John Baird – Bouquets and Brickbats


Political junkies were surprised and excited when rumours began that Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird would resign his position, effective immediately, and also resign as an MP, to take effect within days. Speculations as to woil prices cartoonhy, and especially as to why NOW, filled the mainstream and social media.

Was this the beginning of a Conservative meltdown, as oil prices tanked, the loonie dived, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sabre rattled and proposed new security measures accused of restricting civil liberties?

National Post columnist John Ivison speculated that there was a rift between Baird and Harper over Canada’s sanctions on the Russian government. Some wondered if being pelted with eggs and shoes by dozens of Palestinian protesters in January 2015 had shaken his resolve. (Activists from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party earlier called for a boycott of Baird because of Canada’s Baird Palestineperceived pro-Israel stance, and its opposition to a Palestinian bid to pursue war crime charges against Israel.)

Still others noted that, by not running in 2015, Baird also qualifies for his pension, of $100,00 per year, under an old rule, at age 55. Parliament increased the qualifying age to 65 years old but that policy only covers those who are elected or re-elected in 2015.

Or maybe it was just that, after two decades in public office, he’d simply decided it was time to seek other opportunities, possibly in the private sector. He is said to be finalizing two offers.

Mohamed FahmyOn Monday, Baird reported that Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who is in jail in Cairo, would be released imminently, which would be his last diplomatic victory.

Although Baird’s stances were often provocative, even prompting Conservative colleagues to tease him of having a partisan nature, he was well liked by many in the other Parties.

“I quickly learned thoBaird resignsugh to make a difference, to really make a difference, you can’t be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. You need instead to be defined by your values,” he said in his resignation speech.

Since being named foreign affairs minister in 2011, Baird has spoken out against controversial issues at home and abroad.

In 2012, he addressed a British audience on human rights, saying that Canada would not stand by while its “Commonwealth cousins” criminalized homosexuality and ignored other fundamental freedoms, including the rights of women, minorities, and the right to practice religion. Homosexuality is illegal in 41 of 54 Commonwealth member states.

child marriageIn 2013, Baird spoke at a United Nations session called “Too Young to Wed,” about child brides forced to marry. Baird said “It’s been felt that in some cultures, in some places, this was a social reality. And for the good of the conference, would I mind shutting up,” adding that forced marriage is “unacceptable” and can be ended within a generation.

But he’s made a few gaffes along the way – his request for gold-embossed business cards was outed and ridiculed. He was always on the move, traveled more often, and to more out of the way places than any Canadian foreign minister before him. To his credit, he traveled commercially, but some of his trips didn’t make much sense, and were thought to be a drain on taxpayer funds. He recently flew to Brazil for President Rousseff’s second term swearing in, and attended Persian Gulf conferences that were not important to Canada’s needs.

John BairdIn 2013, a scandal occurred when CTV News reported that Baird and six friends stayed for eight days at the official residence of Canada’s high commission to Great Britain, Macdonald House.

His diplomats were not fond of his frequent, high-maintenance visits. Apparently he wasn’t very fond of them either. In 2014, Baird quietly ordered his department to cut millions of dollars out of a foreign aid program and to call the cut a “surplus.” He blamed the cuts to the program on the bad performance of Canadian diplomats. Associate Deputy Minister Peter Boehm revised the figures in a May 13, 2014 memo, which read “per your instructions, $7 million was declared surplus.”

foreign aid surplusThe NDP Foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, felt the minister was being deceptive. “It’s what I would call a parlour trick, to make it appear like they’re sound fiscal managers, when in fact in this case, Minister Baird is trying to make people believe that his cut of $7 million is in fact a surplus. This is exactly the same thing that they did with regards to lapsed funding.”

Canada’s former Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, wrote  “The Conservative government has managed the austerity program launched in the 2012 budget with deliberate secrecy. They did not inform Parliament of the details of their spending plans…Austerity is difficult and they did not want to pay a political price for making difficult trade-offs…their strategy was to limit planning information to shut down debate and evade accountability.”

baird_IsraelDuring his time as Foreign Minister, his critics have also accused him of selling embassies and ­unflinching support for Israel, diminished backing for multi-lateral institutions and a “distinctly un-Canadian” stance on foreign policy.

