Alberta Politics
Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau shows how tall his eldest son Justin has grown in relation to himself during the seventh inning stretch at the Montreal Expos game in Montreal on April 20, 1987. Justin Trudeau may seem to be following in dad's footsteps as he prepares to seek the Liberal leadership, but he's really heading down a vastly different path into unknown territory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

When propaganda becomes memory: Pierre Trudeau and the National Energy Program

Posted on August 09, 2015, 2:13 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Pierre and Justin Trudeau back in the day, with possibly quite a few Liberal supporters in the background. Below: Prime Minister Steve and Defence Minister Jason Kenney.

Everybody in Alberta knows Pierre Trudeau and his National Energy Program laid waste to Alberta in the 1980s, and that would include plenty of people out here who nowadays vote NDP and plan to continue doing so.

So even with lovable social democrats in power here on the western edge of the Great Plains, that Trudeau guy haunts us still.

HARPER_RAZORJPGJason Kenney was explaining this just yesterday as part of the Stephen Harper Government’s effort to ensure they don’t duplicate the achievement of Mr. Kenney’s former cabinet colleague Jim Prentice and get the Conservatives turfed out of power in the nation’s capital.

Mr. Kenney is now the federal minister of defence. Mr. Prentice, briefly the premier of Alberta, is at the moment looking for new opportunities, possibly in the banking industry.

Mr. Kenney was fussing about Justin Trudeau, the son of the Pierre mentioned above, and explaining how Albertans “remember that the last Trudeau who was prime minister destroyed single-handedly the energy economy of Alberta and Calgary leading to massive layoffs, huge numbers of bankruptcies and a massive recession in this province because of the National Energy Program.” (Emphasis added.)

Coming two days after the first televised national leaders’ debate, this suggests that in the eyes of rank and file Canadians Justin, as Prime Minister Steve insists on calling the leader of the Liberal Party, presumably to emphasize his relative youth on the assumption voters will think that’s a bad thing, must have done better in the debate that I gave him credit for doing.

We’ll be reading about another poll in a few hours, I’m willing to bet, that still shows the NDP under Thomas Mulcair – known as Mister Mulcair by our bloodless, seething prime minister – narrowly in the lead. But it’s obvious it’s still the Trudeaus, pere et fils, that continue to worry and enrage the Conservatives the most for some reason.

But surely Mr. Kenney’s accusation seems a trifle hyperbolic, even to Albertans who absorbed their hatred and contempt for the NEP with their mothers’ milk.

I mean, seriously, people, the elder Mr. Trudeau did this all by himself? Good Lord! That’s a sentiment worthy of Martin Luther: “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe … on Earth is not his equal!”

KENNEYJPGJust the same, like children sitting around the campfire, Mr. Kenney and the other members of the Harper Cabinet may actually half believe their own scary stories. This is, after all, what sometimes happens when propaganda becomes memory.

So I’m here to set Mr. Kenney’s mind at ease. Alberta did have a bump there in the early 1980s on the path to energy superpowerdom, but the elder Mr. Trudeau and the National Energy Program actually didn’t have that much to do with it.

Cast your minds back to the mid-1970s, those of you who were old enough to be aware of what was going on at the time (Mr. Kenney, born in 1968, was not), and you will recall that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had managed to quadruple the price of oil, creating severe economic problems for countries like Canada.

Prime minister Trudeau tried to address the situation, first by establishing Petro-Canada, then, in October 1980, by bringing in the NEP to ensure Canadian oil security, increase Canadian ownership of our own resource and capture for all Canadians some of the huge windfall increases in oil revenue flowing to Peter Lougheed’s Conservative Government in Alberta thanks to the massive OPEC price increases.

This was not received well by the foreign-owned oil companies that dominated the Alberta patch for the same reason the same players don’t like the suggestion of a royalty review today – one that might, God forbid, move Alberta royalties back toward where they were when Mr. Lougheed was in power!

