Natural resources don’t have to leave
Listening to federal Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau causes concern over how little control Canadians might have over trade and resource development in future.
Going to great lengths to accommodate our most important trading partners, especially the People’s Republic of China, is inevitable because our future as a trading nation depends on it, he said during a question-and-answer session at the Prince George Civic Centre last week.
Trudeau said Canada’s strong ties with China date back at least to Canadian doctor Norm Bethune’s work as a battlefield surgeon for Maoist troops fighting the invading armies of Imperial Japan in the late 1930s, and also to his father Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s visits to Mainland China in 1960 and in subsequent years as prime minister.
Justin Trudeau told about 100 people in a Civic Centre meeting room he endorsed the sale of Calgary-based oil and gas producer Nexen to CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation Ltd.) for $15.1 billion. CNOOC is 70-per-cent owned by the People’s Republic of China. (The deal has not yet gone through because U.S. regulatory approval is still required: The reason is that Nexen has operations in the Gulf of Mexico, according to an article in the Calgary Herald this week.)
Trudeau went on to say Canada, with 35 million people, is “just a tiny fly speck” in a world increasingly dominated by populous nations. He spoke approvingly about China’s current status of having about 150 cities with more than one million people and the prediction that it will have 220 such cities within 10 years.
What does the comparison of Canada to a fly speck compared to other trading nations do to the self-image of this country? Why was there no mention of this country having the second-largest land mass in the world? Do we have no choice but to become a resource colony of an expansionist totalitarian power? Is there no alternative in trade policy to being whipsawed between a capricious and overbearing United States and the demanding dictatorship of the People’s Republic of China?
To his credit, Trudeau said he would ensure Canadian environmental protection regulations and Canadian labour standards would be observed by any foreign-government corporation in Canada. Some skepticism is required, however. When promoting NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and other free-trade deals in the 1990s, then-U.S president Bill Clinton promised side agreements on environmental and labour standards that the signatories to these trade agreements would have to observe. Ultimately, little came of these side agreements in the protection of ordinary Americans’ jobs or in better labour standards or environmental regulations in the countries to which jobs were outsourced because of the free-trade agreements. Canadians should take warning from this precedent.
When he was in Prince George November 12, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said that, too often in the past, Canadian policy in regard to natural resources has been to “rip it and ship it.” Will this continue if Justin Trudeau becomes prime minister?
People I would call ‘inevitabilists’ – observers who consider themselves hard-headed realists – say “the oil has got to flow” from the Alberta tar sands through the Prince Rupert area to China one way or another, whether by pipeline or by rail. What about a pipeline to Central and Eastern provinces? What about keeping the oil as a strategic reserve or for continental energy security? What about leaving it in the ground for future generations, or just leaving it in the ground? Why the irreverent destruction of Nature that expansion plans for the tar sands project will require?
Four years ago, before it was widely known that plans called for shipping the tar sands petroleum to China, a noted religious leader condemned expansion plans for the Athabasca tar sands development and criticized some Canadians’ wasteful consumerist lifestyles for helping to provide the impetus for such developments.
Huge, toxic tailing ponds will remain an environmental threat for a century or more, Luc Bouchard, bishop of St. Paul in Alberta, said in a pastoral letter to parishioners in January 2009. He added: “This drive to development ignores the fact that 40 years of research into the oil sands, while it has led to a substantial reduction in some forms of pollution, especially air pollution and water usage, does not at present hold out the hope of reducing environmental harm to an acceptable level primarily because of the enormous scale and rapid development of the projects.”
Later in the pastoral letter Bishop Bouchard observed, “The moral question has been left to market forces and self-regulation to resolve when what is urgently required is moral vision and leadership. I am forced to conclude that the integrity of creation in the Athabasca Oil Sands is clearly being sacrificed for economic gain. The proposed future development of the oil sands constitutes a serious moral problem.”
We, along with Justin Trudeau, have to step back and re-consider.