SPP's prospects are iffy with Bush short on political capital and Harper in a minority government

Gordon Laxer

Hill Times Supplement

April 5, 2007

 

For five years, critics have warned of a secretive process to integrate Canada and Mexico into a greater America. Call it the big idea, harmonization or annexation; call it the Waco SPP process. No matter. Most Canadians haven’t heard of it.

 

The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), which was formally started in Waco, Texas by the three ‘Amigo’ governments of North America in March 2005, hasn’t registered with the public. But that is bound to change.

 

The critics have a secret weapon they never knew they had—George W. Bush. Bringing one of the most unpopular presidents ever to Montebello Que., a pleasant drive from Ottawa, on Aug. 21, is bound to awaken Canadians to what’s afoot. Summit leaders will issue bland words like prosperity, security, and a North American community. But that won’t cut it. Canadians, like Americans, suspect anything associated with Bush.

 

When Canadians discover what’s in the SPP, they won’t like it. It was the same 20 years ago. Canadians liked the idea of ‘free trade,’ but turned against the agreement when they learned it was really about corporate rights, unlimited U.S. access to Canadian energy, and a threat to Canadian sovereignty. Only a vote split on the contra side between Liberals (32 per cent) and NDP (20 per cent) enabled Mulroney’s pro free-trade Conservatives to win with a 43 per cent vote in the 1988 election.

 

Veterans of the ‘free trade’ battle, like Thomas D’Aquino, who leads the push for the SPP, don’t want to dance with public opinion again. So, they hold meetings behind closed doors, inviting only corporate executives, government ministers, and senior bureaucrats. No Joe publics, nor opponents. They want to avoid alarming public opinion.

 

The SPP’s key advisory body, the North American Competitiveness Council, has 30 CEOs from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Ron Covais, listed at the Lockheed Martin Corporation as president, the Americas division, chairs the U.S. section of the Competitiveness Council. He told Maclean’s that, “we’ve decided not to recommend any things that would require legislative changes … because we won’t get anywhere.”

The strategy is do the SPP surreptitiously, by regulatory changes and Cabinet decisions, all of them removed from the eyes of Canadians and Parliamentarians. Avoid elections on it. Use harmless and boring messages to describe the many decisions, which when added up, would remove much of Canadian and Mexican sovereignty.


But after Bush’s visit, Canadian SPP promoters will have to win a public campaign. It will be difficult. They are running out time. Bush has little political capital left, and only 15 months until the next presidential election. Harper’s minority government may not last that long. So, the SPP’s prospects are iffy.

But, the negative effects of five years of SPP mentality have been felt, not least on the consciousness of senior federal civil servants. Unlike most of the citizens they are paid to serve, they don’t think ‘Canadian’ anymore.

 

The SPP promises to send us further down a foolhardy path towards energy insecurity. The United States, Britain, Sweden and other countries are giving prominence to national “energy independence,” making plans to ensure “energy security” and connecting these to climate change policies. In contrast, Canadian bureaucrats are stuck in continentalist thinking. They assume that Canada has unlimited oil and gas surpluses to export.How else can we explain why almost alone, Canada has no national energy plan, and is doing no studies on energy security for Eastern Canadians who now heavily rely on imports from OPEC countries for their oil?

 

The Energy Supplies Allocation Board, set up in 1985 to determine mandatory allocation of energy in case of shortages, seems as if it’s not staffed. The Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness was asked in a telephone inquiry about contingency plans for an international oil crisis that would cut oil to Eastern Canadians.

 

The reply: we’ve never thought of it.

 

It’s similar with the National Energy Board. Despite its mandate to “promote safety and security ... in the Canadian public interest,” it wrote me that “unfortunately, the NEB has not undertaken any studies on security of supply.”

 

I asked the NEB if Canada is considering setting up a Strategic Petroleum Reserve, like 24 of 26 members of the International Energy Agency. They replied that Canada was “exempted from establishing a reserve” because “Canada is a net exporting country whereas the other members are net importers.”

 

That’s a reasonable assumption for Norway, which sensibly supplies its own citizens, before exporting surpluses. But Canada imports about 40 per cent of its oil, 850,000 barrels per day, to meet 90 per cent of Atlantic Canada’s and Quebec’s needs, and 40 per cent of Ontario’s. 

 

Western Canada can’t supply all of Eastern Canadian needs because NAFTA reserves Canadian oil for Americans’ security of supply. Canada now exports 63 per cent of our oil and 56 per cent of our natural gas. Those export shares are currently locked in by NAFTA’s proportionality clause, which requires us to not reduce recent export proportions. Mexico refused proportionality.

 

Although we have more than enough oil to meet Canadians needs, Canada is the most exposed IEA member. Meanwhile, the U.S. is doubling its strategic petroleum reserve.

 

The U.S. has a “national energy policy.” The Congressional House has a committee on “Energy independence and global warming.” U.S. officials talk ‘national’ energy policies to their own citizens and only switch terminology to ‘North American’ when speaking with Canadians and Mexicans.

 

Stephen Harper boasts that Canada is an ‘emerging energy superpower’. Hardly. Through the SPP, the US hopes to extend its national energy policy to incorporate Canada even more tightly as its energy satellite, and to end Mexico’s history of energy independence, celebrated each year as a national holiday.  Canadians must choose whether we wish to supply the most energy wasteful country on earth until our conventional oil and gas soon run out, or opt for independence, cut production and consumption, and lower carbon emissions.

 

After Montebello, Canadians will hopefully awaken to the SPP threat, and tell their political leaders to look after Canadians first. If our governments don’t, who will ensure that easterners don’t “freeze in the dark” when looming international oil shortages strike?