Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland … Sometimes you just have to ask, what can you do? (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Saudi Arabia has given the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to pack his bags and go home because, the Saudi Foreign Ministry complains, Canada is meddling in the internal affairs of the oil-soaked feudal theocracy by expressing concern in Tweets about its arrests of human rights activists, clerics and journalists.

Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland Tweeted that she was alarmed to learn of the arrest by Saudi authorities of women’s rights activist Samar Badawi. Another Tweet by the Foreign Affairs Department urged the Saudis to release women’s rights advocates they have in custody.

Conservatives Jason Kenney, left, and Andrew Scheer (Photo: Found on Facebook).

The Tweets were a “major, unacceptable affront to the Kingdom’s laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the Kingdom’s sovereignty,” the Saudis said, threatening to interfere in Canadian politics if this keeps up. With angry Tweets of their own, perhaps, or maybe a swarm of Facebook bots. They also recalled their ambassador from Ottawa.

In addition to the Saudis’ diplomatic frappé at Canada’s “explicit interference” in Saudi affairs, the Kingdom says it will refuse to sign any more trade and investment deals with Canada, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

So, here’s a bold prediction: This is going to make the heads of some Canadian Conservatives explode!

Seriously, what will people like federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney have to say about this?

A Canadian-built Light Armoured Vehicle 6.0 of the type sold to Saudi Arabia (Photo: General Dynamics).

Mr. Scheer is the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, whose sine qua non is accusing Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of messing up the international trade file by failing to get cozy enough with U.S. President Donald Trump on regulatory “harmonization” and not building that pipeline they could ever make any progress on fast enough.

Mr. Kenney used to be a big shot in the government of Stephen Harper, the last Conservative prime minister of Canada and the one who sold off the Canadian Wheat Board to a Saudi hedge fund. Apparently he cries and pounds his pillow every night now because he doesn’t have Mr. Scheer’s job. He’s still in a federal frame of mind, at any rate, and seems like he spends more time attacking the prime minister than he does thinking about Alberta.

Both men are big advocates of the notion Canada’s oil is more “ethical” than oil from places like Saudi Arabia – which Conservative supporters sometimes call “dictator oil,” or “conflict oil.” They argue, therefore, that people who think Alberta’s oilsands shouldn’t be developed because of their potential impact on the planet’s climate are siding with repugnant foreign regimes, you know, like the one in Saudi Arabia to which we sell billions of dollars of armoured cars.

Given the connections between the Canadian oil industry and foreign petroleum plays, this has led some cynical folks to call Canadian oil “loosely ethical.” Moreover, anyone who understands the Conservative Party position on regulation of corporations, which demand the right buy wherever they want wherever they feel like it, also gets it that the argument is “snake oil.”

Nevertheless, Conservatives are heavily invested in it. Credit where credit is due, it was Ezra Levant, founder of the Conservative Party’s equivalent of the Saudi Press Agency, who came up with the “ethical oil” squib, or at least popularized it.

A beaker of ethical Canadian oil. Wait! That’s the beaker of unethical dictator oil! No, that’s the ethical oil … whatever, it’s a beaker of crude, anyway (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

So how will Conservative leaders try to square this circle? Will they assail Mr. Trudeau for mucking up our ability to sell Canadian-built Light Armoured Vehicles to the Saudis so they can attack their theologically non-conforming neighbours in Yemen and persecute minority religious communities at home?

Or will they accuse him of not being hard enough on the Saudis, the better to sell Alberta’s ethical oil though that ethical pipeline to Canada’s ethical tidewater they accuse the PM of taking too long to build?

They’re going to have a cognitive-dissonance moment for sure. But probably they’ll find a way to say both those things.

It must have almost killed them when their public opinion polling told them they had better side with the Liberal federal government when Mr. Trump slapped those “national security” tariffs onto Canadian steel and aluminum.

Lately, they’ve been showing signs of backsliding on their national solidarity pledge out here in Alberta. Perhaps Mr. Kenney can ask Devin Dreeshen how to handle this. The new United Conservative Party MLA’s history as a tout for Trumpism was held to be a good thing during his successful by-election campaign last month, whereupon he was named party trade critic in the Legislature.

