The drive-by smearing of Justin Trudeau — three months into his new government — is reaching comic proportions. iPolitics columnist Tasha Kheiriddin coined a clever phrase to describe Trudeau’s political style: the “Oprah-fication of Ottawa.”
Witty. Still beats the ‘Stalinization’ of Canada under the previous government. (Remember 24/7 — that publicly-funded PMO ‘news’ services that featured Stephen Harper as both subject and reporter?)
The sillier attacks on Trudeau’s style represent a continuing state of risible denial of what happened in Canada last October 19 — not to mention an unhealthy dose of contempt for the electoral process. The neocon nitpickers, including the Official Opposition, look like Donald Trump after Iowa — bitter, petulant, blaming the winner.
The latest nonsense out of the National Post (which is a business partner of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and acts the part on its news and opinion pages) is that Trudeau has somehow failed Alberta. That’s right — you’re meant to believe that the whole thing has unravelled (in three months) because Oprah is now in the driver’s seat. Forty years of provincial Tories and a decade of federal Conservatives had nothing to do with it.
Where to begin? First, when writers like Claudia Cattaneo at the Post speak of Alberta, they don’t mean the province. They mean the oil industry that continues to see the place as its personal campground.
That longstanding delusion was smashed by Albertans themselves when they elected an NDP majority government in the last provincial election. Alberta is much, much more than any single industry. More importantly, no single industry can or should dictate its own rules to government, at least not in a democracy.
It’s the oil industry itself that has a lot to account for, not Trudeau. It was the industry’s so-called “hardball” approach to resource extraction and pipeline development that turned off environmentalists, First Nations, unions, other provinces and, finally, an entire country.
How bad was this death march of arrogant incompetence? Bad enough. For ten years, the industry had a virtual free pass through the regulatory and environmental thickets of government. With a PC dynasty in power in Alberta and Stephen Harper running Ottawa, getting pipelines built should have been a slam-dunk.
Point one: Stephen Harper never did regulate the energy sector, despite his serial broken promises to do so from the day he won government. He carried a brief for the industry from day one. Ironically, his actions turned out to be detrimental to the very people he was trying to help. Harper got a hernia pushing their interests in the wrong direction.
Point two: Harper deconstructed what environmental protections Canada had in place for air, water and land, creating what he must have thought was an obstacle-free path to rapid extraction and marketing of non-renewable resources for his cosseted pet industry. In the process, he drew the ire of President Barack Obama by calling approval of the Keystone XL pipeline a “no-brainer.” Maybe Harper didn’t care about the environment; other people clearly did.
Point three: Harper expanded the powers of the National Energy Board and made a public agency the captive of the oil industry, stocking it with industry players.
It was a total abdication of the public interest. The game was rigged for the oilpatch; the hearings into projects like Northern Gateway were skewed to pro-pipeline interests, hemmed in by time quotas and limits on participants.
Worse, First Nations knew that their constitutional right to meaningful consultation had been abrogated. And even though approval of the project came in 2014 with 209 conditions, those conditions were largely authored by the project’s developer — Enbridge Inc. It was an institutional hustle — but the public still caught on.
What all of this thuggish industry and government “hardball” amounted to was failure — not one single new pipeline in ten years. Bulldozing the energy industry’s critics merely stiffened their resolve. The First Nations took the matter to court, where they’ve won ruling after ruling. The premier of British Columbia insisted that without a better deal, Northern Gateway was dead — whether it had its environmental certificates or not. The public lost all confidence in the regulatory process, leaving social consent for pipeline construction beyond reach to this day.
While the oilpatch continued to bury its nose in its navel, the world moved on from the misguided notion that environmental issues were merely token issues, to be brushed aside in the name of jobs and rapid resource development. Paris changed all that — but the industry, and a good few commentators, seemed not to notice. That turned out to be a profound mistake.
On the issue of the century — climate change — Harper led Canada out of the world community. Trudeau led the country back in, with a massive mandate. As he promised during the campaign of 2015, he has embarked on a plan to win back social license for pipeline development.
Get it boys? He’s on your side.
Trudeau’s measures include a climate change test on export pipelines and a moratorium on oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s northern coast. He also has pledged to re-invent the NEB as a truly public body, rather than an industry one, with a special pledge to assure the board reflects environmental expertise as well as industry knowledge.
Perhaps most important of all, Trudeau is attempting to re-set the trust relationship with First Nations — a relationship blown up by the previous government and industry players. If he is successful, projects like the Energy East and Trans Mountain may actually reach tidewater — instead of spending another ten years in the courts.
The game is no longer hardball. The game is now smart-ball. Time for the oilpatch and its cadre of cheerleaders to learn the rules. You’d think that ten years of failure would have made that — what’s the phrase? — a no-brainer.