Alberta Politics
The leaders of the G8 say hi from St. Petersburg in 2006 (Photo: G8Russia.ru).

Remember when Canada was about to become ‘a global energy powerhouse’? So how’d that work out?

Posted on March 09, 2020, 1:28 am
7 mins

Anybody remember Stephen Harper’s plan to turn Canada into “an energy superpower”?

That was in July 2006, a dream articulated in Mr. Harper’s first speech abroad as Canada’s prime minister.

Canada was not only about to become “a new energy superpower,” Mr. Harper told the Canada-U.K. Chamber of Commerce in London, his government intended to turn the country into a “global energy powerhouse.”

Stephen Harper with U.S. President George Bush in the heady days of Twenty-zeroes (Photo: Chris Greenberg, the White House).

Those were the days! The G8 (remember that?) was about to meet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Oil was selling for $74.57 US a barrel. The United States had to import oil to keep the wheels of its economy turning. Mr. Harper was threatening to show Russian President Vladimir Putin a thing or two for not bowing to the new neoliberal imperium.

“We believe in the free exchange of energy products based on competitive market principles, not self-serving monopolistic political strategies,” he grumped at Mr. Putin, explaining that the world including Russia must allow market forces to prevail.

“An ocean of oil-soaked sand lies under the muskeg of Northern Alberta, my home province,” he bragged. The Globe and Mail, covering the story, noted how Canadian diplomats had been instructed to tell business leaders and politicians how much energy Canada supplies to the United States, reinforcing the message that Canada was a safe, reliable and market-based source of energy.

Almost 14 years have passed since that heady day, when the new prime minister even got to have tea with Margaret Thatcher, his hero and the model for his plan to use fossil fuel revenues to finance the change to an ideological market fundamentalist utopia without anyone noticing what was actually being done until it was too late.

So how’s that market fundamentalist fantasy coming along in 2020?

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, just before oil prices plummeted through the floor (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Mr. Harper hasn’t been prime minister for almost five years now, although he’s still lurking in the background trying to foment a regime in Canada that nowadays looks more dystopian than utopian to most Canadian voters.

The United States pumps out enough oil to satisfy its own needs. So, as we keep forgetting to remind ourselves, our No. 1 customer has become our No. 1 export competitor. So much for the bountiful benefits of allowing market forces to prevail!

Not only that, but people everywhere have concluded global warming is an actual thing, and they’re looking for answers that don’t include steaming out petroleum from that ocean of oil beneath the “muskeg” in Mr. Harper’s Alberta back yard.

The former prime minister’s acolytes are back in power here in Alberta — plotting to save the collapsing oil industry by setting up a Russian-style monopoly with looted teachers’ and nurses’ pension savings. Mr. Putin, I’m sure, would approve.

And the Russian president is confident enough now to tell Saudi Arabia to drop dead when it tries to blackmail his country into curtailing production in the face of a global pandemic that’s already suppressing demand for oil — blowing former Harper cabinet minister turned Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s aspirational 2020 budget to smithereens less than two weeks after it was tabled in the Legislature!

Time for a new one already?

When Mr. Kenney was elected in 2019, promising an immediate return to oil boom nirvana after the previous NDP government and the Progressive Conservative one before that had struggled with depressed energy prices since 2014, it was supposed to herald the return of the “Alberta Advantage.”

All that was needed, Mr. Kenney told us, was low taxes and a War Room that would tell those urban green European extremists global warming was baloney and Alberta’s bitumen was the very best, most ethical oily sand in the planet. Then Alberta would be Great Again.

He’d have a summer of repeal, he vowed, and make MLAs stay up late in the Legislature to dump the NDP’s efforts to diversify the economy and reduce the province’s enormous carbon footprint. And give the man his due: Promise made, promise pretty much kept!

