PHOTOS: Prime minister Pierre Trudeau, at right, and Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed looking friendly enough in this file shot taken back in the 1980s. Below: Wildrose Economic Development Critic Prasad Panda and former Manitoba (shhhhhh … NDP) premier Gary Doer.
While we await the results of today’s British Columbia election, I’ve got news for the Alberta Legislature: It’s all very well to see you in agreement about something, but there’s only one way to shift Canada away from using “dictator oil” that comes from places like Saudi Arabia, and that’s pretty much to put an end to capitalism as we now know it.
I’m not saying ending capitalism – or at least putting some darned serious restrictions on it – would be a bad thing. I just find it mildly startling hear such an idea coming from Prasad Panda, Wildrose MLA for Calgary-Foothills and the Opposition’s economic development critic.
OK, OK, I’m overstating things a little. Plus, that wasn’t exactly what Mr. Panda said when he proposed a motion to the Alberta Legislature last week to “end our dependence on foreign dictator oil in favour of Alberta oil,” as the Wildrose Party’s news release put it.
Still, by calling for Ottawa to end Canada’s dependence on foreign oil and encourage manufacturers and refineries in Central and Eastern Canada to buy Alberta oil, Mr. Panda was at least basically calling for the return of measures like those introduced in 1980 in Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program.
As alert readers will recall, the now-reviled NEP tried to ensure that Canada would have “security of supply and ultimate independence from the world oil market,” as well as to develop a revenue sharing regime that would recognize the needs of all Canadians.
Needless to say, the oil industry for which Mr. Panda has spent a quarter of a century toiling as an engineer swiftly denounced the elder Mr. Trudeau’s revenue-sharing idea, and market fundamentalist-politicians despised the notion of telling any company how to run its business.
Anyway, the policy was undermined by low oil prices and a worldwide recession almost as soon as it was implemented – sound familiar? – and the last vestiges of the NEP were eliminated by the Conservative government of prime minister Brian Mulroney within a couple of years of his his election in 1984.
The actual wording of Mr. Panda’s motion was “to urge the federal government to develop strategies to facilitate the building of pipelines within Canada to ensure security of supply to the Canadian market, thereby shifting Canada away from buying oil from countries with oppressive dictatorships.” (Emphasis added.)
This appears to have been designed to get the NDP Government to patiently explain why it was a silly idea and therefore appear to be sufficiently unenthusiastic about pipeline development to fit into the Wildrose Party’s narrative frame.
If that was the objective, it was a serious misreading of the Alberta NDP’s position and flopped completely. After interminable debate in which Mr. Panda weirdly described Alberta’s petroleum resources as “the best oil and gas in the world” – think about that statement for a minute – the Legislature voted unanimously to support it.
This is fine, of course. It’s nice that everyone in the Legislature could agree to look foolish together. And, as noted, no harm was done, other than the waste of many electrons and a few sheets of paper to record the seemingly endless commentary that led up to the vote.
But it is worth remembering that while building pipelines may increase Canada’s output of atmospheric carbon, it isn’t going to do anything at all to stop the flow of “dictator oil” into Canada.
Thanks to the neoliberal economic policies heartily endorsed by the Wildrosers, Canadian companies get to decide where to buy their oil, and they will buy it, refined the way they need it refined (so much for ours being the best in the whole wide world!), from whomever sells it for the lowest price.
Since it costs more to process Canadian Bitumen than sweet Saudi crude – no matter how objectionable the government of Saudi Arabia is – they’re likely going to buy it from Saudi Arabia and other similarly located dictatorships, feudal and otherwise. This is especially true in a world awash in low-priced oil.
I absolutely guarantee you, no Canadian conservative party – and that includes the Wildrose Party – will ever call for changes to restrictions on the the capitalist system, other than to have even fewer of them.
Message to Alberta’s government: It’s OK to be a New Democrat!
Also yesterday, Alberta’s New Democratic Party Government appointed former Manitoba premier and Canadian Ambassador to Washington Gary Doer to wrestle the Trump Administration to the ground on the perpetually troubled softwood lumber file.
An excellent choice. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in her government’s news release: “Mr. Doer’s engagement is another example of how our government is doing all it can to advocate for Alberta industry and jobs.”
For some reason, though, they seem to have forgotten to mention Mr. Doer is a New Democrat!
What’s with that? It’s OK to be a New Democrat, guys! You’re New Democrats yourselves!
Now, Canadian provinces hiring high-profile spokesthingies like Mr. Doer to plead our case with minions of U.S. President Donald Trump is almost certainly waste of their breath and our money ($10,000 per month in Alberta’s case). Moreover, trade’s a federal government responsibility. It’s in the Constitution.
Still, everyone’s doing it, and it does give the impression a government trying to do something about the mercurial American head of state, who runs his administration like a reality show, presumably because he’s used to doing things that way.
And if the thing with Mr. Doer wasn’t work out, we can always think outside the box and hire an actor.