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Blame Canada: Greedy for oil money, the country is turning into a rogue petrostate

Blame Canada: Greedy for oil money, the country is turning into a rogue petrostate thumbnail

When I recently interviewed Canadian artist Franke James, whose outspoken appeals to her government for climate action landed her on Ottawa’s shit list, I was taken aback to hear her casually refer to her country as a “petrostate.” I knew Canada’s been spending gobs of federal money to promote its tar-sands agenda, but I didn’t realize our mild-mannered northern neighbor was approaching the ranks of Saudi Arabia and Nigeria in its single-minded embrace of oil as the nation’s lifeblood.

An unforgiving article in the latest Foreign Policy magazine lays out how conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been aggressively pursuing development of the Alberta oil sands and remaking the country in the political image of the George W. Bush-era United States:

Over the last decade, as oil prices increased fivefold, oil companies invested approximately $160 billion to develop bitumen in Alberta, and it has finally turned profitable. Canada is now cranking out 1.7 million barrels a day of the stuff, and scheduled production stands to fill provincial and federal government coffers with about $120 billion in rent and royalties by 2020. More than 40 percent of that haul goes directly to the federal government largely in the form of corporate taxes. And the government wants even more; it’s pushing for production to hit 5 million barrels a day by 2030. …

Unsurprisingly, Ottawa has become a master at the cynical art of greenwashing. When Harper’s ministers aren’t attacking former NASA scientist and climate change canary James Hansen in the pages of the New York Times or lobbying against Europe’s Fuel Quality Directive (which regards bitumen as much dirtier than conventional oil), his government has spent $100 million since 2009 on ads to convince Canadians that exporting this oil is “responsible resource development.” Meanwhile, Canada has bent over backward to entice Beijing. Three state-owned Chinese oil companies (all with dismal records of corporate transparency and environmental sensitivity) have already spent more than $20 billion purchasing rights to oil sands in Alberta.

Harper, elected in 2006, is risking his country’s political and ecological security by exploiting what Foreign Policy calls “the world’s most volatile resource.” Mining operations in Alberta have already generated 6 billion barrels of toxic sludge, enough to flood Washington, D.C., and an area of forest six times the size of New York City could be excavated if approved projects proceed. Meanwhile, a secret document leaked to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last fall reveals a sinister foreign-policy strategy: “To succeed [in becoming an energy superpower] we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align.”

For all of this to pay off, Canada is counting on a global market for its oil. Exports to the U.S., its biggest customer, have declined, and fighting over the Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t help. So, per that leaked memo, Canada is setting aside human-rights concerns in favor of trade deals with China. (Most bizarre detail in the article: “And, perhaps to warm Canadians’ hearts to the Chinese, the government recently lobbied to rent two traveling pandas at a cost of $10 million over the next 10 years.”)

This reckless pursuit of oil wealth requires a heavy dose of climate denial. The Harper government has eliminated or drastically reduced funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the national park system, the CBC, and the Health Council of Canada; it disbanded Environment Canada’s Adaptation to Climate Change Research Group, eliminated the position of chief science advisor, and gutted the Fisheries Act. Reporters must have questions approved before they can speak with any federal scientists. Oh, and Harper called the Kyoto Protocol a “socialist scheme” — before pulling his country out of the accord altogether.

So if Keystone XL is approved and built and ends up leaking dirty oil into the Ogallala aquifer, if the climate becomes fucked even faster thanks to all that tar-sands oil being burned, we can blame Canada.

Grist



14 Comments on "Blame Canada: Greedy for oil money, the country is turning into a rogue petrostate"

  1. Plantagenet on Tue, 25th Jun 2013 11:23 pm 

    It isn’t Canada’s fault we are living in the oil age.

  2. Steve H on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 12:40 am 

    Harper is the worst PM that Canada has ever had. Blame Harper, but at the same time,blame the US of A that still wants all that sludgy bitumen.

  3. dissident on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 12:44 am 

    Harper gets away with murder because the Canadian media gives him a free ride. This clown prorogued parliament twice for petty political reasons. He should have been impeached for this dictatorial BS. I can’t imagine Trudeau ever getting this sort of free ride. He legitimately applied the War Measures Act against the FLQ terrorists and was raked over the coals for it.

