Phil Burpee, Columnist
Burpee is a carpenter and farmer living north
of Pincher Creek. He keeps an eye on the
world from under the big Alberta sky.
Somewhere up on a high rock ridge, far, far up in amongst the ramparts of the Rocky Mountains, beneath the watchful gaze of the golden eagle and the grizzly bear, as lightning crackles and thunder booms, a mighty dust-up is shaking the very foundations of the great mountain chain that separates the proud and vast Queendoms of British Columbia and Alberta. Two Great Mothers, two towering titans of their respective multitudes, are squared off in a steaming, stomping, stupefying fracas, each possessed of a fiery heart beating hotly within a swelling bosom of righteousness and stalwart intransigence. Christy and Alison, the sharp-tongued and ruthless champions of our neighbouring provinces, are nose to nose, staring each other down, fingers fidgeting on their legislative pistols, eyes steely and unblinking, each ready in an instant to drop the other one without mercy should she weaken or even flinch. The birds have fallen silent. The very clouds themselves seem to hang nervously along the mountain-tops. And high overhead, the jet planes give the showdown a wide birth, fearing the sudden turbulence that could erupt at any second should the Premiers suddenly throw down, and lock into a dreadful, tearing combat. For Alison has come with her oozing pipeline – and Christy is in no toying mood.
So indeed, the once breezy and foregone-conclusion-sort-of-plan to drape a bitumen slurry pipeline from the Tarsands to the B.C. coast at Kitimat has run into a wholly unexpected snag in the estimable person of the Premier of British Columbia, the Honourable Christy Clark. Well, I have to say this situation is not without a certain irony, especially given that her opponent is none other than the crisp and cerebral Alison Redford, Premier of the Patch over here this side of the map. Because anybody who remembers Ms. Clark (aka the Wicked Witch of West, the Bad Girl) from back in the day will recall her waging war on teachers and the school system in general, along with various other miscreants, all the while grinning that Cheshire Cat grin, even as she slipped the dagger in amongst the ribs of her various opponents – hardly a bastion of propriety and public sensitivity. And as to Ms. Redford, the irony runs very deep indeed, given that this former human rights lawyer now finds herself plumping for the Chinese national interest – an interest firmly ensconced within a framework of totalitarian capitalism, wherein any questioning as to either the integrity or advisability of state policy can net the questioner a quick and threatening censure at the very least, and more likely direct harassment from the authorities, along with a probable stretch in the none-too-amenable slammer.
Christy Clark seems to have found her stride here, though. She had been tanking in the polls, and had kept notably quiet on the whole Northern Gateway affair, claiming the wisdom of due process and a wait-and-see sort of stance. But such has been the pompous and crowing arrogance of both the governments of Stephen Harper and Stelmach/Redford, and so diabolically stupid is the plan to run hot, corrosive, solvent-laden bitumen slurry across a thousand streams and rivers to waiting Chinese super-tankers along a violent and rock-infested coastline, that the citizenry of B.C. has risen up in outrage and anger, and made it impossible for Premier Clark to hang on the sidelines. And perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the whole thing is that what Ms. Clark has been forced by her unruly electorate to undertake is the nearest thing we have seen to date to an actual long-term cost-benefit analysis of the whole pipeline proposal – an analysis, I might add, which has never come from the proponents, perhaps for obvious reasons, but which would otherwise be fundamental to any serious business proposal – at least one that wasn’t based purely on cud-chewing laziness, geo-politics, and pure, unbridled greed.
And then there’s Enbridge Corp. – oh dear. These are the guys who want to build this pipeline. These are also the guys who need to go down to the nearest drug store and stock up immediately on a case or two of Depends, because they are having quite a bit of difficulty of late with incontinence – unseemly leakage from various orifices. This rat’s-nest of a corporation is so busy planning their next foray into the Big Sandbox, that they can’t even remember to supply enough duct tape to their fieldmen for patching up the ancient, dribbling, spewing network of crude oil arteries that criss-cross the continent. And, in a quirky reversal on historical patterns of regard between our two countries, ask an American now what he thinks of Canada, and he will likely cite the concerns of a downtrodden victim of national economic imperialism from those damn Canucks and their rapacious energy corporations. No longer the weeny beaver and maple syrup and toothless hockey players spring to the Yankee mind, but rather filthy, unregulated corporate monstrosities reaching out their suppurating tentacles across virgin lands, levering citizens out of the way with threats and eminent domain, and leaving behind a toxic residue of spillage, incompetence, resentment, and transparent excuses. Quite the spectacle.
Cost benefit necessarily and primarily comprises risk analysis – six year-olds don’t head out to the curb to set up their lemonade stand without some sense that the enterprise will reap benefits, both monetary and in the manner of the satisfaction associated with delivering a valuable, healthful, sustainable and well–appreciated product. And, of course, they see to it that they have solid and creditable backers in the persons of Mom and Dad to offer not only collateral, but most importantly a safety net should the I.P.O. (Initial Public Offering) run into unforeseen difficulties in the marketplace (viz. rain). But in this sordid business of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, risk analysis is, with blinding idiocy, vacuously deferred, not only in the pointed threat of a spill, but most egregiously in the blithe refusal to factor in the extent to which the release of further mega-tons of carbon into the atmosphere constitutes a direct transferral of risk to future generations – an appallingly numb-skulled manoeuvre. For both the moral and the environmental responsibility associated with perpetrating a process which will have undeniable and unforeseen deleterious effects on the lives of as yet unborn children goes beyond mere carelessness, and becomes rather a wilful acquiescence to the visiting of a blight upon our collective progeny.