However, he leaves behind many who say he played a large part in shaping Conservative foreign policy and personalizing Canada’s diplomatic relations with the international community

NDP MP Paul Dewar, his party’s foreign affairs critic, told Embassy that Mr. Baird brought the Conservative Party’s foreign policy “into the limelight.”

Canada in the world“John Baird made Foreign Affairs—for good or bad—relevant again within the Conservative government. Prior to that, it really wasn’t a portfolio that was important to the government because of the players involved. They didn’t have as much of an interest or an understanding of the role,” he said.

Harper has appointed International Trade Minister Ed Fast as the interim foreign minister.

The Politics of Terror


Harper new security Jan 2015“The world is a dangerous place and, as most brutally demonstrated by last October’s attacks in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism.”

Or so Prime Minister Stephen Harper decreed on January 30th, flanked by Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, and the largest personal protective detail in the history of Canada.

It would seem that Harper sees himself as a ‘war-time’ leader, who, in the run up to the next election, wants to project a manly, statesmanlike image. While cultivating a culture of fear, he is appealing to those who traditionally will cling to the political status quo in times of unrest.

And in one swell foop, the man who spent the Ottawa siege in a closet ramped up the anxiety harper in closetand fear of a nation, while simultaneously putting into place measures that many feel will result in further loss of civil liberties and reduction of freedoms.

By no means am I minimalizing the two horrible attacks . They were horrific, and shocking to Canadians who rightfully believe themselves to be a part of the world’s peace keepers. But these attacks increasingly seem to have been the acts of self-radicalized, troubled and confused young men, with no evidence connecting them to ISIS. Harper’s proposal sounds less like a desire to protect the nation, and more like the fear mongering of a politician desperate to keep his seat in power. MuzzlingScientists

So much for his vaunted and pious defense of Canada’s Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Speech after the recent Charlie Hebdo attack in France. Our Freedoms were already considered under attack, based on his own government’s track record of secrecy, muzzling, sneaky omnibus bills, a disdain for democratic Parliamentary rules, and the misleading of Parliament.

Ottawa Citizen reporter Ian MacLeod called the proposal “the most dramatic package of new laws since the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001.” But .. hang on … who flew into our towers? Three misguided fools in Canada took it upon themselves to mirror the acts of other misguided fools in the Middle East, whom we’ve done nothing but publicize in the media. The same media that attempts to inflame viewers by ramping up anxiety about events in other parts of the world in hopes of getting higher ratings, and very often has the issues completely wrong. fox apologizes

Ironically, terrorism is most effective when it’s target reacts disproportionately to fear. Perhaps those sweeping powers would be better used in policing how media is actually romanticizing terrorism, and making it seem glamorous to impressionable and disenfranchised people who believe they have no voice or impact upon their own democratic governments. There’s a huge difference between planned, organized and directed attacks (terrorism) and a misguided fool whipped up by web sites designed to muster support for a cause.

No matter how often the Conservatives tell us that the attacker of Ottawa’s Parliament was linked to a terrorist network, we’ve still not seen follow up information, or the RCMP background video we are told contains proof of such a link. It’s the politics of fear and terror.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was right when he questioned why Harper is proposing new legislation with far reaching consequences without so much as consulting with opposition parties. Canadian rights, already being pecked away by post-9/11 laws, look to be even more constrained under a grantingcsis_record2 of extraordinary power to Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), with a mandate to “investigate and disrupt” terrorist plots. Canada’s police services will be able to go after online terrorist propaganda.

The line between being branded as an activist or a terrorist is already grey. With these proposals, that line could be even more abused than it currently is, and in fact, simply obliterated. Could a government with a long list of enemies, including labour and environmental movements, simply capitalize upon already existing powers such as restricting the right to remain silent, laws allowing CSIS to spy on Canadians overseas, detainment without charges, and arrest without warrants?

In 2012, Joe Oliver, then Minister of Natural Resources, wrote an open letter to Canadians on the government’s commitment to the diversification of energy resources (i.e. the Northern Gateway, Alberta’s Tar Sands.) In it, he said “environmental and other radical groups threaten to highjack our regulatory system to achieve their radical and ideological agenda.” He claimed that these ‘radicals’ were employing AmeriJOE-OLIVER Natural Resourcescan tactics to “sue everyone and anyone to delay the project,” and that ‘slow, complex, and cumbersome regulatory processes’ were slowing down the government’s ability to push ahead their own unilateral decisions and agenda.