The PM’s plan might have worked but for, alas, the tumble in oil prices and the global recession of 1981 and 1982, which notwithstanding Mr. Kenney’s charming faith in the power of Pierre, was not caused by the elder Mr. Trudeau and had precious little to do with the NEP.

All oil producing countries in the world suffered through the same situation. In Alberta, our then-Conservative-dominated political class rather cynically blamed the Liberals and the NEP, and have continued blaming them ever since with such fervor that this convenient fantasy has taken on the quality of inerrant Biblical revelation.

Another Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, used the widespread belief in this imaginative interpretation of history to try to ensure such things as national energy self-sufficiency could never happen again, by selling off Canadians’ share in the industry and entrenching prohibitions on export taxes and controls in the 1989 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

So I say to Mr. Kenney, he can rest easy. Even if any one man could have done all those things 35 years ago – and, of course, he couldn’t have, and didn’t – voters can now safely remove the Conservatives from power on Oct. 19 without any fear Calgary will be wiped from the map.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

36 Comments to: When propaganda becomes memory: Pierre Trudeau and the National Energy Program

  1. E. Wheeler

    August 9th, 2015

    Thank you for revisiting the grave of the truth.

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      August 11th, 2015

      But unfortunately, for all the work of independent voices like Climenhaga, the MSM continues its complicity… here is the Edm Journal editorial team repeating the propaganda and making sure the truth stays buried.

      excerpt: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/opinion/editorials/Tuesday+Editorial+Energy+politics+always/11279842/story.html

      excerpt: The Liberals changed their name to incorporate Alberta and increase the philosophical distance between them and the Pierre Trudeau-led government, whose National Energy Program devastated the fledgling oil and gas industry here.

      Reply
  2. Maria

    August 9th, 2015

    well said. I remember the Pierre Trudeau administration and the NEP He was the Prime Minister who did not lie to us, did not restrict our freedoms (aside from the short lived war measures act), managed the economy much better than Harper, took responsibility for the government’s actions, did not fear monger in order to get elected. In other words, he was the opposite of Harper. The man had class and intellect and was not self-serving. I am happy to vote for the son.

    Reply
    • Marion DeCaro

      August 9th, 2015

      we need the opposite of Harper again!

      Reply
  3. michael

    August 9th, 2015

    Trudeau has always been about screwing over Alberta in the name of socialism. It is time to stand up to the left-wing extremism of the Liberals!

    Reply
    • Kim Leaman

      August 9th, 2015

      What utter nonesense! You should probably have the article before commenting.

      Just kidding.. you did read the article and since it differed from your infallable memory… you fell back on the same propaganda that it warned against. Some things never change.

      Reply
      • barb

        October 21st, 2015

        i lived through the Trudeau years this article is utter bullshit

        Reply
        • CuJoYYC

          June 29th, 2016

          I lived through the Trudeau years and this article is spot on.

          Reply
    • Emily Madsen

      August 13th, 2015

      Michael, ignorance is the absence of education…READ the article.

      Reply
    • Connie

      August 28th, 2015

      So thoroughly not true! Open up that mind of yours and start to challenge your assumptions. I did. I will never support the CPC again. Join me over here toward the moderate centre, won’t you? The environment and the economy are much more promising from this vantage point. And we don’t have to call people names, or anything.

      Reply
  4. August 9th, 2015

    This is very well written and disspells as the title of the article suggests, the propaganda associated with the (former) Trudeau era. Pierre Trudeau actually helped Alberta and did nothing to hurt it. In fact, had Canada stuck with a National Energy Program we might be in much better economic situation like Norway for instance, then we are today. This Conservative government seems to only know one way to operate and that is through fear and fabrication. There is a reason they are afraid of (younger) Trudeau – he has charisma and passion for a liberated Canada, not the fear of losing control which motivates Steve. Progressive Conservatives will leave the Conservatives and go elsewhere including to the Liberals.

    Reply
    • Marion DeCaro

      August 9th, 2015

      I totally agree

      Reply
  5. political ranger

    August 9th, 2015

    amen to that David
    perhaps we can actually write (instead of re-write) some history this fall

    Reply
  6. Sam Gunsch

    August 9th, 2015

    The oil and gas industry has mostly owned Alberta’s conservatives except for Lougheed.

