Alberta’s big problem is the same as Russia’s – so what’s Stephen Harper doing about it?

Posted on November 12, 2014, 12:39 am
9 mins

Keep those wells a-pumpin! Keep those oil prices low! Squeeze those Russkies! Uh … just a minute. … isn’t that bad for Alberta’s many varieties of Conservative? Below: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mr. Harper’s hero, Margaret Thatcher.

The Globe and Mail, tireless cheerleader for the Harper Government, was gloating Monday about the impact falling oil prices, a declining Ruble and the bite of Western sanctions are having on Russia, which, the Report on Business rejoiced, is being pushed toward the brink of recession.

Woo-hoo! That’ll teach those Russkies to try to keep NATO missile forces off their strategic front porch!

As we all know, rattling Canada’s largely non-existent sabres at the Russians, exaggerating the threat posed to Canada by post-Soviet Russia and caricaturing Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Beast of the East is a key wedge issue in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2015 re-election armoury. It’s thought to play well in places like Winnipeg and Edmonton.

To make Russia behave in a properly neoliberal way, it’s widely believed, the United States and the invitees to its geopolitical party, including Mr. Harper’s (neo)Conservative government in Ottawa, have been doing everything they can to persuade the OPEC countries to keep their oil wells pumping at the highest possible rate, thereby keeping oil prices low.

If OPEC’s members were to cut back on production, energy prices would go rocketing back into the stratosphere, to Russia’s considerable benefit, not to mention the Islamic State’s.

But as long as OPEC keeps pumping, the undeniable squeeze on Russia will get more painful.

But has it occurred to anyone among the governing party’s unquestioningly loyal supporters out here in the Alberta Tarpatch that what’s bad for Russia is bad for Alberta too? Leastways, it’s bad for the Alberta energy industry, which from Mr. Harper’s point of view is Alberta.

And not just the oilpatch, but those federal Conservative politicians who come from out here in Wildrose Country – Prime Minister Harper among them – whose Thatcherite scheme for the neoliberalization of Canada depends on revenue flow from a booming energy sector and shipments of Athabasca bitumen via pipeline to all points of the compass.

That was the Margaret Thatcher formula, no? Use the revenue generated by North Sea oil to underwrite the massive tax cuts necessary to cripple the welfare state – or, as people like Mr. Harper prefer to think of it, the nanny state. Then, when it’s too late to put Humpty-Dumpty together again, Milton Friedman’s Shock Doctrine can take over and do the rest.

Mr. Harper – who on Lady Thatcher’s death hailed her as “a truly historic figure, remembered for centuries to come,” which no matter where you stand on her legacy is hard to argue with – plans along with the rest of the Alberta Establishment to use the Athabasca Bitumen Sands to do the same thing to Canada, if only they can figure out a way to get its squeezings to market.

Well, I’ve got news for them: keeping the price of oil low enough to put the screws to Russia isn’t going to do any good for the viability of high-cost oil extraction industries like those in the Athabasca Tarpatch and the shale gas fields south of the Medicine Line. We are not talking about sweet ’n’ easy-to-pump Saudi crude north of Fort McMurray, folks.

Likewise, engineering low oil prices to crush Russia for the benefit of the U.S. strategic program in Eastern Europe is not going to do anything to improve the economics of building pipelines to Texas, British Columbia and New Brunswick.

Gee, it could turn out that Mr. Harper’s made-in-Washington Ukraine strategy is the best thing that ever happened to the North American environmental movement and the worst thing that ever happened to our vast deposits of presumably ethical but undeniably expensive-to-process sandy oil.

In other words, the U.S. tactic that Mr. Harper is cheering on is effective against Russia, but it’s also effective against American ideological buddies in places like Ottawa and Edmonton where neoliberal planners are making the same mistake as their Russian counterparts did during the chaotic Boris Yeltsin era – hollowing out the country’s manufacturing base to rely solely on energy exports to parts of the world that still make stuff, viz., China.

The most important question may turn out the be who has the greatest capacity for pain – Russians or Americans. I suggest you take a look at the history books to answer that one. It’s said here that the Republican Congress’s impatient backers in the U.S. oilpatch will cry Uncle long before the Russians, with their proven capacity to endure suffering.

Remember, when you’re calculating time lines, Mr. Putin is now polling in excess of 80 per cent. Mr. Harper’s approval rating is around 30 per cent.

So Conservative allies in the Alberta oilpatch have their pips under pressure just like Mr. Putin. Here’s betting they squeak first.

Here in Alberta, low oil prices are extremely bad news for the Progressive Conservative government of former Harper minister Jim Prentice, which had been counting on going into an election campaign with a big surplus.

Well, at least they’re selling the stuff in U.S. dollars, since falling prices are having the same effect on the Canadian dollar as the Russian Ruble – which would have helped Canada’s manufacturing sector if the Harperites hadn’t managed to hollow it out already.

Yesterday, the ever-loyal Globe advanced a fanciful theory about how this “shelters” Canadian oil producers, but even Canada’s National Website admitted this can’t last for long.