So Christy says – “Show me the money!” And Alison says – “Go pound sand! You’re not getting a nickel! It’s OURS!” And that might be the end of it if it were some pokey little lumber deal or highway project. But it is far from that. And here we see the particularly interesting spectre of constitutional politics enter the fray. For it is not within the powers of the province of British Columbia, within the frameworks of the British North America Act (B.N.A.), our patriated constitution, and/or various inter-provincial, national/international trade statutes, to veto such a thing as the Gateway pipeline. Ultimately, Ottawa has the bully pulpit here and, in the final analysis, could legally and technically over-ride the wishes of the government of B.C. Ms. Clark knows this, but of course continues to speak as though it were not the case, because she knows all too well that the resultant shit-storm that would ensue from the Federal Government directly contravening the popular will of an entire province as manifested through their provincial legislature would consume Mr. Harper’s government, and reveal it once and for all for what it really is – a sycophantic clutch of apologists for the corporate sector, imaginationless law and order knuckle-heads, and short-sighted opportunists, addicted to efficacy and the suppression of science and diversified thought.
It’s fun though. We haven’t had a good constitutional crisis for years. And although neither a provincial government nor a united front of concerned environmental and citizens’ groups can directly prevent the building of this pipeline, this is not the case with our Aboriginal sisters and brothers. Because, you see, in our haste to wrap up the final subjugation of this continent during the colonial period, we neglected to affect treaties for almost the entire land mass of B.C. – just took the map and drew it in – called it a done deal. But it’s not a done deal at all. Delgamuuk vs. Regina has shown this to be so. The majority of First Nations in B.C., especially up north, have never relinquished title to their lands. Virtually all the land across which the Northern Gateway is anticipated to be laid is still under land claim negotiations between the various Native jurisdictions and the provincial and national Crowns. And these peoples have been repeatedly dumped on by both Enbridge and the governments of Alberta and Canada – lumped in with radicals and foreigners and agitators and traitors of one stripe or another. So, they’re in a growly mood up there. And as little respect as they might have for the B.C. government after years and years of cheating and abuse, they are now hearing loud and clear that Premier Clark will not budge on this matter without their full, immediate and complete agreement and complicity with any or all of the ins and outs of the current proposal.
Well, did we really think this was going to fly? Will it have escaped the notice of history that 21st century Alberta so utterly ran out of ideas that all it could manage to do was to annex itself to a bankrupt ideology of growth, consumption, whoredom to the highest bidder, and the vilification of those for whom community means something other than pandering to people’s worst excesses? And even if the rapid, accelerating exploitation of the finite resource in the Athabasca had any merit, which it patently does not, even the notion of processing the bitumen into useable hydrocarbon products here in Alberta, or even Canada, doesn’t even get lip-service. The profit-margins are too narrow for the private sector, and the province doesn’t have the chutzpah to tie such processing stipulations to rights of access to the resource. The government of Alberta won’t, of course, do the processing itself for philosophical reasons – any state enterprise being tantamount to the slippery slope to communism – let Market-forces prevail. But it’s OK to sell the stuff to commies, who are quite handy with state enterprise, so the best we can dream up is to sell it to the Chinese at fire-sale prices (they’re already buying up the extraction facilities anyway) – if only we can get this damn pipe stretched out over to the Big Water and onward to the Middle Kingdom!
So, I’m with the Bad Girl on this one. And Alison Redford can squawk and fuss as she will, but all she’s ever going to look like is a ridiculous, insincere, blustering pin-striped gladiator for an imperial gallery of spoiled buffoons and dim-witted babies – waah waah waah – “We want stuff! We want stuff noooow! It’s miiiine!” Now at least some politician in a position of power is questioning, at quite a deep level, the credentials of a big chunk of current so-called Economic Wisdom. What is the actual price of growth? What are the real risks of further toying with carbon-heavy technologies and commerce? To what extent must the voices of the people be heard, and at what juncture must they carry the day? When will we learn that the private sector will not look out for future generations, nor will they accept responsibility for significant environmental catastrophe, preferring to lawyer their way out of payment and leaving it to the public purse? – Exxon still hasn’t paid a penny for their escapade in Prince William Sound with the Exxon Valdez these twenty years past – and they never will. In short, when will reason replace impulse, and when will we stop to truly consider the actual cost of short-term prosperity. As political and business commentator Marjorie Kelly notes: - “Our politics and economy are so intertwined that imbalances in wealth and ownership have eroded our political democracy. To fix this we need to democratize the economic aspect of our sovereignty.” Indeed. We are so often told by our ‘leaders’ that such resources as the Athabasca tarsands belong to the people of Alberta through the agency and trust of the Crown. Nothing in the conduct of either the government or the business sector involved with the exploitation of these resources, however, gives any indication that these are anything other than weasel words. ‘For the greater good of all Albertans’ – balderdash!
I trust Christy Clark about as far as I could throw her, but I like it that she’s operating outside the usual box. She’s flipping the bird to the presumptions of some very fat power blocs in this country right now, and for that I say ‘Bully for you Bad Girl.’ Because when the Big Guys send their dogs over to squeeze a coupla warm fresh ones into your sandbox, somebody’s gotta stand up and holler it out – “Hey! Just what the hell do ya think yer doin’ over here?! Go on - git!”
July 28, 2012