Post No. 710
Barack Obama, President of the United States, has delayed approval of the $7-billion Keystone XL Pipeline – which Canadian politicians from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Alberta Premier Alison Redford on down have been trooping to Washington for months to beg for. And they thought it was a slam-dunk!
The shock! The horror! The betrayal!
“Keystone strategy ‘didn’t work,’” proclaimed the local Postmedia News rag in its front page headline Friday. Well, no kidding!
This is going to cost us billions, screeched the Wildrose Party, Official Voice of the Calgary Oil Industry.
“I can’t believe the environmental elite’s influence in the U.S.,” wailed an anguished Calgary political commentator, best known for her right-wing views, via Twitter.
The Obama Administration’s decision to put the environmentally dubious project on hold for further study – at least for 18 months and quite possibly forever, if the delay costs Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. too much – has been variously described around here in the gutter media as “stunning,” “shifty,” proof the U.S. is “not open for business,” evidence of more “celebrity ranting,” “a travesty,” yadda-yadda.
The former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, opined on the perfidy of it all in an interview with the Globe and Mail on Friday, describing the decision as “blatant politics” and “politics at its worst … a move by the president to placate a certain wing of his party.”
Actually, this gets pretty close to the real point of the story, although it’s not necessarily as bad as former George W. Bush-appointee Wilkins, now a business lobbyist, makes it out to be. To wit: The United States, apparently, at least at the level of presidential elections, is still a functioning democracy.
And in a democracy that still works, sort of, if you’re a politician looking to get re-elected, you have to pay attention to what your constituents have to say for themselves. In other words, now and again, you may have to placate a certain wing of your party, or a certain group of citizens. So imagine that… politicians placating voters in a democracy. No wonder Mr. Wilkins was upset.
A columnist for the Calgary Herald, that fearless champion of the overdog, made the same point a backhanded way when he lamented: “If Dubya were still in the White House, TransCanada would probably be building Keystone by now.”
Quite possibly. But what Herald columnist Don Braid likely really had had in mind when he made that observation, whether he knew it or not, was that if the White House were in downtown Edmonton right now, TransCanada would be at work on its pipeline and we could just shut up if we didn’t like it
Because that’s the Alberta way. What really happened here is just that a bunch of politicians from Alberta made the fundamental error of concluding the United States was so much like home it was exactly like home.
Here in Alberta, after all, we don’t let the opinions of voters stop us when we decide to blast a massive power transmission line right through an urban neighbourhood or past a community school. Our motto’s lead, follow or get outta the way! And if you don’t like it, we’ll roll right over you.
That’s the way things have operated in Alberta since oil squirted out of the ground. We have elections from time to time, but it’s not really all that clear that we have a functioning democracy.
If we do, after a fashion, it’s a petro-democracy in which occasional referenda endorse the one-party system, in which there is no place for opposition voices to be heard, especially in the media, and in which lobbyists and corporate donors enjoy all the perks and power and citizens have very little influence.
And it’s the model of Alberta’s so-called democracy that Mr. Harper – who is both the PM and the MP for Calgary Southwest – has taken to Ottawa and, for the moment at least, which seems to be working for him there.
In other words, in Canada, we would have simply ignored the opposition to the pipeline, or rolled over it and shut it down if it became a nuisance to our corporate bosses.
President Obama, who unlike Premier Redford, may need to actually pay attention to his electors now and then to have a chance at reelection, doesn’t have that luxury even if he wishes he did, hence his supposed “betrayal” of Alberta.
Well, we can be bitter if we like, but since we’re going to have to live with this, maybe we should take President Obama’s lemons and make lemonade.
After all, this pipeline wasn’t ever really that much more in the interests of the people of Alberta than it was in those of the people of Nebraska. So let’s build an upgrader right here in Alberta and keep the jobs and the profits in Canada.
We can continue to supply our friends in the United States with a product they need, but one in which the value has been added by Canadian hands, earning wealth that stays in Canada.
Who knows? Maybe if we’d had a functioning democracy here in Alberta – as they seem to have south of the Medicine Line – that’s what we would have done in the first place?
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.