Rex Murphy: How much more can Canadians ask Alberta to take?
(Re-printed without permission from the National Post. This is so good it requires its own page)
If cars and trains and planes could run on green sanctimony, in the age of Justin Trudeau, Canada would be Kuwait. But of course they don’t. And in Save the Auto Pact week, which is how I would characterize Chrystia Freeland’s frantic return from Europe and Ukraine to Washington, to answer Mr. Trump’s summons and catch up with her Mexican “partners,” who would have guessed that a federal court would shoot a thunderbolt at the industry that allows all those cars to do what cars do in the first place?
Poor battered Fort McMurray — what’s left for them after fire, flood, world prices and a court’s curt quash? A plague of frogs and locusts and perhaps an eclipse of the sun, just for variety.
This careless government has careened from one bungle and self-manufactured crisis to another. From India, to Saudi Arabia, to Washington this week, it’s either catch-up, incompetence or peacock risibility. And as Ms. Freeland and her team pulled sophomore “all-nighters” to save free trade and appease the angry god in the White House, dear Alberta learned there was no way they will be able to trade their oil whatever way NAFTA goes.
For the pipeline, the pipeline we had to buy because Canadians didn’t support it correctly in the first place, is now on hold, which is Liberalese for “you will not see this in your lifetime.” Finance Minister Bill Morneau extended the novel explanation that the decision was a good thing, which raised questions on just which asteroid he was reporting from. Catherine McKenna, minister of climate change, still on the straw crusade, had less or nothing to say, apart from a dart at Doug Ford — which is her latest Twitter hobby — even as a much disappointed Rachel Notley (finally) in principle abandoned co-operation with federal carbon plans.
Ms. Freeland may or may not save the Canadian bacon in Washington — it’s unclear as I write. But the mess that has fallen on Canadian politics, and provincial relations, emphatically those with Alberta, though other provinces are closely involved, as a result of the guillotining of the Trans Mountain pipeline, will not swiftly or easily be repaired. It is a massive fail. The strains and contests it will inspire within this happy Confederation will be compelling as any distempers with deal-maker Trump.
How was it then, that Alberta got shafted once again? And how many of the “slings and arrows of outrageous” greenism can or will Alberta take?
To begin at the beginning, you cannot placate the implacable. The dynamic between those who want an oil and gas industry, and the groups ideologically possessed to oppose one, is that the latter have one position and one position only: to end oil and gas in Canada. Whenever greens or their myriad fronts offer a mid-point position, a compromise, it is merely mouth-work, a moving of the lips for tactical reasons or spurious manoeuvre.
Those who harbour (or once did — Rachel Notley) the idea that there is a middle ground with green and global warming totalism, their dead-ender commitment to world-scale, Paris-stamped, UN-mustered global greenism — have simply not been watching or listening. Green environmentalism is fundamentalist. The government in Ottawa, both by disposition and ideologically, is far more to the green side of the world than it is or ever will be to its own and Alberta’s oil and gas industry. Paris before Calgary, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”
From the first day in office, to the present minute, when has there been just one full speech in any national or international forum when Mr. Trudeau, with that great dramatic gravity of his, made the real case for Canada’s oil and gas? Where have been the delegations led by him to showcase the Fort McMurray oil sands, to highlight the advanced technology, praise the engineering, sit down with the workers, meet the municipal leaders? In all the causes he really supports, he leads the parade and adds the precious glitter of his presence.
The consequence of all this nothing — nothing is a force — is that the demonstrations and protests and international gang-ups on Fort McMurray and the oilsands have been unanswered. That an atmosphere has been produced in which the case for Alberta has to be made, every time afresh, and from an established negative baseline. The “antis” have had the stage unopposed, indeed given tacit sanction, the negatives allowed to snowball. Indigenous opposition blares in every press report. Indigenous support an afterthought and a whisper.
These are the atmospherics in which decisions are made: a structured and long-nourished hostility toward the idea of oil and gas energy; an unexamined moral supremacy afforded opposition to energy projects; an eagerness to display concert with those “fighting” for Nature and all her handiworks; an embedded predisposing to overlook the “mundane” concern for jobs and those who haven’t got them; a total indisposition to inquire into either the funding or motivation of organizations whose raison d’etre is protest and obstruction coupled with an overwhelming disposition to see only greed and rapacity on the industry side. This in the mindset, the mentality, in which current progressive thought is fixed, and it is in the ascendant. It is, most fatally, the mindset of the Trudeau government, whose concern for its environmentalist credentials and its thirst for the admiration of global progressive voices is its deepest political emotion.
What chance has a hinterland town like Fort McMurray against this array? Those who think that “environmental review” is about reviewing the environment have lost the plot. In our new green world the purpose of environmental review is to extend the time and space for opposition to invent new objections, and invite fresh protests. The process, as it is lovingly called, is always more important than the project. The thing reviewed is always less significant than the review itself.
The infatuation with process and the counterfeit search for social licence — the theatre of moralist environmentalism — will always trump the plain common sense of the demands of a purposeful national economy. It will always give glancing afterthought to the common experience of people working or looking to do so, to projects that vitalize communities, and keep alive the spirit of individual and collective enterprise that has always attended “doing an honest day’s work for an honest dollar.”
Thus this week’s court decision was neither singular nor defining. It was just one more stammer in a long pattern of stammering, the latest rock on the road, one fortified by the mentality that governs the long-prevalent bias against this one industry, the dismissal of “Albertan” concerns as always secondary to more “principled” ones, and just another thread in an extremely well-woven tapestry.
Underwriting this suffocating octopus of intervention and delay is the famous axiom uttered by a yet-to-be prime minister: “Governments can grant permits; only communities can grant permission.” That line, like so many other of his mini-thoughts on complex issues, has brought a harvest of faction, and offers a straight line to the latest bad news for Alberta this week.