But instead of low taxes and a booming economy floating on rebounding oil prices, we’ve got oil prices plunging into the sub-basement with no alternative source of revenue pushing Alberta toward a financial meltdown that can’t really be blamed on any of the United Conservative party’s usual scapegoats.

Who knew that markets respond to supply and demand?

Last night when I last looked on my handy-dandy cell phone app, West Texas Intermediate was down to $27.69 US, and Western Canadian Select, our tarsands special, was trading at $14.43.

I imagine most people in Canada are thanking god Mr. Harper and his so-called Conservatives were run out of office before they hollowed out what was left of the country’s manufacturing sector in the name of putting all our economic eggs in the oil basket.

But here in Alberta about all we have is the former leader of the Opposition, and not incidentally the recipient of a nice Canadian Parliamentary pension, yelling for Alberta to separate if we don’t get right back on the Harper oil train! As if that’s going to make the price of bitumen magically rise.

This is apparently what passes for serious political discourse in Alberta nowadays.

So how’s that energy superpower thing working out?

21 Comments to: Remember when Canada was about to become ‘a global energy powerhouse’? So how’d that work out?

  1. Just Me

    March 9th, 2020

    Alberta oil producers were advised about a decade ago that the US would soon reemerge as not only a major oil and natural gas producer, it will also return to being a major energy exporter. Of course, the fat heads in Calgary laughed. Four years later, many of those fat heads were jumping off their brand new, insanely tall, and very vacant office towers. Personally, I’ve been dancing and laughing on all their graves.

    Now that the recent and spectacular crash in oil prices are taking hold on world markets, I can imagine that the UCP budget has enormous holes shot through it. With the projections for a balanced budget completely out of whack, I suspect Kenney will take to the airwaves and blame Trudeau for Saudi Arabia and Russia failing to reach a production agreement. No doubt Andrew Scheer will even declare that a Conservative government would, as they intended to do with the railway blockades, force both the Saudis and the Russians back to the bargaining table and agree to production levels that will assure a healthy $300/bbl price. Mission accomplished. Next, in honor of International Women’s Day, they will force women to be barefoot and pregnant, because they are happier that way.

    Seriously, the thought of Ken-Doh in a state of perpetual panic fills my heart with tremendous joy. Pulling the plug on the War Room would be the sensible thing to do, but what about all those barely employable UCP members? They need the charity of a good partisan slush fund.

    No. Kenney will stay the course and maintain his version of reality, spiced up with a wild tantrum every now and then. I mean it’s the only way he can get his rocks off.

    Reply
    • Code Clements

      March 9th, 2020

      Kenney is pretending to be mini Trump, just like Ford bragged about being maxi Trump, as he claimed being Trump prior to Trump being Trump. Neoliberalism as practiced by Harper, Kenney, Ford is dead, but we do not have a reliable replacement. We will continue to increase inequality, enrich the elite and corporations, attack unions , reduce employment and wage growth, as long as these believers in Reaganomics and Thatcherism lead us into an abyss.

      Reply
  2. Dave

    March 9th, 2020

    Looking back to 2006 sure does help show us what happened to Mr. Harper’s grand plans to remodel Canada in the image of a Conservative petro state. Gee I wonder where Mr. Harper got that idea from?

    What happened? Well, to praphrase a former British Prime Minister, events happened. As you mentioned rising prices led US oil companies to develop new technologies to extract more of the stuff and we went from concerns about peak oil then to a world seemingly swimming in the stuff now.

    Also, increasing concern about climate change as its impacts became increasingly visible around the world, and now declining demand as the world hunkers down due to the corona virus.

    Mr. Harper’s timing was fairly good, although in hindsight it would have been wiser for him to retire before 2015 when his grand petro state idea started falling apart. Although, maybe he took one for the team then, because he had only mediocre ministers left and no one he felt could carry on adequately after him.

    Well guess what, one of those B team ministers is now running Alberta and events keep on happening that our Premier seems powerless to respond to.

