Foreign Policy Labels Canada ‘A Rogue, Reckless Petrostate’

Over the last decade, Canada has not so quietly become an international mining center and a rogue petrostate. It’s no longer America’s better half, but a dystopian vision of the continent’s energy-soaked future.

As a must-read article in the journal Foreign Policy puts it “For decades, the world has thought of Canada as America’s friendly northern neighbor — a responsible, earnest, if somewhat boring, land of hockey fans and single-payer health care.”

But no more:

The good neighbor has banked its economy on the cursed elixir of political dysfunction — oil. Flush with visions of becoming a global energy superpower, Canada’s government has taken up with pipeline evangelists, petroleum bullies, and climate change skeptics. Turns out the Boy Scout’s not just hooked on junk crude — he’s become a pusher. And that’s not even the worst of it.

With oil and gas now accounting for approximately a quarter of its export revenue, Canada has lost its famous politeness. Since the Conservative Party won a majority in Parliament in 2011, the federal government has eviscerated conservationists, indigenous nations, European commissioners, and just about anyone opposing unfettered oil production as unpatriotic radicals. It has muzzled climate change scientists, killed funding for environmental science of every stripe, and in a recent pair of unprecedented omnibus bills, systematically dismantled the country’s most significant long-cherished environmental laws.

The article’s author, Andrew Nikiforuk, is contributing editor to the Canadian online publication Tyee, and author of the excellent book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, which won the winner of the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award.

As Nikiforuk explains, the “resource underwriting many of these ugly behavioral changes is bitumen, a heavy, sour crude mined from” the tar sands:

Deposits of the badly degraded asphalt-like substance lie under a forest the size of Florida in northeastern Alberta and comprise the world’s third-largest petroleum reserves. Over the last decade, as oil prices increased fivefold, oil companies invested approximately $160 billion to develop bitumen in Alberta, and it has finally turned profitable. Canada is now cranking out 1.7 million barrels a day of the stuff, and scheduled production stands to fill provincial and federal government coffers with about $120 billion in rent and royalties by 2020. More than 40 percent of that haul goes directly to the federal government largely in the form of corporate taxes. And the government wants even more; it’s pushing for production to hit 5 million barrels a day by 2030….

The 2012 National Inventory Report by Environment Canada, the country’s environmental department, actually boasts that Canada has partly reduced overall emission intensity in the oil sands “by exporting more crude bitumen.”

The quest for this vast, climate-destroying wealth has begun to erode the country’s basic foreign policy values, too, Nikiforuk argues:

Three state-owned Chinese oil companies (all with dismal records of corporate transparency and environmental sensitivity) have already spent more than $20 billion purchasing rights to oil sands in Alberta.

The kowtowing to China, now the world’s largest oil consumer, highlights Canada’s big bitumen dilemma: how to get dirty, landlocked oil to global markets. The United States, Canada’s biggest customer, doesn’t seem to need it as much anymore; imports declined by more than 4 million barrels a day between 2005 and 2011, and with pipeline projects to the United States like Keystone XL stuck in the mud, Harper’s vision of being an “emerging energy superpower” appears in danger. Unsurprisingly, Harper has recently jettisoned criticism of China’s human rights record. As a secret foreign-policy document leaked last fall to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) makes clear, Canada has new priorities: “To succeed we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align.”

In 2012, Canada quietly signed a controversial trade agreement with the People’s Republic and approved a $15 billion takeover of Nexen, an oil sands player, by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. And, perhaps to warm Canadians’ hearts to the Chinese, the government recently lobbied to rent two traveling pandas at a cost of $10 million over the next 10 years.

The bottom line is grim:

More than a decade ago, American political scientist Terry Lynn Karl crudely summed up the dysfunction of petrostates: Countries that become too dependent on oil and gas riches behave like plantation economies that rely on “an unsustainable development trajectory fueled by an exhaustible resource” whose revenue streams form “an implacable barrier to change.” And that’s what happened to Canada while you weren’t looking … the Boy Scout is now slave to his own greed.

And yes, for Americans, that might all sound painfully familiar … except for the part about ever being a Boy Scout.

15 Responses to Foreign Policy Labels Canada ‘A Rogue, Reckless Petrostate’

  1. Artful Dodger says:

    Let’s not forget this critical turning point in Canadian politics, when democratic control of national policy was burned in effigy:

  2. Mark E says:

    In the future, instead of “eh?” Canadians will embrace the interjection “ee?” This will come about after enough people impacted by transport failures turn to one another and say

    “Tar, ee?” and “Mess, ee?”

