From Canada’s Election to Public Action

Beyond the Alberta Tar-Sands

For months, during and after Canada’s 2019 federal election campaign, corporate media provided daily frontpage news space for Alberta’s non-stop demands for more tar-sands-export infrastructure through British Columbia, as well as space for discrediting stories on the Trudeau government for his attempt at questionable legal protection of a Quebec big business and for his playing blackface in a youthful costume.

No-one joined the dots or mentioned the words ‘Big Oil’.

Throughout this time, provincial Alberta’s fury was reported daily, coinciding with federal environmental reviews, court proceedings and limits on planned massive transportation of Alberta’s US-dominated tar-sand crude through Canada and First Nations’ territories.

Media Scrubbed

The critical spotlight on Justin Trudeau was never associated with the powerful oil lobby across borders or the Koch brothers and the US Republican far right.

Although all the signs were there, they were media-scrubbed into November after the federal election to cater to ‘Western alienation’. What ruling-party politics and media see instead is a fabled Canadian resource going under instead of more expansion and exports for needy Alberta.

At the front of the dominant narrative is the Conservative Party. No longer ‘Progressive Conservative’ as in the historic centrist days, this century’s Conservative rulers are essentially US Republicans North with the same hate of central government. They are equally blind to the role of Big-Oil as a cause of the climate crisis even as the wild-fires rage from Alberta to California.

The facts that they all especially blinker out are that tar-sand crude is the dirtiest and most toxic fossil-fuel on the planet, that it multiplies carbon pollution against international commitment, and that it is increasingly unacceptable to the public and investors.

In the face of the growing climate and pollution crisis of industrial civilization, Canada’s right long ago attached themselves to an unnamed backroom plan for a right-wing tsunami over Canada’s then governing Liberals.

A Strategic Vote for Public Action against Conservative Retrenchment

With falling provincial governments, media scandals and the Trudeau government’s inability to keep public-action promises, the planned Conservative regime change across America to Canada seemed a sure thing.

But it was defeated in the federal election by a cross-country campaign and a voter shift to a non-establishment mass movement for the common good, which, beneath notice, distinguishes multicultural Canada.

Programs for progressive public action from all other parties – the NDP (New Democratic Party), the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois – combined with the Liberals against the publicly-recognized Conservative policy wrecking balls in relation to the public sector, health and social security programs, as well as environmental regulations.

Yet the corporate media continued to run the campaign of ‘Alberta fury’, ‘Western alienation’, and even a Conservative-rump Senate ‘Wexit’ to force Trudeau to appease them after their defeat and blanket-Conservative Alberta-Saskatchewan votes.

Alberta’s Big-Oil Premier Jason Kenney continued to add fuel to the fire with calls for an immediate pipeline through BC, a provincial referendum for separation from Canada, and an end to the historic federal equalization program, presenting them as his ‘very reasonable’ positions.

That Liberal carbon-pricing and regulations are backed by two-thirds of Canadians in polls and electoral seats, and that all other parties and programs oppose the TMX (trans-mountain BC) pipeline, while the Liberals have in fact over-supported it throughout, but within the rule of law, are facts which do not compute to those touting ‘Western alienation’.

‘Canada has never been so divided,’ mourn Conservatives across the land.

Yet the tar-sand crude fount of free money for Alberta and US Big-Oil refinement-management-export coffers is on the ropes for reasons their value system cannot comprehend: public action on all fronts to maintain life on Earth against pervasive fossil-fuel pollution, corporate deregulation, and collective life capital destruction.

The Long-Kept Secret: The Koch Driver of the Tar-Sands Juggernaut

What has been above all whited out of Canada’s corporate culture is the long Koch-brother domination of the US-driven tar-sand juggernaut siphoning and mass-polluting the once pristine Athabaska River valley in order to export the most toxic fossil-fuel raw crude in existence.

The Koch brothers have, in repressed public fact, made most of their Big Oil fortune from refining tar-sands crude in the US, which has, in turn, produced the tides of hidden ‘dark money’ to finance right wing-extremism in the US (and Canada, without any media investigating it).

At the same time, with silent Alberta support, they have bought licenses for up to two million hectares of the tar-sands upstream to control the gargantuan carbon-polluting cycle. Yet as far as the Canadian public and commentators are concerned, these monstrous facts do not exist, and are even now never mentioned in the media or public discourse, as the Kochs have sold off their licenses once they were exposed.

Instead, the virulent realities of Alberta’s wealth are buried behind a pervasive promotion of the ‘necessity of Alberta to get its oil to market’.

Stampeded by the multi-media campaign of ‘Western alienation’ and the absurd claim that the demise of the Alberta tar-sands “is a deliberate policy of the Trudeau government,” the Trudeau Liberals have been rushing to find political accommodation and representation.