    It’s probably not a coincidence the high water mark for the Harper Conservatives was that time when oil prices were rising or at their highest Unfortunately, for them and also our own UCP, I think it is unlikely oil prices will recover much soon, or for a long time, if ever.

    Reply
  3. J.E. Molnar

    March 9th, 2020

    So is this what going to hell in a handbasket feels like?

    Pardon my schadenfreude and snark, but can one now expect Jason Kenney to convene another expert panel, headed by that stable economic genius from Saskatchewan, Janice MacKinnon (now gainfully commissioned as a regent for the U of A on the taxpayers’ dime)? If so, maybe this time they will look at the revenue side of the ledger as opposed to only looking at the expenditure side. Just a suggestion Mr. Kenney.

    Reply
    • Hana Razga

      March 9th, 2020

      Ha, Jason Kenney has already convened another expert panel to advise on economic issues, with one of the people appointed being Jack Mintz

      Reply
    • Abs

      March 9th, 2020

      1. Yes, it is.

      2. Jack Mintz will lead a panel to deal with the oil crisis, while JayKay schticks it to Ottawa again.

      3. Full steam as head on the budget. Oops, almost typed budgie.

      4. Please do not ask questions about coronavirus. What? He can’t hear you.

      5. He’ll be at the Winchester waitng for all this to blow over. I might have taken that from a zombie movie.

      Reply
  4. Farmer Brian

    March 9th, 2020

    In the 2018-2019 third quarter Fiscal Update and Economic Statement published in February 2019 by the Alberta NDP the path to balance projected by the NDP showed non-renewable resource revenue going from $5.429 billion(actual) in 2018-2019 to $12.3 billion in 2023-2024. The reason I point this out is you attack the UCP for putting all its eggs in one basket, if you look at the projections of the former NDP government they were doing the same thing they just presented it differently.

    The unfortunate reality is the economic fallout of Covid-19 is going to affect everyone in Alberta and create a lot of financial suffering. On the farm Covid-19 has lowered world grain prices by roughly 10%, combine this with delayed shipping caused by Indigenous demonstrations and 2020 hasn’t been good on the farm after a far less than ideal 2019 harvest. But I am fortunate I still have a job which many in the oil industry won’t and for that I am lucky.

    Reply
    • Murphy

      March 9th, 2020

      The NDP were as silly as anyone else who tries to bank on predicting oil prices, but unlike the Used Car grifter-yokel Party, the NDP did not propose blowing a hole in the already precarious revenue stream with the historically discredited practice of corporate tax cuts combined with increased privatization and cuts to public services. Make-a-few-people-rich-quick schemes are the MO of the Kons, a very different approach than that of the NDP.

      Reply
    • Farmer Dave

      March 9th, 2020

      Farmer Brian, the UCP is nothing more then the former Far Religious Right Social Credit Party that Lougheed defeated because of their extreme ways and operating this Province with their religious ideology. You have Jason Kenney already blaming everyone but himself about Alberta’s economy. A few experts are predicting the Alberta deficit could go over 15 billion dollars because of Kenney’s ideology, he budgeted 7.5 billion. For you and everyone else Kenney has been the worst Premier Alberta has ever had. And for your information the farmland I rent out the Renter is doing just fine.

      Reply
  5. Bob Raynard

    March 9th, 2020

    I see in Saturday’s Edmonton Journal Jason’s War Room took out a half page ad claiming that if India, China and SE Asia were to switch to natural gas the reduction in carbon dioxide would equal double Canada’s annual emissions. I’m not sure what the point of the ad was, but it sure feels good to see the war room spending money the UCP tells us we don’t have.

    Reply
    • Keith McClary

      March 9th, 2020

      “if India, China and SE Asia were to switch to natural gas”
      While we slowly phase out coal by 2030?
      (10% of the energy value of LNG is burned to liquify and transport it, so it would make more sense to convert Alberta plants first.)

