Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Oil May Well Destroy Canada

A fairly devastating economic analysis of the oil sands "benefits" as it relates to the federation.  Despite the continual sales pitch that oil sands development is of great benefit to all Canadians, the report finds an Alberta windfall of biblical proportions, with other provinces left with "scraps":
TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL, the largest of the three lines, will bring the most benefit to Alberta thanks to oil-sands development, CERI said. It will add $121-billion in incremental tax revenue over 25 years, while Ontario will receive $6-billion, and $2-billion will end up in B.C. Gateway, on the other hand, will add $73-billion to Alberta’s coffers, $4-billion in Ontario, and $1-billion in B.C.

Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain expansion effort would translate into $60-billion in incremental tax revenue for Alberta, with Ontario and B.C. again left with scraps. Meanwhile, existing pipelines are expected to add $298-billion to Alberta’s pockets, with $15-billion to Ontario and $5-billion to B.C.
Now factor in so called "MILD" dutch disease, which is acknowledged, and you have any upside basically negated for a province like Ontario.  Of course we must factor in equalization payments, but the point is quite clear, when it comes to oil sands development grand inequalities exist.  That Gateway will add SEVENTY THREE times more revenue to Alberta than B.C. really an indictment of the Canadian federation as it stands.

This report again obliterates the notion that Canadian future prosperity is largely tied to oil sands development.  In fact, if these numbers hold true, the obscene disparities will only further fracture Canadian commonality.  The numbers also suggest a national energy strategy proposed by Alberta is really a mechanism to appease the rest of Canada while the province sets itself apart, as though on another tier.  I make no apologies for the notion that a country should see benefits for all its citizenry, which is why I find our constitutional framework outdated and frankly insulting to an ideal surrounding a "greater good" mentality.

Critics argue B.C. is holding Alberta hostage with its unprecedented demands.  While political opportunism is part of the equation, there does exist a fundamental philosophical argument, that really speaks to a generosity, not withstanding agreements made two centuries ago.  Fact is, B.C. are challenging the constitution in a non direct fashion, natural resources aren't neat boxes that solely fall within a provincial jurisdiction and as such require a wider perspective.  If we view ourselves as Canadians first- provinces a secondary identity- than there is nothing particularly offensive about shared benefits, particularly when calculating political risks.

I believe we are entering a long protracted battle that will dominate the federation for years to come.  On the one hand, other provinces lamenting disparity, which will further irritate Alberta.  On the other, I see a developing sense of isolation from Albertans and ever growing succession considerations as money pours in, the narrow greed perspective takes hold, acrimony leading to more pronounced fractures.  In other words, this debate could well tear the country apart, particularly as disparities become more advanced, the practical manifestations plan to the naked eye, human nature being what it is.

What this report highlights is that British Columbia has a very fundamental point, as well as justification for any hesitations coming from places like Ontario.  As well, the sales pitch we routinely hear to sell the oil sands to the "rest" of Canada looks paltry and very much like scraps.  Never mind a national energy strategy, perhaps it is time to ponder the unthinkable, natural resources as the property of all Canadians.  Insane, unworkable, a non starter, but really if Canada is a modern entity, a common sense consideration. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Canada Requires A Unifying Force

In the absence of defining moments, it is sometimes hard to ascertain incremental drift.  There is a certain subtlety to Canada's federation unravelling that tends to undermine the true severity.  For instance, in Quebec separatist polling allows for some superficial sense of "calm", when really a growing indifference and internalization threatens any affinity.  Again, without succession votes or constitutional wranglings, people are allowed to adopt a false sense of overall health, when really there is a inward retreat and an overarching desire to simply be left alone.  Enter a federal government that voluntarily abdicates the traditional role of overarching unifying force, and you have the mirage of "peace".

I agree with almost everything B.C. Premier Christy Clark had to say in her op-ed relating to the pipeline.  I also believe her new found stance is craven, naked political opportunism, more about political survival than sincere conviction.  However, it is simply comical the way some commentary expects a narrow self interest to champion a higher calling.  In reality, Clark is a creature of the system, she is playing to her constituency, representing her province, protecting her interests.  Expecting anything more from Clark is to seek the exception not the rule, Canadian democracy is such that her state is a natural one.  The counterbalance to narrow provincial stances is supposed to be the blanket perspective of the federal government, but again we lack that crucial ingredient and are left to meander.