No-one publicly translates ‘Alberta’s oil seeking outlet to market’ into what it is, in fact, for Canada – massive pipe-line of treated crude sludge through the unspoiled Rocky Mountains of BC to the world’s most beautiful inland-ocean waterways and onto monster tankers ploughing the majestic habitats of the non-Albertan West coast to unnamed buyers – now across the Pacific Ocean – of a toxic, globally carbon-flooding crude that has slid toward cost-profit obsolescence.

In fact, months before the much publicized Decana head-office move to the US, the Big Oil players have already sold off their Alberta licenses for the extraction of the vast tar-sands in a race to escape the financial, as well as ecological, black hole that is Alberta’s tar-sand crude.

As for the tar-sand crude still wanted to feed the Beast, Big Oil may soon be able to go back to Venezuela if US-led ‘regime change’ succeeds with the internationally lawless support of Canada Foreign Affairs – the Ottawa end of the mindless branch-plant avarice around natural resources for the global corporate empire.

Alberta’s Cover Story Still Not Exposed

Alberta’s favorite cover story of anger against Ottawa still holds the political commentators of official culture in thrall – with every resistance or review of Alberta’s long Koch-led ecocidal project denounced as ‘an attack on Alberta’.

Throughout, the covert Koch master-control and rich processing profits have been so kept out of sight that not even the ever-rising opposition to the Trans-Mountain Pipeline have named it.

Just recently, the Keystone Pipeline carrying Alberta’s toxic crude is found to have leaked 383,000 gallons in North Dakota on the very day Trump’s state department’s one-day hearing took place despite prolonged fierce resistance from indigenous people (the Squamish, Tsleil Waututh, Colwater and Secwemepec nations,) as well as multiple environmental groups.

From 2011 to 2018, this Keystone pipeline of toxic Canadian crude has multiplied its pipeline flood by over 30-times, from 14,000 barrels to 480,000 gallons through eight US states. At the same time, less known Enbridge’s Line 67 carries tar-sands crude from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin and the Koch refineries there. The Trump administration just approved a permit to nearly double its flow at the US border.

The Trans-Mountain Pipeline across BC is solely to transport by super-tankers far more tar-sands crude not even to the US but to unnamed buyers and refineries across the Pacific Ocean with all the further tides of carbon pollution entailed by planned multiplied extraction, global transportation, end-use emissions, and inevitable heavy-weight tar-oil leaks and spills that are impossible to clean up in deep water.

The Liberals and Trudeau have more or less complied with the whole ecocidal project except at the legal margins. In truth, the only thing stopping ever more of this ecocidal tar-sand cycle widening across the world against Canada’s public commitment to the Paris Agreement is that the previously expected super-profits have been reversed by cheaper competition.

Alberta-raw crude is now close to costing more to extract than it can sell for in a fallen market while at the same time being forced out by the shale-oil revolution, Saudi-to-Iran underselling of far higher quality oil and a public increasingly waking up to the climate crisis, not to mention non-carbon energy exponentially rising in scale volume and lower unit pricing.

Yet the cover story of ‘Western alienation’ is still featured by the mainstream media with interminable public-relations commentators lazing past the physical and economic facts of global oil production.

The Silenced Facts of Conservative Misrule Ready to Explode?

In Canada and the US, the lies, misrule and demands by the extreme right may have reached their breaking point.

The unspoken realities of Conservative misrule in Alberta go back a long way. The moral of the story begins with Conservative Alberta – “Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark” – hitching itself entirely to a US Big-Oil driven commodity boom as a bottomless resource-revenue pork-barrel and then pissing away all the revenues.

A few decades down the road, Conservative Party rule has squandered away its potentially multi-hundred billion-dollar Alberta Heritage Fund in such policies as foreign corporate giveaways and zero sales tax (compared to 20% in social-democrat Norway whose public capital Oil Fund is now worth over $1000-billion because it has been protected from the kind of political raids that have occurred in Conservative Alberta).

Conservative policies to get re-elected have boasted by far the lowest taxes in Canada, giveaways at all levels to foreign corporations, including the world’s lowest royalties, populist cash-bribes to voters to stay in power, and big-mouth boasting of how other provinces and the government of Canada must get in line with its free-royalties rule, and a population less than two-thirds of greater Toronto.

Even now, the main public problem with pipelines out of Alberta is tar-sands crude not refined in Alberta. Refinement in Alberta of the over-60 per cent crude going to the US could have produced far more jobs than the export of the monster-extraction tar-sand crude could ever do. It could have made the oil far safer with spills recoverable. It could have brought in far greater revenues than the exiting Kochs and oil barons have been enriched by instead.