      Did the ad also claim that Tar Sands “oil” is lower emissions than conventional oil?

      Reply
  6. Murphy

    March 9th, 2020

    Harpo’s worldview is about as sophisticated as that of a medieval peat-cutter. One of the great psychopathic neoliberal propagandists of the late twentieth century, Yegor Gaidar, spelled out very clearly how reliance on oil to fund an economy left that economy subject to the machinations of geo-politics:
    “Gaidar identified about a dozen structural, longer-term factors and several more immediate triggers whose confluence led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The predominant factor was the inefficiency of the Soviet economy, which could not cope with a sharp drop in revenues from oil exports. That drop caused the regime to default on its socio-political contract with the Soviet population, which was much more extensive and rigid than the one between President Vladimir Putin and the people of post-Soviet Russia, according to Gaidar. The Soviet regime didn’t pursue fundamental reforms in earnest even when its leaders realized that such reforms had become a matter of life and death. The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, stalled out of concern that the population and parts of the elite would not accept the painful sacrifices such reforms required. Gaidar, who can fairly be called the father of market reforms in post-Soviet Russia, argues that in the absence of action by the Soviet government falling oil prices triggered a “crisis in balance of payments and [the] accounting system that developed into a broader economic crisis and led to a steep decline in production and standards of living, political destabilization and finally collapse.””
    https://www.russiamatters.org/analysis/soviet-collapse-and-its-lessons-modern-russia-gaidar-revisited

    Some folks allege that the collapse in oil prices, which at that time smashed Canada as well as the Evil Empire, was the result of some sweet, sweet lovin’ between the CIA and the Saudis, who were the swing producers during the early eighties. Regardless of what prompted the collapse, the point to be taken by anyone who could read, was that oil dependence was a mug’s game.

    But not Harpo the scholar, who managed to write a hockey book while serving as PM. Somehow he had the time to read about amateur hockey in Toronto in the early twentieth century, but couldn’t bring himself to learn about the fracking revolution that was occurring, or the historical pitfalls of petro-states. But I suppose that 6000-year-old-earthers don’t put much stock in learning history.

    Reply
  7. Simon Renouf

    March 9th, 2020

    It’s instructive to recall that Harper’s belief in Canada as “a new energy superpower,” and a “global energy powerhouse” were always based not on the free market but rather Canada riding on the coat tails of the Russia/OPEC supply cartel. It’s probable that Russia and Saudi Arabia can make money selling $30 oil. How long could any Canadian producer afford to do so?

    Reply
    • Murphy

      March 10th, 2020

      Not a very stable compact between Russia and the Saudis.
      “Here’s what’s happening: Washington has persuaded the Saudis to flood the market with oil to push down prices, decimate Russia’s economy, and reduce Moscow’s resistance to further NATO encirclement and the spreading of US military bases across Central Asia.”
      https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/16/the-oil-coup/

      Seems to be the Empire lining up in the ol’ I formation that scored them a touchdown in ’86:
      “The timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to September 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market. During the next six months, oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms.

      As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive.”
      https://delong.typepad.com/egregious_moderation/2007/06/yegor_gaidar_th.html

      Reply
  8. alan

    March 9th, 2020

    Special K and Steve-O: Continuing on with that old Thatcher-Reagan zombie shuffle, with all of the same predictable results. Was it that long ago? It seems like it was only yesterday, with Special K both standing in for and aping Steve-O on the present day Alberta stage. Oh,those memories!

    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/corporate-canada-likes-harpers-tax-cuts—-but-it-likes-handouts-too/article1000036/

    And, don’t forget:

    “Closing in on a decade since the Harper government doled out nearly $14 billion to Chrysler Canada and General Motors Canada, Ottawa has written off $2.6 billion owed to taxpayers by a defunct arm of Chrysler.”

    https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/canadian-taxpayers-secretive-2-6-billion-gift-to-chrysler/

    What surprises does Special K have in store for Alberta Taxpayers? Whatever they may be, rest assured that they will be hidden far, far away, out of sight and out of mind. Down the old memory hole, away we go!