Speaking of American national security, Mr. Trump’s latest ultimatum to Iran is strikingly reminiscent of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia in 1914, and we all know how that ended up. So if this one works as it’s apparently intended and starts a war with Saudi Arabia’s greatest regional strategic and theological rival, count on it that Canada will be put under enormous pressure to help the Americans defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and keep foreign competitor oil flowing through the Persian Gulf.

This would mean ordering young Canadians to sail and fly into harm’s way to save the feudal princes who are sending our ambassador home with a metaphorical boot mark on the back of his trousers today.

It’s not hard to imagine what Canada’s Conservatives would say about that, of course: Dictator oil? Never heard of it!

Join the Conversation


  1. That about sums it up. Well said. Conservatives as now situated in the spectrum of political opinion in our country will say anything whatsoever to gather a few more votes among the politically illiterate majority. They want their bread buttered on both sides, and if a bit slops over onto the crust, well that’s even better.

    Of course, their need to socially turn back the clock to embrace the twits of the world who put down women and gays which includes the Catholic and fundamentalist churches, mean they’re regressing toward the Saudi position. But illogicality never bothered a Con if a personal buck is to be made. Look at Harper running around trying to buttress his personal retirement fund – just another Con who cannot tell right from wrong and what’s a bit of harmless treason anyway?

    As for Saudi Arabia, well. If they had no oil, nobody would have paid them the slightest attention. But they do. The most barf-inducing incident I recall was when the lesser-spotted Dubya Bush flew into the place and it was hugs and embraces all around. “Personal friends”, he extemporized. About sums up for me that only money talks and to hell with decency or the citizens some right wing pol claims to represent back home.

    Surprised Freeland stood up for the Badawis. Usually Canadians stuck in foreign jails get the barest help from our useless government of whatever stripe. Some second grade official is sent in with a melted Crispy Crunch and month- old copies of the Glib and Mail, a tattered McLeans from the embassy reception front lobby and a promise that everything possible is being done. Right. Say what you will, lock up a Yankee overseas, and the US gets tough. We sit on our hands. No backup unless someone senses votes, like harper’s Lebanon cruise ship rental adventure. Never felt Canada had my back when travelling overseas. So this is a welcome change, probably entirely temporary. Got to sell more jeeps to Saudis to conquer starved-out Yemen and return to being two-faced on human rights including our own indigenous nations and locking up 70 year old protesters against the Trans Mountain pipeline.

    Saudi ire? Who cares? Fundamentally, I mean. They have a PR as well as human rights problem.

  2. So if this one works as it’s apparently intended and starts a war with Saudi Arabia’s greatest regional strategic and theological rival, count on it that Canada will be put under enormous pressure to help the Americans defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and keep foreign competitor oil flowing through the Persian Gulf.

    Just what Canada needs, involvement in another regional war in an area posing no threat to the security of our nation. Nothing new, going back to the Russian Civil War 1918-20, Korea 1950-53, Persian Gulf War 1990-91, Somali Civil War 1992-95, Bosnia 1992-95, Kosovo 1998-99, Afghanistan 2001-20014, Libya 2011. Had Stephen Harper been in charge, countless Canadian troops would have perished in the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. As decorated U.S. General Smedley Butler said in 1923, “War is a racket.”

  3. Canada has left it to “conservatives” like Ezra Levant to define the ethics of oil. Small wonder then that the definition is inconsistent and malleable, depending on context.
    So because Canada has a better human rights record than the most repressive regimes in the world (as residential school survivors will gladly attest), our asbestos, tobacco, and landmines are “ethical”.
    It’s not ethical to buy oil from serial human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia, but it’s perfectly ethical to sell oil to serial human rights abusers like China.
    It’s ethical to sell military vehicles to the Saudis, but unethical to buy their oil. Never mind that refineries decide where to source their oil. If Irving, Suncor, and Valero import oil from Saudi Arabia, it’s because refining light sweet crude is more profitable in those markets — and they don’t have the capacity to refine bitumen. The refineries made it clear that Canadian oil would not displace Saudi barrels, but the right-wing rage machine still blames the feds.
    In light of rising climate change impacts (don’t look now, but our house is on fire), one may be forgiven for wondering whether any oil can be labelled “ethical”.