Alberta’s far right hates public capital and action as ‘socialist’ as much as Republicans depend on it in the US. Throughout its fall, its raw tar-sands resource (once sparingly used for indigenous canoes) has been privatized and mainly for foreign Big Oil.

A modest and passive royalty regime, and spending the receipts with nothing to show for it comprise the financial story. Extreme right-wing politics and a culture of bullying any public economy Canada has managed to develop are the untold political story.

Alberta has militantly opposed federal taxation for public investment and social programs, provincial equalization payments to sustain a secure and unified country, a once-leading Petro-Canada public corporation from which all citizens could buy their fuel, and environmental regulation of pollution across provincial and international borders.

Alberta Conservatives have all the while continuously insulted the rest of Canada with non-stop rightist rhetoric against federal public action in all forms except subsidizing Big Oil. Ignoring every reality of its wastrel management and dependency on free foreign money for its unearned natural resources, Conservative Premier Jason Kenney now fills corporate-media news and commentary with accusations against Canada’s government for its loss of wealth.

In fact, the world has changed around the ‘alienated West’ narrative. The global market fossil-fuel industry has radically changed with new sources of oil and gas, with the OPEC glut, with the climate change emergency, with the development of non-carbon alternatives, and with the falling price of tar-oil most of all.

The standby Republican-Conservative scapegoat of “federal government” has no control over these, or whatever else it is blamed for by the Ameri-Canadian right.

With no saved oil revenues for a public capital base as exist in Norway and even Alaska, right-wing Alberta and the US are karmically choosing their own fate. But will anyone in public affairs wake up to the depredatory reality that will prove fatal for the world?

Or will they join in the fear and hatred of public capital and action as ‘socialist’, as is being used, as I write, by the Republicans to win Kentucky for a corrupt governor, and which is Trump’s only card against the Democrat Party for Sanders?

New Government for Public Action

Canada voters have already decided. More deeply than the old spectacles and fights diverting public attention, the greatest crisis of all life support systems in history still grows, and the public action it demands across borders has remained blocked by parties in power.

The common cause of the ecological and social death spiral across borders rules as a meta program that is unseen. It is the master form behind the ever-changing image reality of the global corporate Cave whose shadows dance in incoherent distractions. In terms of Canada politics, the past Liberal majority regime has remained inside the Cave.

It has already gone too far in favoring Alberta’s Koch-led schemes, and has in the main offered only false promises against Conservative public-economy demolition. It has bent over backwards in enabling the whole tar-sands-to-trans-oceanic markets which multiplies carbon pollution further, another unspeakable topic in the corporate media.

The Liberal majority even spent $4.5-billion of Canada taxpayers’ money to buy an old and degraded pipeline to ensure this toxic result, more than on the Pharmacare it promised. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have threatened armed force to force the pipeline across BC that the provincial state has sworn to stop.

While the Conservatives have turned a blind eye to the ecological and climate crisis and are as hostile to social policy and the public economy as US Republicans, the Liberals talk nice. Yet Canada’s Paris objective has been more pretense than reality in fact, and the carbon tax for ‘polluters to pay a price’ for carbon pollution has avoided taxing the giant corporate polluters themselves.

But the fatal spiral has been seamlessly broken by the October federal election. Can a similar shift occur in the US and Britain?

Canada’s Parliament is now enabled to stand for the common life interest of Canada and Canadians in place of Liberal public relations alone and Conservative-Republican predation of collective life support systems.

In Canada after the federal election, tar-sand Alberta and the corporate Conservative Party are now powerless in the context of a great majority of the House of Commons seeking both carbon reduction and progressive public policy.

Trudeau’s government has already made some significant – if still contradictory – moves in this direction, which incensed the US-led, Alberta-fronted tar-sand lobby, but has the overwhelming support of Canadians outside the Western Conservative base. It actually drew a line on the ever-widening tar-sand ecocide. A federal ban was instituted on heavy-tanker traffic on the Northern BC Coast up to Alaska in Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, a few months before the election on June 21, 2019.

The line of clean-up can be followed back to the economically collapsing US-driven tar-sands themselves, now that Big Oil is deserting them.

The Canadian Public has Repudiated the Right-Wing Wave

Former Liberal leader and avowed environmentalist Stéphane Dion long ago admitted that the Alberta tar-sands had “too much money” in them to regulate, and Conservative party rulers tried to show why.

Federal Conservative policies promised Alberta Big Oil everything it wanted – no more delays, no more carbon tax, no more court challenges, no ban on tankers on the North BC coast, and even an East-West pipeline opposed by Quebec.

Yet US-style destabilization by attack-dog politics continuing for months on end before elections has failed. The planned government destruction on the agenda from before the October federal campaign has hit roadblocks.

