and will only get worse as the Tar Sands are expanded. As you say, we desperately need someone with vision to lead us in the right direction away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. Someone needs to rock this boat before it sinks!