Tough language, soft heads

Imagine for a moment that somebody wanted to build a zipline across your back yard. Let’s say that, thanks to minimal consultation and a cozy relationship with the city bylaw officers, that they want to tear up your land so that they can shoot through your property in a quick and effective manner. I’d imagine you wouldn’t be too thrilled about the idea, especially if they’d done it at someone else’s house and some ziplining wacko had ended up kicking one of their kids in the face.

“But think of the jobs this will create,” the company would be quick to reply. “Thousands of Canadians will work on this zipline, building and maintaining it!” “That’s very nice,” you might reply “but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to destroy my property, and I don’t want it there. What if someone falls on my property and wrecks my patio furniture?” “Poppycock,” says the zipline company “any damage will be reimbursed and cleaned up.” “I don’t care,” you might say “I don’t want people zooming through my yard. I don’t trust you to replace my furniture – my uncle carved it and it can’t be replaced that easily.”

Let’s say your neighbour came over and said “you know what, it’s probably not a good idea to run a zipline through hir property – it doesn’t seem safe at all.” The two of you stand resolute in opposition to what you see as a dangerous and unwelcome intrusion onto your land. What would that make you? A proud homeowner? A defiant citizen? A good custodian of your sovereign rights?

Nope, you would in fact be a dangerous, foreign-supported radical:

Environmental and other “radical groups” are trying to block trade and undermine Canada’s economy, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Monday. Oliver’s comments came one day before federal regulatory hearings begin on whether to approve Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which would deliver crude from Alberta’s oilsands to Kitimat, B.C., for shipment to Asia.

More than 4,300 people have signed up to address the proposed pipeline over the next 18 months. “Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade,” Oliver said in an open letter.

Once again the Republican North party reveals its favourite tactic: demonizing those who disagree. These are not groups who have a legitimate concern about the environmental impact of an oil pipeline through sensitive ecosystems; they are radicals hell-bent on throwing a monkey wrench in Canada’s economic progress. Never mind that, as Natural Resources Minister, Mr. Oliver has a vested economic interest in protecting all of Canada’s natural resources, not just those which can be sold in barrels.

The incredibly depressing thing about this baldly immature and mean-spirited attack against people who have a genuine (and justified) concern about the approval process is that it is not just normal spin. A smear like this from a newspaper or a television personality is one thing – this comes with the power of the federal government behind it:

Sources say the government isn’t just talking, CBC’s Margo McDiarmid reports, but will be targeting environmental groups when the House finance committee reviews charitable funding next month.

This has left the realm of legitimate political disagreement (even spirited disagreement) and has instead become abuse of power to silence a political opponent. While the Minister is free to mischaracterize and attempt to undermine those who oppose his government’s single-minded agenda to pump oil from Alberta to the coast over the objection of environmental groups and the people who live where the pipeline is going (who are conspicuously absent from the Minister’s conversation), he is not free to start McCarthy hearings to discredit and cripple opposition.

Of course, the Minister does sort of leads with his chin:

In an interview on CBC News Network, Oliver said radicals are “a group of people who don’t take into account the facts but are driven by an ideological imperative.”

Given the fact that his government has repeatedly revealed itself to be openly contemptuous of facts (whether in communicating science, the census debacle, or with their crime bill), I think Mr. Oliver should perhaps choose his words a bit more carefully.

The Republican North machine also promises that this will be the tenor of all such debates:

The branding of opponents as “radicals” is part of a strategy to make sure the pipeline gets built, argues Tom Flanagan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff and an expert on aboriginal issues. Flanagan said there is a concerted world-wide attack against the oil industry. Neither the government nor the industry paid much attention for a long time.

But Flanagan said postponement of the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States was a wake-up call. “Shrugging it off, I don’t think, is good enough anymore. It’s a battle and you have to start pushing back,” said Flanagan, who is also a frequent contributor to CBC-TV’s Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.

So we have this to look forward to. Red herrings, straw men and character assassinations in the place of serious debate, backed up with the threat of governmental investigation if you fail to adhere to the PMO’s wishes. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Government of Canada (excuse me, the Harper Government). At least they’re standing up and fighting the good fight for the poor, beleaguered oil companies who are just trying to get a fair shake in this profoundly unfair world, right?

I don’t know how much naked avarice and megalomania the government will have to demonstrate in order for people to recognize that we have a serious problem in Ottawa. I thought for sure that the last 6 years would have been enough to make the case against them self-evident, but I have apparently either overestimated the perceptive abilities of my fellow countrymen, or underestimated the level of their apathy.