Those ‘radical’ environmentalists were concerned about 50 square miles of tailing ponds full of toxic chemicals, supposedly lined but actually leaking at the rate of 3 million gallons per day. (Pembina Institute.) Cancer rates are 100 times the norm for the First Nations living on the Athabaska River. Over 80% of BC residents have said NO to oil tankers on their coast, and coastal First Nations have declared a ban under their traditional laws. oliver oil sands copy-002Perhaps these are small concerns to Mr. Oliver, but they are of vital importance to those who actually live in the area.

These ‘radical’ environmentalists could now potentially be charged with terrorism.

(In March, 2014, Mr. Oliver was appointed Minister of Finance. Yes, the same Joe Oliver who recently had to delay our next budget, due to the unexpected downturn in the price of oil. The government had banked on a big payoff on the pipeline, but instead, low oil prices are going to cost provinces nearly $10-billion in lost royalties and tax revenue, and see the government lose $4.3 billion in expected revenues. )

Could there be a better time for the government to ramp up fear and politicize terror? Data Mining

When the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001 was due to expire, the Tories’ Combatting Terrorism Act of 2013 reinstated them, with yet more power, and this new legislation would continue to expand on an overbearing and intrusive presence by government controlled security forces , bringing us ever closer to becoming a surveillance state.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that it’s important “we maintain a proper perspective,” on ISIS, and that they are not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order.” He added that the U.S. needs to see the threat for what it is and respond to it in a way that doesn’t undermine American values. obama isis

“It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing whack-a-mole wherever a terrorist group appears, because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military,” he said.

Contrast this with Harper’s “Stand Your Ground” stance on Canada’s presence in Iraq. As the opposition questioned if Canada was actually at war with Iraq, and what “advise and assist” actually mean to the Canadian soldiers “accompanying” Iraqi troops fighting against Islamic State soldiers, Harper said, safe_image.php

“Let me be clear. This is a robust mission. We’re there to make those guys effective so they can take on the Islamic State and deal with them and if those guys fire at us, we’re going to fire back and we’re going to kill them, just like our guys did.”

Look – I get it. We’re all scared. We’re afraid of ISIS and Ebola, of extreme weather and IEDs, of Monsanto and dirty bombs and oh my lawdy, what’s next! There’s too much crime, we’re told, and draconian systems of justice continue to be put into place at enormous cost, when in fact, crime rates are falling. While some American states legalize marijuana, those in opposition continue to pump out propaganda against pot, and institutionalizing people where the substance has not yet been legalized.

The truth is, “we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” as Stephen Pinker concluded in his 2012 book The Better Angels of Human Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. terrorist attacks globally

Terrorism peaked worldwide in the mid-1980s, and in North America around 1970. If you live in Canada or the United States your chances of being killed by terrorism are almost zero. We’ve been sold an exaggerated sense of danger about conflicts and events in other countries, which has allowed those in power to divide and conquer it’s people, alienate North America from war torn nations, engage in wars that profit only those in the military trade, and snip away at Canadians civil liberties, eroding our freedoms.

There are those who will say, “What do I care? I’m not a terrorist! Go get the bad guys!” Those people should perhaps have a chat with the innocent citizens caught up in the police actions taken against the G-20 demonstrators in 2010. g20protestMore than 20,000 police, military, and security personnel were involved in policing the protests, which at its largest numbered 10,000 protestors. Over a thousand arrests were made, making it the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. There were no ‘innocent until proven guilty’ dispensations; in fact, Toronto Police and the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) of the summit were heavily criticized for brutality during the arrests. harper controlling

You cannot hermetically seal a democratic society to protect it from violence; doing so actually reduces democracy. Despite the self-inflicted threat fear that Harper is trying to sell us, it’s our own government limiting our rights, not jihadists.  

Target’s Gain, Canada’s Loss


Attention Target Shoppers! Start your shopping carts as Target gets ready to liquidate stock from its 133 Canadian stores! Great news, right?

going out of bizNot quite, actually. In a continuance of mismanagement, and “whatever could go wrong, will,” Target will begin to sell off stock in early February, after receiving court approval of a liquidator. They will not, however, be advertising closing sales with “bankruptcy” or “going out of business” signs. You’ll have to pick through the goods to find the goodies.

But – what goods? Canadians have been faced with lacklustre merchandising from Target stores since they entered the market, with many stores being visibly under-stocked, and shelves either empty or with a few sad items lined up in single rows.

