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COMMENTARY · 9th January 2012
Al Lehmann
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has further solidified his reputation and role as capo for the oil industry. Not content with doing everything he could to destroy the development of an alternative energy economy in Canada, he appears to be ready and willing to curtail or even suspend civil liberties when it comes to any opposition to the plans of his corporate backers.

January 8, 2012’s CBC website reports Harper’s willingness to “look into measures to prevent the approval process for energy projects from being ‘hijacked’ by opponents of the developments.” According to the story, Harper is “prepared to review how public consultations are conducted to ensure they don’t get overloaded for the purpose of slowing down the process.” Canada “must have hearings…that can’t be unduly influenced.”

As usual, his pronouncements are somewhat ambiguous. What are “measures?” Measures to manage the G-8 meetings in Toronto in 2010 included massive police presence, a corrupted billion-dollar budget, and illegal detention (including in some cases strip-searching) of hundreds of people, many of whom were not even protesters.
Given this history, one can easily imagine hundreds of extra police deployed to limit the impact of First Nations’ or environmentalists’ demonstrations.

Over 4,000 people have registered to be heard by the Joint Review Panel, each of whom has a legitimate point of view on the advisability of building the Northern Gateway Project. Most of these are individual comments and, for want of a better word, testimony from people who take their role as democratic citizens seriously.

Compare this influence to the multi-million dollar public relations campaign funded by Enbridge itself, promoting its own interests at the potential expense of citizens of not only the region, but of the global commons. Is this not undue influence?

Consider the lobbying efforts of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. They not only nearly own Ottawa, but have spent lavishly to influence energy politics south of the border and in Europe, consistently defending and promoting tar sands oil production and marketing. They have succeeded in getting the Canadian government to threaten trade action against the European Union for categorizing tar sands oil as “dirty oil” based on its carbon footprint.

(It must be made clear, though, tar sands oil has a much larger carbon footprint than ordinary crude, i.e. it’s “dirtier,” so much worse that as one analyst put it, driving a Prius hybrid with tar sands fuel more or less turns its carbon footprint into that of a Hummer.)

Might not such extensive lobbying resulting in numerous expensive interventions by government on behalf of industry be considered undue influence?

Dubious polls, either unscientifically conducted or with misleading questions have recently provided unreliable information regarding British Columbians’ attitudes to the project.

An Ipsos-Reid poll found that supposedly 48% of our citizens approve of the project, but the question failed to mention oil tankers or the possibility of spills on the North Coast, a critical omission. Further, 55% of those polled admitted knowing little or nothing about the project. An online poll sponsored by the Vancouver Sun, completely lacking in random selection, found 78% of British Columbians opposed to the project. Neither of these polls is truly reliable.

It might be interesting to poll scientifically the question, “Do you believe that Prime Minister Harper should take steps to prevent citizens from exercising their democratic rights to be heard by the Joint Review Panel on the planned Enbridge Gateway Project?” Or, “Should Prime Minister Harper use armed police to prevent civil disobedience in the event that his government approve the Enbridge Gateway Project?”

To his credit, Skeena MP Nathan Cullen has vigorously criticized Harper’s comments. Other Opposition members have been strangely silent.

The so-called “Ethical Oil” lobby (almost like claiming “ethical asbestos” or “ethical DDT”) has tried to smear environmental opponents with red herrings about “foreign funding” interfering in Canadian affairs, as if the foreign shareholders of Enbridge or any of the corporations nosing their way into the tar sands and lobbying through the CAPP are not armpit deep in Canadian affairs.

This just in: in today’s Globe and Mail Harper’s Minister of Natural Resources wants to revamp the review board process to speed it up. The model they are looking at “has reduced the regulatory approvals process for many projects from four years to 22 months.” Notice that there is no suggestion that a project might not be approved. It’s meant to be understood that any projects the Conservatives like will be approved. Period.

Harper is ratcheting up the rhetoric, making it absolutely clear that he’s the oil industry’s man. If the political costs are not too high, it appears he would happily hijack the process himself.

Good on you
Comment by mike on 10th January 2012
Prime Minister Steven Harper speaks of “foreign money” behind opposition to Gateway.

President Assad of Syria speaks of "foreign terrorists" behind the protests.

Orwell would be pleased.