I will leave you with this:

Oliver told reporters Wednesday he was not branding all environmentalists as radicals, but he defended his letter. “I thought we’d just get the facts out without being politically correct about it,” Oliver said.

Or… y’know… factually correct…

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  1. julian says

    or underestimated the level of their apathy.

    That’s probably it.

    Most people genuinely don’t give a fuck about anything and will proclaim it proudly. They think it a point of virtue.

  2. iknklast says

    Yes, we’re going through the exact same thing here in the Midwestern US(the Keystone Pipeline you mentioned). Problem is, most of the so-called “radicals” here are fine with the pipeline, as long as it tears up someone else’s backyard. So we’ve got the situation right now of “finding a better route so it doesn’t go through Nebraska’s sandhills”. People want cheap gas and lots of it; they just don’t want to have it produced or delivered where they have to look at the environmental destruction.

  3. chigau (同じ) says

    I think we (Canada) should not build all these pipelines to ship away “our” oil.
    We should keep it.

  4. jolo5309 says

    Not that I am disagreeing with most of your post, but can you name a governing party that does not “demonize their opponent”?

    We should be keeping the oil anyway and processing it here…

  5. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    Yes, we should be keeping the oil here. We should be keeping the oil here in the ground.

  6. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    It really saddens and amazes me that people actually voted for this party, which will use its “mandate” to inflict harm that will take years to reverse, if reversal is even possible in some cases. Legislation can always be rewritten, replaced or overturned by future governments, but environmental damage is not so easily repaired, at least on a timescale useful to humans. The oil companies know their time is running out and they have to sell their drug while it’s still legal and profitable to do so in such a way that the true costs of its production and use are paid for by others. Time to turn those “externalities” into part of the price of the product.

  7. says

    Not that I am disagreeing with most of your post, but can you name a governing party that does not “demonize their opponent”?

    Not saying they don’t but the democrat party in the US and Liberals in general do have a problem taking their own side and fetishize a concept of fairness that keeps them from going for the obvious chinks in an opponents armor.

  8. jolo5309 says

    Yes, we should be keeping the oil here. We should be keeping the oil here in the ground.

    Good luck on that, the world is too married to fossil fuels to do that until there is something to change to. This won’t happen until oil gets too expensive because of it’s scarcity.

    We should realistically be building more nuclear reactors to replace coal power plants, building more wind farms and trying to increase the efficiency of solar power, but all of these require energy as well to build (much of it fossil fuels), so until we can replace fossil fuels with something else, leaving oil in the ground is a pipe dream.

  9. says

    Actions like this are par for the course for the Cons. By throwing mud they don’t seek to win anyone else to their side, but they do suppress the average voter who paints all politicians with the same brush. The evils of the Cons are well known but the job of the Liberals and the NDP is now to present a positive alternative.

  10. says

    It’s actually a little more complex than a simple demonisation of environmentalists, though it certainly has that effect. The oil industry and their friends the Cons see a Machiavellian scheme to force Canada to sell their oil only to the US.

    If the oil-sands are able to get access to ports (either through Keystone or Northern Gateway), they can sell to Asia, which drives up demand. As it stands, oil-sands produced oil sells at about 30$/barrel less than traditional light sweet crude which effectively means cheaper energy for them. If Canada gets access to Asia, that 30$ discount would diminish significantly.

    To support their accusation, they’re pointing to organizations like the Pew family which founded Sun Oil (now SunCorp) and funnels money to some of the so-called “radicals” opposing Northern Gateway. How much can be inferred from this is anyone’s guess, but the minister was way out of line either way.

  11. P Smith says

    Unfortunately, countries which try to keep something which the US wants have the annoying habit of causing US military interventions.

    It’s their own fault for not serving US interests to the detriment of their own.


  12. P Smith says

    Hear, hear.

    Tar sands oil is one of the worst to extract and process. Most oil is easy to extra – drill a hole and suck it out. Tar sands require a lot of energy to produce and refine it.

    I’ve heard estimates that normal drilling is about 5:1, or 5 barrels produced for every 1 barrel of energy used to extract it. Tar sands estimates are said to be 2:1 at best, and probably worse.

    It may be profitable on a financial sheet, but it’s horrendously inefficient and far more damaging to the environment, especially when you consider where most tar sand oil is – directly under large areas of forest.

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