  4. Alberta newsprint sales to USA: Possibly another interesting file for Kenney’s new Trump advisor/buddy, Devin Dreeshen.

    excerpt: ‘Donald Trump’s Administration has decided to slap tariffs of up to 32 percent on newsprint imported from Canada. ‘

    FWIW… And regarding AB “environmentally responsible” logging for newsprint…AB is decades ahead of Trump’s attack on protections for endangered species.

    In AB, caribou extinction from habitat loss via “Ethical” and “world class” logging for newsprint, and the oil/gas/tarsands industries habitat fragmentation, is simply outstanding in extent and impact… e.g. as per the Little Smoky herd which we’ve been shooting/poisoning predators to maintain while logging/oil/gas hums.

    And how can I say this with such certitude… well, for example, this leading newsprint corporation,, is just one of the key AB logging corporations that AB PC’s listened to in the 1990s in deciding not protect core habitat for the Little Smoky herd… My source: Ty Lund, Klein’s environment minister, who told his fellow MLA, who then told the public consultation committee I sat on. (specifically: Lund and the ANC CEO had actually flown over the Little Smoky caribou range in making the non-protection decision) (circa. 1`997)

    Alberta’s gov’t’s have been and continue to be so-o-o-o-o ethical in their governance partnership with industries… I dunno’…it’s almost like corporatism is an Alberta Advantage.

  5. Can we safely assume the cheque for the armoured vehicles cleared? Conservatism in Canada needs a really good house cleaning if they ever want to get into power again, or at the very least be respected again. Wonder how Devin’s Trump support goes over with Kenney? Candidate Trump spoke against the Iraq, Syria, and Libya adventures. Did Devin support this? Dear old Dad, low energy Earl, and his new leader Kenney were in full support of these Bush and Obama policies. In fact Kenney was in full support of a lot of what Obama did in other countries seems his views were more in line with Clinton than candidate Trump.
    Has anyone checked Devin’s ties to Russia? Perhaps a little collusion going on here?

  6. It seems the Saudi’s are getting a bit thin skinned lately. I wonder why. Perhaps they realize that people are getting a bit tired of all of their bad behavior. Of course, not everyone – Trump has proved to be a fairly reliable ally, but apparently the Germans, the Sweedes have also lately ticked them off with some mild criticism and I gather the British are not very amused about the latest Saudi tantrum either, but of course they are not saying so too loudly. London depends much more on Saudi money than Ottawa ever has.

    I suppose on the surface this can be taken as an affirmation of what those who have been talking about ethical oil have been saying. The Saudi’s certainly do have a terrible human rights record. However, it seem the bigger the oil surplus, the bigger the democratic deficit, so perhaps the ethical problems are not due to some unique short coming of the Saudi’s, but something about the nature of oil wealth that does not mix well with democracy. It seems most oil states are not very democratic, with the exception of Norway, which is perhaps the one exception that proves the rule. Alberta at times in the past has seemed to run a democratic deficit too and might have slid further had it not been for the rest of the country and the charter of rights to keep us on the good side.

    I suspect this situation will prove a bit of a dilemma for the Conservatives, some who previously criticized the Liberals for not standing up enough for human rights, when we sold military equipment to the Saudis. As I recall these contracts were initiated by the Conservatives, so they are going to have to wrap themselves up like pretzels to try get through all this. I don’t think the Liberals anticipated the Saudi over reaction to their relatively mild criticism, but it seems some countries have become very thin skinned lately, particularly those led by demagogues or despots. In some ways, this is even more fortunate for the Liberals than the war of words with Trump – the Saudi’s get even less sympathy here than Trump and the economic consequences of standing up to them are not that great. Canada doesn’t really need the Saudi’s for much, if anything. Perhaps the Saudi’s might eventually cool down while they wait for an apology that they eventually realize is not coming. If they don’t,perhaps they might have to get used to Canada being more outspoken about their terrible human rights record.

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