It’s also not particularly good news for the Cordilleran Elite that runs Canada or whatever you want to call Mr. Harper’s crowd, which has been counting on high energy revenues to bankroll their pre-2015-election tax-cutting scheme while still being able to pull a “balanced budget” out of its top-hat.

It will give the Wildrose Party an opportunity to scream about Mr. Prentice’s mismanagement of the economy, I suppose, but it’s hard to see how that will be very persuasive if oil prices remain low all over. Albertans, after all, actually pay attention to that kind of thing, and enough of them know the reasons to be dangerous.

Presumably the great secretive minds of the Harper Government have connected these dots and know that Alberta’s big problem, which they’d desperately like to go away, is the same as Russia’s big problem, which they’re doing their best to encourage. It would be interesting to know what Mr. Harper plans to do about that.

Right now, it looks like his violently militaristic anti-Russian rhetoric is aimed directly at his own feet. Ain’t it a funny old world?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

11 Comments to: Alberta’s big problem is the same as Russia’s – so what’s Stephen Harper doing about it?

  1. PatP

    November 12th, 2014

    Are we really sure?
    While I agree that there is a direct conflict between the anti-Russian actions and the Harperites’ energy desires, I also remember the recent acknowledgement that the Cons may be good at tactics but are bad at strategy (that is to say, have had success with short term plans- like running an attractive election campaign, but poor at understanding the impact of their efforts on the long term – like our being snubbed for the security council position, losing to Peru, after years of ad mouthing the UN),
    Plus, who knows what foolish Con feed this to the GandW. With Harper out of country for most of the last few weeks, you know it could only be one of, as Duffy described them, the ‘boys in short pants’.

    Reply
  2. Peter Adamski

    November 12th, 2014

    From what I’ve read of Reguly, most notably his strong support for a carbon tax, I wouldn’t describe him as a cheerleader for Harper.

    Reply
  3. Sam Gunsch

    November 12th, 2014

    re: ‘ethical’ & Alberta Tarpatch and actual history from interviews with those who lived there before development and still do.

    http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/nature/The-High-Cost-of-Oil.html

    At the link some recent interviews with Fort McKay First Nation citizens
    about the history of the impacts from development of ‘our vast deposits
    of presumably ethical’ bitumen/tarsands/oilsands and their community’s current status.

    And Harper of course, by dismantling various protective environmental legislation
    at industry’s behest, has made this all so much more ethical.

    The industry hardly ever breaks the law now.

    Reply
  4. PatP

    November 12th, 2014

    Evidently our fed fiance minister is not worried (just hear him on CBC). He says,mediterrean the $500 million yearly impact, he predicts balanced budgets for the next five years.
    So ‘funny reporting’? Or nonsensical under valuing of resource revenues to keep anything but tax cuts off the table.
    Or I was wrong and they are strategic masterminds too. Wonder if Putin and the income splitting plan will come together?

    Reply
  5. Expat Albertan

    November 12th, 2014

    Actually, I think what may turn out to be the biggest challenge – perhaps even a game changer – to Harper and the oil oligarchs is the treaty just signed between the U.S. and China regarding carbon and greenhouse gases. While the talk right now is all about how this affects coal, it seems that if China does even half of what it says it will do to move to more renewable sources of power, this could have a huge impact on all fossil fuels both directly (less demand) and indirectly (more investment in green tech by such a huge economy means new technologies being developed and brought online on a massive scale). If I were still in Alberta, I might want to tell the younger generation to start planning their exit.

    Reply
  6. Ian j

    November 13th, 2014

    The headline photo is by Edward Burtynsky and is from the oil fields in California

    Reply
  7. V. Jobson

    November 16th, 2014

    Harper will follow precedent – shake Big Oil’s hand and mumble something, then have a PR flack claim he said something real tough to them.

    Reply
  8. M.W.

    December 10th, 2014

    The oil cartel will do whatever it takes to get Syria, N. Africa, Libya,Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and hopefully Russia (after Putin is ousted by the people because he may get the blame when the cartel starves them)under its thumb, Canada was warned this would be coming and Harper resents it but publically blames Putin because he can’t expose his puppet strings that the oil cartel control over his rule. The deal Harper made with the Imf will supposedly cover his butt till he gets back in power, but you can expect a little jump in oil prices March-May 2015 as the west decides whether to contiue sanctions against Russia to please the oil cartel and gain financially at a later date (at the risk of gaining more enemies that are “radical” now) or risk financial blackmail by pulling out of its dependence and fracking its own country while it looks to bio fuels, and nuclear and solar, wind, and wave.

    Reply
  9. M.W.

    December 10th, 2014

    …it seems Harper will dance for the oil cartel as per usual and accept the low prices . Look for $45 a barrel up to 65 then back below 50 for a year min.

    We need to cut Harper and his strings to the cartel. They only gain us enemies a toxic environment and police state rules for our “protection” .

    Without Harper, we wouldn’t need protection.

    The hippies are right …alternative energy and self sustainability with less government the way

    Reply

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