    And if the current conservative political class gets its way with demonizing the royalty review, the rip off of Albertans non-renewable resources will continue.

    Mark Anielski put together some useful analysis (below).
    http://www.anielski.com/alberta-continues-to-have-a-revenue-problem/

    History of value of oil and gas collected for Albertans.
    Under Socreds 17.8%
    Lougheed PCs 27% (peak level was 37.7%
    Klein PCs 15.2%
    Redford PCs 9.1%

    excerpt: By contrast Norway in 2012 collected US$68 billion in royalties and other taxes or 72.4% of the total of Norway’s oil and gas sales of US$94.2 billion.

    ==========================
    excerpt: Socred era (1962-1971) Alberta collected an average of 17.8% of the value of oil and gas produced when oil prices averaged $3.15 per barrel.

    During Lougheed’s tenure (1971-1985) an average of 27.0% of the value of oil and gas was collected in royalties when oil averaged US$20.52 per barrel. The year 1977 was the peak in royalty collections reaching 37.7% of the value of oil and gas production at a time when oil was trading at US$14 per barrel.

    During Ralph Klein’s tenure (1992-2006) an average 15.2% of the value of production was collected in net royalties when oil prices averaged US$25.52 per barrel.

    ==================================

    excerpt: Under Premier Alison Redford the lowest royalty return on oil and gas produced in Alberta’s history was reached in 2012 with a mere 9.1% of the value of Alberta’s oil and gas sales collected. This was at a time when oil was trading at record highs of US$92 per barrel and the total value of oil and gas production was $83.6 billion. The numbers aren’t available yet for 2014 but they are likely to be at or below a 10% capture rate.

    http://www.anielski.com/about-us/staff/

    Reply
  7. Nineonymous

    August 9th, 2015

    Thank you for this. Remember also that:

    – Lougheed vowed to take feds to court. Trudeau called that “reasonable and rational.”

    – Lougheed then cut oil production 15 per cent – what would Cons say now if a gov’t did that?

    – Foreign companies went on a capital strike – causing much of the unemployment. (Sound familiar?)

    – Lougheed agreed to a revised agreement in September 1981. No blackmail, just negotiations. The NEP was OK with Peter Lougheed.

    – Unfortunately for Lougheed, his bosses in the oil patch still didn’t like it.

    – After that, the made-up history you describe became the received wisdom.

    Reply
  8. August 9th, 2015

    Mr. Climehaga, you might also recall that world oil prices collapsed as a direct result of an American counter-measure against the alarming power of OPEC to manipulate prices. U.S. President Roanld Reagan released the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve of 630 million barrels, immediately flooding the market and causing global prices to collapse. Further, the rationale behind the NEP was that from 1947 onwards, Canadian had paid double the world oil price, and at times more, simply to support fledgling oil production in Alberta. Therefore, setting a Canadian price below the OPEC-inflated price was seen as a reasonable quid pro quo. Moreover, the ever-inflating mythology of how many tens of billions were lost to Alberta implies that the same barrel of oil can be produced many times, not just once. Those who suffered through the crash, and learned to build leaner and stronger companies, proplsered. And we did achieve one of the principal goals, in that Suncor is the largest Canadian transnational amongs the oil companies and that tehre is indeed a Canadian capacity to own and develop our national resources. Thank you for your interesting commentary, it is of a piece with the principled journalism you practised when we were colleagues in the ear of Southam Newspapers.

    Reply
  9. Rob

    August 9th, 2015

    PE Trudeau was not a saint. He lied about wage and price controls, and faked Joe Clark out on gas tax with metric conversion (4.5c a litre is soooo much cheaper than 16 cents a gallon…), and he punched Margaret in the face over her Rolling Stones groupie thing.

    But remember how Trudeau said, “why should the government sell your wheat?” by which he meant that government wasn’t really the most efficient or skilled marketer of commodities. He was pilloried for arrogance and lack of concern for the poor hard working western farmer. Yet it was Harper who destroyed the wheat board and sold it to the Saudis.