There’s been a problem with Target’s supply chain management since they first arrived in Canada, which resulted in Tony Fisher, the first president of its operation here, being fired in early 2014. CEO Gregg Steinhafel was asked to resign from Target Corp in Juntarget less for moree of 2014 – he’s the one that got a total severance and other benefits package worth about the same as the total amount being offered to all 17,600 of the chain’s Canadian employees.

(Steinhafel’s severance, which includes Gregg_Steinhafel_Golden_Parachuteprofit sharing and stock, will amount to $61 million USD, according to Fortune magazine, a sum greater than the severance package for all 17,600 Canadian Target employees combined ($58 million USD). Target Corp has now agreed to increase the employment trust to $90 million (CDN) to ensure the Canadian employees receive their full severance payout.)

empty-shelvesMark Schindele was parachuted in as president of Target Canada in May 2014 to try and fix the merchandise log jam, and pricing discrepancies that resulted from products arriving at warehouses with incorrect information, thus failing proper price comparison checks. In January 2015, he was quietly moved to Minneapolis to become SVP of Target Properties.

Target’s withdrawal from Canada is going to cost the corporation a bundle – they have said they estimate they’ll take a loss of $7 Billion. But what has been the cost to Canada?

<> on January 17, 2013 in New York City.The total amount of jobs gained across Canada in all industries for 2014 were 121,000 positions, down from the previous high figure of 186,000 reported in November. I’m not great at math, but the loss of 17,600 jobs at Target, spread across 133 stores, is a significant chunk of the pie. Also, our new jobs were concentrated around the oil industry, which is taking a beating as OPEC drops prices.

“The City of Edmonton’s chief economist says 80 per cent of new net jobs in Canada in the last year came from Alberta. “Over the past 12 months, Alberta has generated more new jobs than any other province in Canada and that includes Ontario, which is five times as large as we are,” said John Rose.” (Sept 11/14 http://globalnews.ca/news/1559263/40-of-all-new-jobs-in-canada-last-year-generated-in-edmonton/)

target-continues-to-failAdditionally, those 17,600 jobs were suspect to begin with. . When Target first arrived, they bought 200 Zellers stores, but did not honour the employees union in place. In fact, the first thing it did was ditch the union, eliminate seniority for long term employees, and drop all former Zellers employees to the bottom of Target’s pay scale. Because the majority of Target Canada’s workers were largely part-time, seasonal, or working irregular shifts, they will not qualify for Employment Insurance or other benefits.

The 133 stores, as well as office space leases and the three massive distribution centres in Milton, Calgary and Cornwall, will all be put up for sale at the same time, as early as March 5.

target distribution centreThe distribution centres alone represent a significant real estate investment; each warehouse covers some 1.5 million square feet, or about 26 football fields.

Target came to Canada promising jobs, new shopping opportunities, and a boost to the Canadian economy. In exchange, they received subsidies and tax breaks, along with favourable bank financing. This should have been a win/win situation.

bankruptInstead, it’s one of the biggest corporate bankruptcies in Canadian history.

Target wants to walk away from over $5 billion that is owed to creditors, big and small. They owe cities, suppliers and landlords. It’s such a long list of creditors that it took a 45-page document to list them all. They owe The Canada Revenue Agency and provincial governments millions in taxes ( $12 million to the CRA, $2.6 million to the B.C. government, and $6.5 million to the Quebec government.)

PharmacistGuest With just five stores in Manitoba, they still managed to rack up bills of $850,000 to Bison Transport, more than $450,000 to TransX, more than $200,000 to Old Dutch Foods and more than $1 million in tax owed to the Manitoba government. Beyond that, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to smaller suppliers and pharmacies which operated independently within the stores.

elfe juvenileSuppliers owed hundreds of thousands of dollars are considering ways they can force Target to return their unsold goods that were shipped within 30 days of the filing – rather than have the inventory be included in the chain’s liquidation sales. Target filed under the Companies Creditor Arrangement act, which doesn’t have the 30-day goods provision. After aggressively purchasing stock for anticipated December sales, it entered the crucial holiday season with the highest levels of stock possible. Companies such as Elfe Juvenile Products of Montreal, listed as being owed $38,294, is actually out $147,758, based on stock now in Target’s possession. So is Sager Food Products Inc. in Montreal, which is owed more than $11,000 on the books, but the company estimates as closer to $16,000.