More and more, provinces operate as defacto countries.  I'm an Albertan, I'm a Ontarian, I'm a proud British Columbian, etc...  The regional pride is really at the expense of the collective whole, as one sense rises, the overall affinity to something big wanes, make no mistake about it.  Without a real voice to challenge and think of something wider, we will identify with the advocates who speak to a more confined "backyard".  Premiers are "standing up" for their constituents and all are quick to contrast with Ottawa, as though some foreign bogeyman bent on undermining prosperity.  The oldest game in Canada, but also a very dangerous mentality that ultimately fractures. 

The Harper model essentially sees the federal counterbalance as a nuance, the "firewall" mentality permeates many decisions.  In some regards, Canada is interference, Canada is a distant government that doesn't necessarily represent, nor does it have the capacity to adequately speak to regional issues, much better to let the locals have greater latitude.  The trouble with this mentality, it creates a vacuum, it actually believes people beholden to subsets can articulate a wider vision.  Politicians are only accountable to their voters, to expect some noble pursuit outside of their fiefdom is to seek rarity and with that practical folly.  We can criticize Clark, but Redford is no different, even the floated national energy initiative is simply a vehicle to help grow Alberta's wealth, nothing more, nothing less.

Here's a thought borne of sheer madness, perhaps a true national energy strategy adopts the notion that natural resources are for the benefit of all Canadians, equally and fully.  I know, the horror of the suggestion, how dare one posit an actual national approach to provincial affairs, but really if everyone isn't "invested" in certain economic realities, then you will have opposing viewpoints.  Yes, B.C is taking most of the risk and little reward, but perhaps the perspective would be different if the reward was national in scope.  Rather than these complicated arguments about "spin offs" and worker migrations, equalization payments, if resources were the property of ALL Canadians, then a more Canadian perspective would surely emerge.  Instead, we live in a country of "ours", we play us vs them all too often, we lack any cohesion or commonality that binds, we really are a mirage of an entity. 

It's all fine, if we want loosely affiliated provinces- as Trudeau lamented- but if you believe societal evolution involves greater accommodations and common ground, then Canada has it backward.  Are we forever shackled by our Constitution, can it never change, is this Canada's permanent state until it ultimately unravels?  Canadians love to think of ourselves as the nation where all peoples can come and share in the experience, we trumpet our internationalism, our multiculturalism, as a model to the world.  In reality though, Canada is a thin veneer, there is little commonality, it only articulates itself during sporting events or historic remembrance, but mostly it mocks other regionals, has contempt for other jurisdictions, while pumping its own regional chest with narrow pride.

We can do better, but who is there is to articulate the "greater good"?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Liberals Fight To Stay In Conversation

The Liberals are staking out the "middle ground" as it relates to the oilsands. With strong options on boths sides, the Liberal position is part default, part natural predisposition, but I'm not sure the "third way" will be particularly compelling. Truth be told, the Liberals are largely nowhere within a debate that looks to be centerpiece topic moving forward. There are so many tenticles to this debate over the tarsands, bleeding into a fundamental economic discussion, encapulating a deep philosophical debate revolving around our relationship with our environment.

The idea that polarization allows for a reasonable alternative to bridge the gap is nice in theory, but within this particular debate, it risks appearing vanilla and bland, even if logically sound. The fact the NDP do not oppose ANY oilsand development narrows the Liberal window that much more, there is wiggle room for Mulcair to avoid a completely "reckless" accusation.   On many scores, people are taking sides, leaving the "mushy middle" almost neutral and by extension largely irrelevant.

The NDP have taken strong stands and within that an attractive electoral coalition, as long as national unity questions are mitigated, I see a potential winning combination, the math is there.  Rather than backing off, Mulcair has largely been rewarded for steadfast conviction, agree or not, there is an inherent optical strength conveyed and that is attractive. 

And, herein lies the problem with the Liberal position.  Sure, people can see merit in both sides of the arguments. But, in reality many of us do agree or disagree, we are for a pipeline or against, we believe the environment must be protected or not, there are black and white considerations.  One only has to look at how the provincial NDP have staked out a clear position and gained traction, relative to the "fence sitting" B.C. Liberals on the pipeline issue, and we see both how polarization works and a compromised position can look quite weak.