    Reply
  10. Adam

    August 9th, 2015

    I wonder how much this myth helps Harper, now, though. It has become of the great Internet traditions – As soon as Trudeau is mentioned anywhere, some right-winger will post that they have never forgiven Pierre Trudeau for the damage caused by the National Energy program. Upon pointing out that the price of oil crashed world-wide, and so had nothing to do with the NEP, the right-winger in question will kick and scream and leave the discussion. But how many voters now even understand or care? I am in my 40s, and the events in question occurred when I was in elementary school. And Alberta is not a province of hardy ranchers chewing cow testicles as they survey their patrimonial ranch, but a province of migrants from elsewhere in Canada, immigrants from the rest of the world, and indeed born-and-bred Albertans who mostly live in cities, and many of them younger than 50. The people who vote for Harper because of the NEP will vote for Harper regardless, and the most of the rest will be mystified.

    Reply
    • Adam

      August 10th, 2015

      I should say “bull testicles.” I obviously didn’t get much sex-education growing up!

      Reply
  11. Scotty on Denman

    August 9th, 2015

    The same false memorization exists in BC where it’s falsely “remembered” that the NDP of the 90s “destroyed BC’s economy” when, in fact, StatsCan, the BC Auditor General, and other reputable authorities all agree that, despite the serious “Asian Flu” economic meltdown and resulting recession which depressed world commodity prices, BC’s economy performed substantially better than it has since the BC Liberals—disseminators of the “Dark Age 90s” lie—won government. It also accomplished a string of budget surpluses without having to bankrupt or sell off Crown assets like the BC Liberals had to do while tripling the provincial debt and accepting federal equalization on several more occasions than the NDP ever did—the BC Liberals managed all this during a global economic boom.

    Hypocrisy’s a big element in the false memorization tactic. In BC, the outgoing NDP government was tarred with cost overruns on public commissioned ferries—a “scandal” and “fiasco” is falsely recalled as when, in fact, the small ferry cost overrun absolutely pales in comparison to subsequent BC Liberal cost overruns on a number of public expenditures, and the subsequent fire-sale of the ferries—about 15 cents on the dollar, less than scrap value, for boats that were immediately recommissioned to profitable use by the lucky buyers, notable associates of the BC Liberals. The ferry “fiasco” is supposed to falsely implant the memory that the NDP is incapable of fiscal responsibility, but this file, as well as the general economic record, doesn’t lie: the BC Liberals are economic charlatans of the first order, and the NDP 90s were actually the last time BC prospered, a decade and a half ago. The notion is still disseminated today as if it was fact, and it’s up to all of us to call the disseminators immediately every time they try to float it.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      August 10th, 2015

      I’ll go even further and say that most conservative parties are economic charlatans. I lived through years of the Alberta PC party in the early days, then moved to Ontario just in time for Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revulsion (I mean Revolution). From this I have learned the following: conservative parties have very little interest in balancing the budget and reducing debt. What they are interested in is reducing taxes, particularly for the wealthy, which, of course, results in deficits (and increase debt) every time. Despite the conservative media rhetoric, NDP governments (and even the odd Liberal government) are much better and balancing the books because only they have the guts to increase revenues (via taxation)…and for that heavy lifting they get branded tax-and-spend socialists, even though they have saved the economy’s bacon on more than one occasion.

      Here is a nice piece on the Globe and Mail that lays it all out:

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/want-to-cut-public-debt-bring-in-the-leftists/article25663385/

      Reply
  12. Alex C Polkovsky

    August 9th, 2015

    I’ve been noticing the PM’s Trudeau-mono-mania. (See what I did there?)