    Reply
    • Keith McClary

      March 11th, 2020

      Kenney is bragging about this $2.6 billion for “old Chrysler” shortly before it went bankrupt (essentially it was a gift to Chrysler’s secured creditors).
      “Back in 2008 and 2009, during the global financial crisis, we saw government around the world do extraordinary things to ensure economic stability, stability in financial markets here in Canada, ensuring the future of the auto sector and tens of thousands of jobs related to it in Ontario and Quebec’s manufacturing sector.”
      https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/we-need-the-government-of-canada-to-have-our-back-kenney-to-appeal-for-help-from-ottawa-1.4848229

      Reply
  9. Miss Molly

    March 9th, 2020

    When you see a duck? Do you really need to hear it quack?

    Reply
  10. Just Me

    March 9th, 2020

    Watching Kenney’s press conference today was revealing, in the sense that he is clearly nervous about the future that is unfolding for him.

    Alberta is fast heading to the abyss and all Kenney can go on about is his brilliant plan to save Alberta. Let’s set the record straight …

    Kenney has been lying since Day One. He proclaims to have the only solutions to all of Alberta’s ills, including a fat tax cut for those who don’t need it and massive spending cuts to teach his enemies who’s the boss. Further down that list of solutions includes threats, insulting PMJT, and praying that Andrew Scheer can win the election. When all that failed, the tantrums started, followed by more threats, more lies, more assaults on his enemies…yet the pit gets ever deeper.

    So, at today’s press conference, Kenney decided that, when looking over the edge into oblivion, he would be conciliatory and diplomatic. He spoke of a partnership with Ottawa and would would a list of immediate and help initiatives to revive Alberta’s devastated economy. Kenney spoke of needed capital works projects, included the massive $260B environmental clean up of redundant oil and gas wells. It’s a massive project, but one that is worthy of pursuit. For a second I thought Kenney was about to utter the phrase “social license”. He even spoke of reductions in carbon-emissions as a major step forward for the province. Did Rachel Notley just enter Jason Kenney’s body?

    After hurling all the insults at PMJT, can Kenney even get a productive audience over these iniatives? Then there’s the matter of Kenney declaring war against the CPC by endorsing his own candidate, Erin O’Toole, over the party’s wishes to favour Peter MacKay…Kenney is beginning to look like someone who’s running out of options.

    Meanwhile, his dreams of entering the PMO are fast slipping away.

    We’ll see if Tom Olsen and Matt Wolf even have jobs at the end of this month.

    Reply
  11. Keith McClary

    March 9th, 2020

    Kenney is probably thinking about free market solutions like the “Bank Policy Institute” suggests:
    “Actions the Fed Could Take in Response to COVID-19”
    https://bpi.com/actions-the-fed-could-take-in-response-to-covid-19/?utm_source=Bank+Policy+Institute

    The above is not satire, I think.

    For satire:
    “Experts scramble to figure out how global oil price crash the fault of Wet’suwet’en protestors”
    https://www.thebeaverton.com/2020/03/experts-scramble-to-figure-out-how-global-oil-price-crash-the-fault-of-wetsuweten-protestors/

    Re: The WAR Room, have you noticed that their pages load slowly. That’s because they have giant 14600kB (4121×2318 resolution) image files like :
    https://www.canadianenergycentre.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/GettyImages-178442742-e1583533144851.png

    For comparison, the G8 image at the top of this page is 76kB.

    After downloading the 14600kB file, your browser has to convert it to a much smaller resolution size to fit your screen.
    I wonder who does their web design – the same outfit that “designed” their logo?

    Reply
  12. dave insask

    March 10th, 2020

    what will he and moe to morrow I wonder. $28.50 is bad foroil

    Reply

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