One of the first solid impressions I had of Canada soon after I first arrived here in 1954, was that the people, on the whole, seemed to be totally unworried that their country was under the economic control and ownership of the big neighbour to the south.
A decade later, the somewhat incoherent Diefenbaker government attempted to keep Canada free of nuclear weapons by rejecting the Bomarc missile offered from the United States. Diefenbaker’s gesture of defiance was undermined by the Liberal party with the support of the nation’s movers and shakers, who were the business class and the owners of wealth.
In 1965, a book appeared that is still regarded as one of the most important ever written by a Canadian. It was called Lament for a Nation, the Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, and was written by a conservative philosopher George Grant, whose central theme --- at least, this is the main message that I took from the book --- was that every action taken to wrest economic control back from the United States had always been met with resistance from the Canadian establishment.
The book led to an upsurge of nationalist feeling in Canada, and to the eventual establishment of a more cautious approach to Americans buying up our enterprises, as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau initiated a Foreign Investment Review Agency that assessed takeovers based on their contribution to job creation, Canadian participation in management, and compatibility with federal and provincial economic policies. This was showing excellent results in restoring, for example, national ownership of major industries, until the election of Brian Mulroney’s Progressive-Conservative government in 1985 revamped the legislation and severely reduced its mandate.
I am reminded of all this by the remarkable spectacle offered by the quarrel over the Kinder Morgan pipeline designed to carry bitumenized oil from the severely polluting Tar Sands of Alberta to the West Coast for trans-shipment to China. For here we have the modern version of the 1960s nationalist dilemma. We have the Liberal Prime Minister, in fact, the son of the leader who stood for the nationalist control of our resources, unashamedly putting all his marbles behind an effort by a Houston-based company to blackmail our political establishment to ensure we do as bidden by this Texas company, which is self-confessedly motivated only by a concern for its shareholders.
Yes, sir, says young Mr. Trudeau, springing to attention with a salute; and yes, sir, says the NDP leader of Alberta, alongside him: we will do what you say, even if we have to pay billions of dollars to give you what you want! After all it’s not our money: it comes from the taxpaxyers!
So far have they taken this surrender that they have even stopped mentioning that this pipeline proposal will inevitably lead to an expansion of the production of this heavily-polluting Tar Sands oil, which, according to the best estimates, would blow out of the water any hope that Canada could meet the targets in carbon emissions to which we have pledged ourselves in the Paris accords for dealing with climate change. Trudeau and his minister for the environment Catherine McKenna frame the dilemma as one of only “getting our resources to market.” When Trudeau says Canada is back on the world stage, he must mean we are back as the bad example that could lead the world to inaction on its major challenge.
Someone should tell them that of all the sources of buried energy that exist in the world, this is probably the leader on the list of “should be left in the ground.”
On the other hand, one might think that they should already know that: which, if true, exposes them to the accusation that they are supporting, not the preservation of the beautiful West Coast of Canada, not the preservation of the Canadian landscape from the indefinite expanding excrescence that is the Tar Sands site, and not the future of humanity and of the Earth and its life support systems, but merely the profits promised to the shareholders of a Texas oil company, above every other consideration, and be damned to the consequences!
British Columbians have shown themselves in the past to be ready to fling themselves in the path of the bulldozers, as it were: in defence of the Clayquot Sound forests in 1993 more than 800 people were arrested, and some of them were given harsh sentences. But a scientific panel established consequent to their protests made 127 recommendations for changed logging practices that were accepted by the government, and put into action.
Unless I am mistaken, once again the protesters, environmental and First Nations alike, are not likely to fold up their tents and steal away, leaving the field to the oligarchs and their representatives in government. Mr Trudeau and his acolytes Ms. McKenna and Ms. Notley can chunter on all they like about whose jurisdiction is being violated: they have already received their answer, it is the defence of the Earth and its inhabitants that is paramount.