Sager Food VP Santo Fata received its last order the day before the filing. Sager had been happy to fill Target’s orders, which “were steady, regular and getting larger. We were happy.”

Sobeys vegChapman’s Ice Cream is owed $19,987. Coca-Cola Canada hopes to see some of the $339,699 it is owed. $1.7 million is owed to Hillcrest Mall Management Inc. Roots Canada Ltd is owed $433,248 in royalties. Sobeys will have to absorb over $3 million in losses.

But no worries – Canada will take up the slack, in a loss of jobs, and increased prices and taxes to cover the share that Target is walking away from. Over $5 billion.

CANADA-CORPORATE-TAX-RATEThis is not the first corporation that has been invited, even aggressively courted, to bring their business to Canada. Nor will it be the last. It’s just one more corporate experiment that failed, and is ultimately paid for by workers, taxpayers and Canadian companies.

Added March 6/15 …

The gall of these thieves!

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/03/05/suppliers-gear-up-to-chal_n_6809404.html

Canada’s Heartaches by the Numbers


crude oil boomingOur dollar depreciated more than 2 cents on Wednesday, and is now worth .81 of the U.S. dollar, the lowest level since 2011. The Harper government put all Canada’s eggs in one basket by banking on North American crude oil, our top export, but the commodity has plunged from a high of $85 US a barrel in October of 2014, to a low of $46.US on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced this week that he would be delaying his budget from the usual February-March date until at least April, due to “market instability.”

Unable or unwilling to admit Canada’s damaged economy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters yesterday that “These things are creating some shocks that will impact us but they’re not going to throw us off our fundamental growth path or undermine the very strong fundamentals of the Canadian economy.” He added that “The government has complete confidence in the Bank of Canada in the actions that it has taken.”

The Bank of Canada cut the rate on overnight loans between commercial banks by a quarter point to 0.75% on Wednesday, in a response to the recent drop in oil prices. The previous rate had been at 1% since September 2010.  market failure

“The drop in oil prices is unambiguously negative for the Canadian economy. Canada’s income from oil exports will be reduced, and investment and employment in the energy sector are already being cut,” BoC’s Governor Stephen Poloz explained.

Many, including NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen, think Harper is in denial. The Conservatives had hoped to sail into 2015 on a high of oil fumes and the elimination of the$2.9-billion federal deficit , but it looks like their plans may be tanked as predicted federal tax revenues could be reduced by several billions of dollars thanks to global oil price shake-ups.

No worries, though, as Harper is relying on the annual $3 billion contingency fund built into the budget for “unforeseen circumstances.”

He also said that “The oil industry isn’t remotely the entire Canadian economy.” So … what is the Canadian economy?Canadian economy

Our population of 36 million boasts a 6.6% unemployment rate, with approximately 62% employed (16-64 years of age). (The United States, with 316.1 million, is at 5.6% unemployed, and 59.2% employed, while the United Kingdom, with 64.1 million people, has an unemployment rate of 6.0%, and 73% of people are employed.)

In Canada, wealth inequality, while an issue, is not quite as visible as in America; our Canadian 1% holds 12.5 per cent of Canada’s total income. 29 per cent earn $135,000 or more. But our incomes are generally lower – 95 per cent of working Canadians earn less than $100,000 a year. Our definition of ‘wealthy’ begins at $150,000.00 per year – chump change for wealthy Americans.

One of the reasons Canadians have not felt as impacted by wealth inequality is that, beginning in the late 1970’s, women surged into the workforce in record numbers. A household with two incomes could manage quite well. With the inclusion of children into the family, however, things got shakier financially. If one of the two wage earners has to stay home with the kids, they’ve effectively halved the family income, in order to raise children and run the home. As baby boomers aged, that child care burden lifted for a large portion of the middle class.

canadian workforceEducation, and it’s inevitable costs, are a factor. In order to succeed in a technological society, we need workers with complex skills and higher education. 64.1% of adults aged 25 to 64 had post-secondary qualifications in 2011, with women aged 25 to 34 holding a larger share of university degrees. 8 in 10 Registered Apprenticeship certificates were held by men.