  3. David Lewis says:

    The US expanded just its oil production in 2012 by a greater number of barrels than the increase in any year since oil was discovered in the US. The increase in production in the US dwarfed what is going on in Canada.

    And then there is all that fracked gas.

    Which North American country is the rogue petrostate?

  4. M Tucker says:

    “…even where political interests or values may not align.”

    Sell your soul and dance with the devil. Canada is now one of us!

  5. Mike Roddy says:

    I’m with David Lewis here. The United States is also a petrostate.

    It’s also true that Canada’s vaunted environmental record is a mirage. They have been behind us for years on environmental and forestry policy- their steel mills are dirtier, and they still mow down virgin forests in 2 mile long clearcuts.

    Canadian environmentalists are courageous, though, especially in BC, where they have been beaten up by timber industry thugs and even Mounties. Canadians may be polite, but they make exceptions for Tar Sands pipeline touts and logging companies. Unfortunately, as here, the people do not rule.

    The point is that the US cannot cast stones here. The world must work together to slow the assault on nature.

  6. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe quoted Andrew Nikiforuk: “the cursed elixir of political dysfunction”

    That’s some great prose, there.

  7. SecularAnimist says:

    David Lewis wrote: “Which North American country is the rogue petrostate?”

    The USA has been a rogue petrostate for a long, long time — although until recently it has done so by overthrowing democratically elected governments and installing subservient dictatorships in, or invading and occupying, oil-rich countries.

  8. PeterW says:

    It should also be pointed out that many of the corporation that back the current Conservative government are US multinational oil and resource companies.

    Many of the right wing think tanks in Canada are funded by the same U.S. think tank funders. Much of the agenda that currently dominates Canadian policies was born in the U.S. and raised by scum like the Koch brothers.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Every state is at risk of devolving to Canada’s neo-totalitarian state, a type of elected dictatorship in a rigged political system, so long as Rightwing ideology reigns supreme. We already have several state Rightwing regimes here that ape Harperismo, with their own diminutive caudillos and Generalissimos (or Corporalissimos, perhaps), and the exact same visceral hatred of environmentalism and social justice. The influence on society of the mentality of the insatiably greedy Right is already plainly evident. Greedy materialism, ruthless, unscrupulous ‘whatever it takes’ competitiveness, viewing others as the competition at best, but often enough as enemies, total indifference to others, including future generations and the natural world, all these and more flow inevitably from the imposition on societies of the ideology of neo-liberal capitalism. The preposterous notion that the furious self-interested competition of billions of human beings, waged on a brutally un-level playing field, will inevitably produce the best results for all, was not just wrong, it has unarguably produced the exact opposite outcomes. Greater and greater inequality, greater and greater concentrations of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, baser and baser behaviour by ruling elites and total ecological devastation. Canada under Harper is just an extreme example, so far, but with the Rightwing poison percolating through human societies everywhere, worse will inevitably follow, in that brief period of time before the whole stinking mess comes crashing down under the weight of its own putrescence.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Both, surely, but Harper is upfront and aggressive with it, while Obama operates a still amazingly effective pretense of being different. Harper speaks with one voice, albeit that of the belligerent Rightwinger, exulting in his power to destroy and belittle his numerous enemies, whereas Obama speaks out of both sides of his mouth, often at the same time, depending on who it is that he is trying to con.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    One day there will be an Anschluss, to make it official, if society holds together long enough.

  12. Roger Gagne says:

    Speaking of those pandas…

    A half-dozen Inuit youth spent just over two months walking over 1000 miles from their home of Whapmagoostui in Northern Quebec to Ottawa, and were joined by over 260 people along the way.

    PM Stephen Harper thought it more profitable to welcome the pandas to Canada.

    I’m a lifelong Canadian, and I’m proud of and grateful for David Kawapit Jr. and his friends!

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    After all those oil spills, ‘energy-soaked future’ has two meanings, ME

  14. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Are you talking about Gina Koch Bros, the Heartland Institute of Public Affairs or the Tea Party takeover of the Liberal party. Although the are related.

    Where America Leads Australia follows, to war or the asylum

  15. We have all come to regard oil as water. None of us can imagine living without its benefits. The Canadians are just more so, because they have lots to sell.

    I never thought of my polite and considered Canadian colleagues as rogues. I think they are just blinded by the world they were born into as children, as we all were, as a goldfish is blinded to the bowl.

    But the article is dead on.