Canada's surrender monkeys

Frances Russell

Winnipeg Free Press

August 12, 2005

 

"If our NAFTA partners can have national energy programs, why can't we?" University of Alberta political economist Gordon Laxer asks in the current issue of Canadian Perspectives, the magazine of the Council of Canadians.

 

As the U.S. and China fight over what's left to buy in Canada's oil patch under the shadow of the looming global energy crisis, it's a question many other Canadians want answered, too.

 

Prof. Laxer suggests we draw our own conclusion from these sobering realities.When Brian Mulroney was negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, oil and gas corporations based in Canada, many of them foreign-owned, lobbied and won proportionality. Canada not only lost its right to use its energy to carve its own national destiny; it now can't reduce exports unless it makes an equal cut in its own consumption.

 

Meanwhile, Mexico won a complete exemption from proportionality, an exemption the U.S. respects. "Mexico will make its own sovereign decisions on the breadth, pace and extent to which it will expand and reform its electricity and oil and gas capacities," the U.S. energy task force report says.

 

Compare that with what the report has to say about Canada: "Canada's deregulated energy sector has become America's largest overall trading partner, and our leading foreign supplier of natural gas, oil and electricity.

 

"Prof. Laxer also reminds us that while we produce 40 per cent more oil than we consume, we now export 70 per cent of our production to the U.S. and import almost 60 per cent of our consumption. This leaves us as vulnerable as most major oil importing nations to any global disruption.

 

Prof. Laxer says all of this is minor compared to the proposed Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America that Prime Minister Paul Martin signed onto at U.S. President George W. Bush's Texas ranch last March.

 

It locks us in to an eerie replication of Pierre Trudeau's much-hated National Energy Program, only continental, not national. The primary goal of U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney's 2001 National Energy Policy was to "promote energy independence for our country." And just like Canada's NEP, Mr. Cheney's emphasizes "energy security, self-sufficiency and support for domestically-owned firms.

 

"But Mr. Cheney isn't talking about U.S. energy, which is in rapid decline. He's talking about Canadian energy, which he assumes to be American.

 

And in that, he has the whole-hearted support of Alberta and a wide swath of Canada's cognescenti.When the original free trade deal was signed in 1988, former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed exulted that Canada never again could have another NEP, that is, elevate its needs over those of the Americans.

 

Prof. Laxer is the director of Alberta's Parkland Institute. Its new book, The Return of The Trojan Horse: Alberta and The New World Disorder, is a wide-ranging critique of the Ralph Klein government by an equally wide-ranging group of Alberta academics, journalists and authors.

 

Perhaps the most critical chapter involves Alberta's cavalier handling of Canada's energy storehouse.The Klein government has given away the key to that storehouse in a rip and run regimen to benefit foreign, largely American, multinationals. While Alaska was collecting 99 per cent of available oil and gas revenue between 1995 and 2002, Alberta was taking home just 69 per cent, less than half what the Lougheed administration collected in the 1980s.

 

In another triumph of ideology over common sense, Alberta's electricity privatization and deregulation cost $8 billion and triggered rate increases of up to 500 per cent. Before, Albertans had some of the cheapest power in North America. Now, rebates aside, they have some of the most expensive.

 

In the book's introduction, editor and University of Lethbridge sociologist Trevor Harrison answers Prof. Laxer's question. Canada can't have a national energy policy because of the "craven colonalism" of Albertan and Canadian elites.He splits this elite between Imperialists and Annexationists. Both have one thing in common: they detest everything Canadian. In the past, the Imperialists gave their sole allegiance to the British Empire and the Union Jack. Today, they offer it to the American Empire and the Stars and Stripes.

 

The Annexationists are led by the so-called Calgary School, a group of academics at the University of Calgary. Fuelled by myths of myriads of injustices visited upon Alberta by Canada, they long for Alberta's absorption by the U.S.Prof. Harrison notes these two groups, the continentalist wing of the federal Liberals and the corporate media, fought Canada's NEP tooth and nail two decades ago. Today, they are beating the drum for a comprehensive continental energy policy that will be far more constraining of Alberta's and Canada's future.

 

And they are doing so "without any apparent sense of irony."