    I’d suggest that he may have a blind spot because of it, but more likely the entire right wing movement is suffering a case of group think. The discomfort of MPs and candidates if they’re caught not reading from the PMO hymn book is palpable.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      August 10th, 2015

      There is a meme out there (created by the right-wing media) called Harper Derangement Syndrome. Ostensibly meant to belittle critics of Harper and the Conservatives, I think it better describes the deranged (and, frankly, somewhat disturbing) hatred he has for all things Liberal and especially all things Trudeau. Like Captain Ahab’s suicidal pursuit of Moby Dick, Harper is willing to sink the ship in his deranged pursuit of Trudeau and the ‘wrongs’ done by his father (!).

      As an aside, I think the right-wing has handed the opposition a huge gift with their continual repetition of this HDS meme in public fora. I mean, what could be better than for the words “Harper” and “Derangement” to be repeated again and again and again in the same sentence to a barely conscious electorate that might miss the context within which this meme was created (and thus its true purpose)!

      Reply
  13. ronmac

    August 9th, 2015

    Forget about the NEP and ancient history. Let’s talk about the current NDP gov’t in Alberta and their follies. Not only are they the cause of the present slump in the oil industry, blame for the widespread drought conditions throughout the province and the disasterous effects it is having on agriculture must also be laid at their feet.

    Time for Albertans to start polishing their mirrors.

    Reply
  14. Dee

    August 9th, 2015

    Lived through it. No matter the apologies still wouldn’t vote for a Trudeau on a bet.

    Reply
  15. Leo Campos Aldunez

    August 9th, 2015

    Thank you for this piece David; setting the record straight and letting facts (not fiction) speak for themselves is always helpful – Satya’s addition add further context to what I remember was a challenging time in the early 70’s, and not just in Canada …

    Reply
  16. bloozguy

    August 9th, 2015

    The NEP still exists except now “N” is China and it’s called FIPA.

    Reply
  17. August 9th, 2015

    Can we please get real we do not need anymore fear mongering from people who have zero credibility . Do you all feel responsible for everything your parents did. The old adage of the best defence is to be agressive with your opponents . That is stephen harper and his sheep. They are not intillectual enough to have a plan or evenknow how to defend their abeject lack of leadership or direction. That is because their leader is like hitler in his early days. Both have got rid of opposition within the circle. The circle has gotten smaller and smaller. The both mistrusted press so had their own.They both have put their nose up at democracy . WAKE UP PEOPLE GET RID OF THIS MAN.WAKE UP PEOPLE IN THE PC PARTY. BRING BACK DEMOCRACY IN YOUR PARTY.

    Reply
  18. TC

    August 10th, 2015

    I also believe that Jason Kenney made a comment that was exaggerated, albeit it’s my opinion that the NEP was detrimental to the interest of Alberta.

    But frankly speaking, whether the NEP hurt Alberta economically is an unimportant issue with me. The biggest problem for me is that this went against the spirit of our federal system, as resource rights is a provincial jurisdiction. I see the NEP more as a policy conceived by a Prime Minister from Eastern Canada, for the interest of Eastern Canada, at the expense of the West.

    On another note, it’s also my opinion that, as Justin Trudeau used his father’s legacy to get to this point, I think it’s fair game to use that same legacy against him.

    Reply
  19. David Grant

    August 11th, 2015

    Great article. Does anyone know of some valuable books to read that explains in clear and scholarly way why the National Energy Program failed? Thanks.

    Reply
  20. Roger Milbrandt

    August 12th, 2015

    It is very hard for me to imagine the current Liberal Party having the courage and imagination to challenge Big Oil, or for that matter to challenge any major corporate group. Justin is Stephen with a human face.

    Reply
  21. harebell

    August 19th, 2015

    It’s also rather odd that Albertans of that era seem to have forgotten the protection brought in for the fledgling Albertan oil industry by PET via the National Oil Policy.
    The fact that oil producers benefited form the NOP as well as the growth in the industry in the West seems to have been ignored by many too.

    Reply
  22. Laura Morie

    July 2nd, 2016

    It is too bad that Pierre didn’t succeed we may have more resembled Norway today. Now Alberta can lament the lost opportunities the last 35 years and celebrate the Foreign Ownership of our once Natural Resources. But hey we all got our $400 Ralph bucks

    Reply

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