  4. DC on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 1:25 am 

    The idea, that Canadians control there own resources is laughable, but Grist, seems to think we do. Canada never met a US oil corporation it didn’t like. They are ones that control Canadas energy. NAFTA in fact, explicitly forbids Canada from exercising any meaningful control over its own resources. The Tar-sands is in fact, a US controlled and directed operation. Grists characterization of Harper, however, is more or less accurate, though it completely omits to mention Harper is little more than a puppet of the United States. Next to Saudi Arabia, it would be hard to find anyone more slavishly devoted to his US masters.

  5. Others on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 1:30 am 

    While America fracks, Canada mines Tar sands to upgrade it to higher value transport fuels.

    Solution is this. Unless we switch over to AFVs, the plunder of planet will continue.

    http://www.chevrolet.com/spark-ev-electric-vehicle/specs/dimensions.html

  6. rollin on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 1:48 am 

    Blame the US, Canada, OPEC, Russia, etc. ad nauseum. What’s to blame, you pay for all this everytime you fill up at the pump, burn heating oil or buy and use a myriad of products. Oil is the heart blood of this civilization.

    We have new information about all the harmful effects of both oil and industrial civilization. But who in their right mind thinks it will turn around on a dime after taking 10,000 years to build to this point? It is not realistic.

    Geological constraints have not stopped the oil juggernaut, economic ones have only slowed it; so what will it take to put the brakes on?

  7. BillT on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 3:50 am 

    Rollin, thanks for making them look into the mirror. I wonder when so greedy politicization will realize that there are billions of barrels of oil in the asphalt roads running across America? A little heat and a few chemicals and we could go to Walmart on a gravel road with that gas in our tanks. (I don’t own a car, btw.)

    And all you N.A.U. deniers, don’t you see the chains being forged? They own you…

  8. BillT on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 3:52 am 

    Rollin, thanks for making them look into the mirror. I wonder when some greedy politician will realize that there are billions of barrels of oil in the asphalt roads running across America? A little heat and a few chemicals and we could go to Walmart on a gravel road with that gas in our tanks. (I don’t own a car, btw.)

    And all you N.A.U. deniers, don’t you see the chains being forged? They own you…

  9. paulo1 on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 4:14 am 

    re: the statement….,”Canada is setting aside human-rights concerns in favor of trade deals with China.”

    And Walmart is from where? Their products come from where? US debt is bought by who? I guess Canada could/should simply sell the oil to US consumers, except that Canada doesn’t sell the oil…the companies that produce it do the selling. They are publicly traded. Harper is a terrible PM but at least some of us are able to find jobs and pay the bills because of our resource extraction economy. And we do have a proper medical system for Canadian citizens along with pretty decent life expectancy. If Harper tried to limit the purchasing of oil on the open market for ideaology ala Chavez/Venezuala, we would be invaded, (most likely for the oil!!)

    Next up…water. Pretty soon all those dry states will look at the map and muse on diverting water down the Rocky Mtn Trench, (and Canada will be cursed for not doing so.) Don’t like refined oil sands products? Don’t buy them. Someone else will.

  10. BillT on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 10:36 am 

    paulo, only if they can get them out of the country…lol.

  11. Arthur on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 12:40 pm 

    I agree with rollin that blaming does not bring us anywhere, we are just as ‘complicit’ as big oil… we made them big oil. Instead we should concentrate on what needs to be done.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9VOuvJH_Q4

  12. foxv on Wed, 26th Jun 2013 2:31 pm 

    I really like his conclusion:
    “So if Keystone XL is approved and built and ends up leaking dirty oil into the Ogallala aquifer, if the climate becomes fucked even faster thanks to all that tar-sands oil being burned, we can blame Canada.”

    So if the US builds a pipe line, pollutes its environment, and causes global warming, “Blame Canada”

    What a whiner. This article misses the fact that most Canadians actually don’t want to export our oil and would like to keep it at home. But the point of the article is to find a scapegoat and not report facts.

    But ya, Harper is obviously the PM of Alberta and not the PM of Canada. As a Canadian I am embarrassed by it.

  13. Harquebus on Thu, 27th Jun 2013 1:40 am 

    I’ll bet Greece, Spain, Portugal etc. will not be on the customer list. Whatever it costs today to extract, it will cost even more tomorrow.

  14. klem on Tue, 2nd Jul 2013 2:47 pm 

    “if the climate becomes fucked even faster thanks to all that tar-sands oil being burned, we can blame Canada.”

    Um, doesn’t that imply that if the climate becomes fucked slower thanks to all that tar-sands oil being burned, you can’t blame Canada?

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