People appreciate stances, taking a stand, fighting your ground, within that a certain risk, but a sense of conviction.  I worry that the Liberals, while entirely reasonable and "adult" in perspective, gets lost within an increasingly polarized debate, perhaps a natural state, given the issues surrounding.  We may appreciate the careful arguments from the Liberals, but if there is to be a pitched battle between two diametrically opposed ideologies, will hushed tones be heard above the sound and fury?  I tend to think not, I'm not convinced, although I'm also not sure the Liberals really have a spectral choice. 

Time will tell if the middle ground is the ultimately preferred ground.  I tend to think the positions may find some sympathy, but wonder if there is any motivation at the ballot box, when compared with the more fiery alternatives.  At this point, the Liberals fight an uphill battle just to remain part of the conversation, within an issue which will be a primary point of distinction during the next election, of that I have no doubt.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

And So It Begins...

Reading the latest piece on Liberal/NDP "co-operation" pretty much touches on every angle I've recently explored on the topic, as it relates to the Liberal leadership.

Little known David Merner has stepped forward and committed to make co-operation a centerpiece of his campaign
Mr. Merner, an admitted dark-horse candidate, said he supports the ideas floated by New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen during the NDP leadership race that federalist parties on the centre and left should nominate candidates jointly at the riding level. “We are no longer the governing party,” Mr. Merner said. “And we’ve got to look at how we co-operate.”
And suddenly Merner will place himself within a debate that will emerge as this race moves forward.  Why?  Because, as I've said the mechanics of the race mean the contest isn't confined to narrow partisans, it will draw in others with a wider agenda:
Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians...."The progressive elements of our society have to come together in solidarity"... And Jamie Biggar, the executive director of Leadnow.ca, which has challenged measures of the Harper government, says his group advocated for co-operation with the Liberals during the NDP leadership campaign and will do so again as the Liberals pick a leader.
Biggar also notes 10000 people joined the NDP to support these notions. The point here being, "outside" organizations can willingly participate in assisting any advocate. Mr. Merner will find friends within the party, and perhaps a built in administrative aid from others. There is an appetite out there for co-operation, that Merner is distinguishing himself makes him a "dark-horse" to watch, he will recieve media attention and sympathy from certain quarters. As well, many Liberal candidates will argue AGAINST any form of co-operation. This reality immediately gives Merner a prominent place within the debate and the exposure that will bring. We could see a scenario akin to Cullen, with the added angle of "supporters", which could propel and suggest serious momentum as we move forward. The media love the merger angle, it provides the necessary tension they seek. There are "third party" interests who will actively engage in the open Liberal leadership process, and I'd suggest in a more influential way than the NDP race. We now have one candidate who will advocate, perhaps more to come. I expect "co-operation" to be a core issue as this process moves forward. Mr. Merner has shrewdly staked out fertile ground that could make this "second tier" candidate one to watch moving forward...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

No Brainer Liberal Policy

I'm curious to see which leadership candidates argue a serious rethink on drug policy, particularly marijuana legalization. Despite a resolution passing at the recent Liberal convention, there is nothing binding on the party to adopt outright legalization. Naysayers also argue Liberals are foolish to think this issue top of mind with Canadians, as though a true IDENTITY isn't a collection of beliefs forming a clear presentation. In other words, nobody claims backing marijuana legalization is the sole path to 24 Sussex, but it is a controversial issue that seeks a rational champion.

The latest poll on marijuana offers no real surprises, the public well ahead of the politicians on the issue, a full two thirds of Canadians support decriminalization.   The numbers more significant when one weighs electoral realities, there is no political "downside" for the Liberals.  Add in an NDP with a leader who is hardly revolutionary on the issue, and there is an opportunity to find a voice in this debate, make the "war on drugs" a distinguishing issue.  The Conservatives have made these issues a political wedge, why continually play defence, rather than take a principled stance with rational underpinnings, which can pivot into a taxation issue as well?

The Liberals need to completely redefine their identity, but rather than "find themselves", they simply have to reassert what "liberal" means, the epiphany is nothing more than confidence to be what we should.  No hand wringing, no soul searching, just stop being so calculated and in turn watered down, believe in things, alienate and be unabashed in conviction.  Advocating marijuana legalization is a no brainer for "Liberals".