In 2011, Almost two-thirds of adult Canadians had post-secondary qualifications, Stemwhile 2.1 million adults had a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree in STEM (science and technology, engineering and engineering technology or mathematics and computer sciences) but half of STEM university degrees were held by immigrants who have lived in Canada for many years, and Canadian newcomers.

waiterUnfortunately, Canada has the third-highest proportion of low-paying jobs in the world, with only the U.S. and Ireland having a higher percentage of low-paying jobs. Canada is becoming a ‘nation of part-timers’; part-time employment may still outgrow full-time employment for some years as the baby boomers reduce their working hours or retire.

But the big, well-paying manufacturing companies have left Canada to take advantage of lower labour costs abroad. What’s left for those with or without special skills are low-wage service and retail jobs, which generally lack the benefits associated with higher paying positions, and are becomingly increasingly insecure.

StatsCan released this information in January 2015:statscan

In December (2014), Canada lost 4,300 jobs as full-time employment rose by 53,500 while there was a decline of 57,700 in part time jobs… Employment gains in 2014 amounted to 186,000 (+1.0 percent), with increases in the second half of the year accounting for most of the growth. Compared with 12 months earlier, the total number of hours worked increased by 0.7 percent.”

“There were 24,000 fewer women aged 25 to 54 employed in December. Their unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.2%, as fewer of them participated in the labour market. Employment among men aged 25 to 54 increased by 23,000 in December and their unemployment rate declined 0.2 percentage points to 5.5%, their lowest rate since 2008.”

This month, however, it was announced that five large retail companies will be closing Canadian operations. Lured to Canada by massive tax breaks, cuts and incentives, they’ll be leaving more than 21,000 unemployed by March or April.

Stephen-Harper-CowboyIn Alberta’s tar sands, Suncor cut 1000 jobs last week as oil prices crashed. They also announced that they’d decrease their capital spending program by a $1-billion, and reduce operating expense s by another $200 million.

Canada’s largest growth sector in jobs has been in service and retail industries. Only Alberta has seen respectable job growth. Mr. Harper’s blithe suggestion that the current oil crisis will fail to impact the economy as a whole, sounds very much like a man whistling past the graveyardcanada bleak future

Update Jan 24/15: Last week on Global TVs The West Block, Jason Kenny (MP, Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism) told host Tom Clark, “We won’t be using a contingency fund. A contingency fund is there for unforeseen circumstances like natural disasters.”

But during an interview for this week’s episode of The West Block, Canada’s Finance Minister, Joe Oliver told Tom Clark, “The contingency fund is there for unexpected and unavoidable shocks to the system and, you know, the oil price decline – which was a dramatic one – would fall in that category. I’m speaking as minister of finance so I’m sort of current on the thinking here.”

Should Obama Veto the Keystone XL Pipeline?


kpIn the United States, the battle has raged for 6 years over the Keystone XL pipeline, meant to carry crude oil over 1700 miles from the Alberta tar sands to Nebraska. Canada, and especially Prime Minister Steven Harper, has held its breath as the Democrats, led by President Obama, and the Republicans, have debated the issue.

With the Republicans now holding a majority in the Senate, they’ve decided to make the decision a top priority. Obama has already threatened to veto any such action.

The Keystone would not be the only pipeline Canada has that crosses from Canada to the United States … there are already four major pipelines in existence, with lots of other smaller pipelines crisscrossing through most of the country.

So why the long deliberations? Could it be the ‘dirty oil’ being wrenched from the earth is worse than both the crude oil and tar sand oil already being conveyed?

Wet-tar-sands-537x358Environmentalists have protested Keystone since 2011. The Republicans have told us that having energy coming down from Canada instead of from other oil rich nations prevents the States being held hostage for oil. The Democrats, on the side of the environmentalists have dubbed the tar sands “Extra Lethal.”

But the demand is there. Despite the existing pipelines, oil is being distributed by other means as well – trucks, trains and barges traverse both countries. So, why not this pipeline?

Well, amongst other things, the government has already stopped the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA’s) environmental oversight commission from investigating environmental damage caused by tailings ponds in Alberta’s oil sands twice, this past year alone. Public complaints that Canada is ignoring its own fishery laws have brought the trade organization’s environmental oversight commission on board in an attempt to protect the Athabasca River from industry pollution.

Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence says the Harper government is “blocking” science from getting out information about the oil industry’s harm to the watershed.

watershed“There’s compelling evidence that [industry contamination] is happening and that the federal government is denying it, and not allowing that information to be known to Canadians and the people who live in that area. “It’s disheartening. The Canadian government is more interested in protecting oil sands companies,”

So, it would seem that oil sand protestors, whether led by Canadian musician Neil Young or not, have valid points that are not being addressed, but rather, suppressed.

Recently, Mark Little of Suncor, one of Canada’s largest oil sands producers, denied that the company’s tailings ponds were leaking into the Athabasca River. The executive even referenced historic “Voyageur” accounts of naturally occurring oil seeping into the river to back up his position.

“Oh, no. Oil goes into the Athabasca River, and it has been for hundreds of years.  There is an enormous amount of oil in the sand, and the river runs across the sand.”

But renowned water scientist, Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta begged to differ.

“That’s totally untrue. One reason I know industry is responsible for some of [the river pollution] is there’s a 1982 well documented spill for Suncor. They watched as it made its way down the Athabasca to Athabasca Lake and caused the fisheries to be closed for two years.”

deformed fish AthabascaAfter the incident, highly deformed fish, never before seen by locals or scientists, began appearing in the watershed.

Schindler also believes that the Canadian government is likely opposed to the NAFTA‘s investigation because it is “worried about more bad press.”

So, with environmentalists and scientists opposed to the project, it’s fair to think that the United States should be worried about possible spills involved with the proposed pipeline.

From CBC News Canada, “Through an access-to-information request, CBC News obtained a data set of every pipeline safety incident reported to the federal regulator in the past 12 years. The National Energy Board oversees cross-border pipelines. The data doesn’t include smaller pipelines within provincial boundaries. The documents reveal details about more than 1,000 incidents that have happened across the country from 2000 until late 2012 and suggest the rate of overall incidents has doubled in the past decade.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/pipeline-incidents/)

But meanwhile, the federal government has essentially gone all in on the promise of oil. Natural Resources Canada spent $438.3 million on programs to support the oil and gas industry — it spent $41.6 million more, or nearly 10 per cent extra, than the amount it was allotted for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. As well, an additional $24 million went for an ad blitz in the U.S. Yep, bullish on oil.

environment-1-612x336But what about the $300 million for “environmentally responsible” programs Parliament approved last year? Somehow, Natural Resources Canada failed to spend $298.6-million on programs for “green” programs such as renewable energy development and technology innovation.

The government put all of Canada’s precious eggs in one basket.

And, in Alberta, “the economic promise of the oil sands and their accelerating development are coupled with a curse. The waste gases are flared into the atmosphere, while the waste fluids are pumped into immense tailing ponds. These waste streams contain significant quantities of heavy metals and persistent aromatic hydrocarbons.

As a consequence, human health and local pollution issues are starting to become evident. Democratic governments are entrusted to ensure human health. Economic growth and environmental impacts are balanced in a pragmatic and evidence based manner. But our post-democratic society permits corporations to dictate policy and our government has acquiesced. Laws are now repealed,  allowing low cost development, free from environmental safeguards and at the lowest royalty rates in the world.” (read more here: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/opinion/oil-sands-promise-and-curse)

With the recent drop in oil and gas prices, Ottawa is also expected to lose $5 billion in revenue, and the provinces even more. OPEC, in a zero sum game, is dropping the price of oil, and that drop is creating a net loss for Canada.

Research, education, public broadcasting, and the future of national health lie in the balance as energy subsidies in Canada top an incredible $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs. And still the price of oil drops, down 57 per cent since last June.

The pipeline is truly a lose/lose proposition.

boehner-ryanBUT – the Republicans will push forward on making it happen. Not because it is a good idea, or good for the United States. But because 6 years ago, on the night of Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries gathered to create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration. They would fight Obama on everything. And after three hours of strategizing, Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan vowed that none of Obama’s presidential aspirations would succeed, if they had anything to do with it.

For Americans, the road to a national health care plan was nearly derailed, and the work may still be demolished, should these politicians continue to follow their path. The pipeline, also potentially lethal to citizens, will be steam-rollered through, regardless of environmental effects. All to stop one man, President Obama. Whether you are a Democratic or a fan of Obama, it must be admitted that this relentless attack on a legally elected sitting leader is abhorrent and incredibly self-indulgent.

Six years later, America and the world still dangles from these puppeteers’ strings.

generation against oil