Conservative backrooms, in response, have shown they have no comprehension of the situation now in place. In perpetual regression to ad hominem insults and derogatory buzz phrases, the old failed leader of the Party, Peter MacKay, has said that the current leader, Andrew Scheer, failed to score “on an open net.” They will roil around in their unrealities for the indefinite future.

While they still oppose carbon pricing in ostentatious pseudo-concern for the poor working families having to pay a tax, the public has not been duped. The carbon tax is rebated to the families, and the very people and families in need are, in any case, those whom Republican-like Conservative rule invariably dispossesses by slashing social services on which they, most of all, depend.

Without any levers left, only media-trumped ‘threats to Canada’s unity’ from ‘Western separatist sentiments’ ramp on into the has-been-Tory Senate.

Alberta’s Premier Kenney even promoted the lie that unrefined raw toxic crude extracted by and diluted with more water – and polluted daily – than is used by the people of Alberta as “Canada’s primary source of wealth” and “the goose that lays the golden egg” (in fact, only about 1.7% of GDP).

The Silenced Meaning: Toward Recovery of a Public Economy

The scare stories and regime change of Canada have failed. The planned right-wing tide over a scandal-weakened Trudeau government has been voted down.

Meanwhile, beneath any official notice, the minority Liberal government is now far more progressively stabilized and policy-oriented than before the election.

With the Conservatives now isolated and defeated, the government has New Democratic Party (NDP) seats and social democratic Bloc Quebecois support for a whopping majority to enact the real program of public action it has promised.

What has been missing until this federal election has been a parliamentary force to hold the Liberals to their promises – not only for sovereign reduction of carbon pollution, but for the collectively life-enabling programs Liberals have falsely promised without action and Conservatives have slashed wherever in office.

NDP policies provide explicit support for all such progressive public actions, and a social-democratic Bloc program compounds the balance of power to get it done.

In the background are the illustrious Red Tories of the Progressive Conservative years of good government now condemned as ‘Liberals’.

The Life-Sustaining Policies of Public Action Crossing Regional Borders

‘Cutting climate pollution to create new jobs’ with new funds to do so from ‘making big polluters pay rather than profit’ is along the same lines as the Green New Deal led by Bernie Sanders in the US.

Even more advanced than the US Green New Deal, the NDP promises to enact what the Liberals have promised but failed to do – ‘Pharmacare for all’ as well as ‘dental care, eye care, mental healthcare’ and ‘childcare when needed’.

‘Upholding indigenous rights’, ‘making higher education affordable without mounting debt’, ‘stopping speculators in housing’, and ‘minimum wage’ and ‘sustainable jobs’ are further policy advances with majority support, and all connect in a unifying direction of a civil commons evolution. These policies are also all supported by the progressive wing of the US Democrat Party and the Green New Deal. Together they form a common life-value ground which has been increasingly divided and devoured since private financialization that usurped the public economy since the Reagan-Thatcher-Mulroney turn, followed rapidly by the destruction of the mixed socialist world, and then the Wall-Street 2007-08 crash followed by austerity crippling social states across the globe.

What unites all of the resurgent public policies in Canada, the UK, and the Sanders-Democrat US is the moral logic of protecting and enabling human and ecological life capacities which are systematically selected against by a life-blind, self-maximizing, private money-value program across borders that is asserted with the misnomer ‘freedom’.

Public revenues for implementation of these public capital policies and actions include the hundreds of billions of unnecessary tax giveaways and public subsidies in numberless forms to ‘multi-millionaires and mega corporations’ under such wholly disproven fantasies as ‘trickle-down economics’ and ‘Laffer’s curve’.

The Ultimate Choice Space

The ultimate imperative of evolved planetary life is to prevent our cumulative ruin by competitively life-blind money-sequencing set up to amass ever more wealth as an end-in-itself. This borderless fanaticism of instituted avarice without limit or regulation has cumulatively destabilized and collapsed organic, social, and ecological life support systems across the planet, with the beneficiaries, once again, touting it as ‘freedom’.

Life security at all levels is now in more extreme systemic danger than at any time before in history, or indeed, throughout mammalian evolution.

Every step of the public action program defined in Canada’s election, and in formation under the Green New Deal of the US for its federal election a year from now, is a step in a unifying project to recover civil and ecological life support systems to sustain rather than reverse life organization and evolution on the planet.

All private-money-to-more-money forces and their current captive-state formations are structured to eliminate any such public life capital and action.

The dots of human choice for and against evolved life on the planet are not yet fully joined. But they are more understood with respect to public policy and action after Canada’s 2019 election than before. A history-deciding cycle of English-speaking elections is in motion. •

John McMurtry is Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. His work has been translated from Latin America through Europe to Japan, and he is the author/editor of UNESCO's three-volume Philosophy and World Problems, as well as more recently, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure.