[If you don’t care about Canadian politics, you can stop reading now.] Recently I ran across A budget, a leadership race — and a nation split up the middle, by Andrew Coyne, a titan of the Canadian conservative commentariat. It made me so mad that I wanted to emit a loud peevish whine in this space, but I decided to wait till I’d cooled down. But unfortunately I haven’t. Mr Coyne’s thesis is that the residents of the energy-producing regions of Canada are corrupt fools. Fortunately his argument is pitiably weak.

Coyne’s backdrop is the current leadership race in the NDP; [I won’t explain the significance since you’re not reading this if you’re not into our politics, and anyhow it’s just the backdrop]. I’ll illustrate his argument by cherrypicking a few direct quotes:

  1. “It is clear, first, that natural resources, notably oil, are emerging as the primary fault line in Canadian politics, assuming commodity prices remain at their present, historically high levels.”

  2. “The Conservatives have plainly nailed their colours to the mast as the defender of the resource industries, and of the regions that depend upon them.”

  3. “The NDP, just as surely, is preoccupied with the problems of resource wealth, from global warming to the costs a high "petro dollar" impose on other sectors. The leadership race has seen a parade of candidates in various states of anguish that Canadian resource firms should be selling their raw logs or unrefined bitumen to foreigners, rather than diverting them — presumably at a lower price — into domestic processing. ”

  4. “Whatever its merits or demerits as policy, it amounts to ceding the resource-producing areas of the country to the Conservatives.”

The biggest among the many problems with Coyne’s argument is the assertion, in #4 above, that the NDP’s policy, “whatever its merits”, will forfeit the votes of those in the parts of the country that pump the oil. What an insulting load of crap. I’m Alberta-born, personally know and am related to lots of people in those parts of the country, and they are, by and large, reasonable. Seems to me they might respond well to an energy policy with significant merit, even if it discomforted the incumbent oilpatch oligarchs.

Shorter Andrew Coyne: The citizens of the Prairies and the Maritimes will uncritically vote the short-term interests of Big Oil.

What’s almost as maddening is the implication that people who live where the economy depends on resource extraction would reflexively reject an attempt to bring home the processing. As if any sane person would want to limit our horizons, as a matter of policy, to being hewers-of-wood and pumpers-of-bitumen.

The assertions that you’d get less for your resources this way, and then that the processing would be done in Ontario, are just that, assertions offered without evidence. They are, however, evidence of a failure in courage and imagination: Why shouldn’t Red Deer or St. John’s become centres for resource-processing not just resource-transshipment?

Shorter Andrew Coyne: The citizens of the Prairies and the Maritimes are timid and stupid.

Another blood-pressure-elevator is in the more or less complete absence of the E-word, as in “environment”. Oh yeah, in the last paragraph which takes up Québec, and I quote: “drilling for shale gas, which the province is reckoned to have in vast quantities, but the exploitation of which has until now been shelved owing to environmental concerns, or rather environmental politics”. The notion that you can talk about energy extraction and processing on a Canadian scale without a certain amount of existential terror about what you might be doing to the ecosystem that supports you... well, that’s just bad craziness.

Shorter Andrew Coyne: The citizens of the Prairies and the Maritimes are OK with raping the planet.

What’s weird is that this energy-policy turd is lodged in a larger column that says some smart things about the NDP’s options; as you’d expect from Coyne, who’s usually among the more intelligent voices coming from our Right.

Energy and the environment have somehow sent him off the rails. Something is way out of kilter when a usually-competent writer squeezes out “The fundamental question is whether the enormous wealth this represents is an asset to be managed, or a problem to be solved”. [Does that even mean anything?] Just another Ontario dude who doesn’t really grasp that there are thoughtful people west of Mississauga and east of Montréal, I suppose.

Dear Mr Coyne: You can do better. And the Canadians in our resource-producing regions surely deserve more credit than you’re giving them.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: dave (Mar 23 2012, at 00:23)

The 'problem to be solved' would be to either

1 figure out how our economy would run if we decided not to extra oil from all over Canada [namely, where would we get our oil from AND money from which most of Canada is dependent on (either directly or through equalization payments)]

2 an all new 'National Energy Policy' like way back because Alberta is just wasting all that money they get for the oil they produce.


From: Brendan Taylor (Mar 23 2012, at 08:29)

"The citizens of the Prairies and the Maritimes will uncritically vote the short-term interests of Big Oil."

Historically (at least for Alberta), this is true.

As an Albertan I think you underestimate the effectiveness of our media as propaganda outlets.


From: ben (Mar 23 2012, at 08:31)

Sticking to what I know, I gotta say this:

As a USian, I find myself a little envious that this is what qualifies as small-c-conservative ranting in other countries than my own.

I’m glad that you can feel umbrage for both of us, since long stretches of my more distant extended family live in… the Prairie and Maritime provinces.

[“Prairie” has two i’s in it? Really? You learn something new every day.]

In other news Obama is lately rah-rahing Keystone XL. What? (My present address is within easy driving distance of its proposed right-of-way.)

Meanwhile, my Inner Former Geography Major finds the political landscape just a little fascinating.


From: Mike (Mar 23 2012, at 09:58)

Are you deliberately alternating randomly between periods/commas inside/outside quote marks, or just blissfully unaware that there's a rule for that? (Two rules, actually, depending on where you live, but one principle: consistency.)


From: Tim (Mar 23 2012, at 10:58)

Mike, thanks. There was one place where I’d screwed up the ordering of the ” and the ‘.’. I do think my approach is principled, but I understand that there are people who prefer others.


From: George Goodall (Mar 23 2012, at 14:08)

I appreciate your criticism of the piece. My reading is perhaps a bit different. I don't read a condemnation of oil-centred voting; Instead, I feel Coyne is somehow calling out regional politics, or more specifically, the lack there-of east of Saskatchewan.

Regional politics have always existed in Canada: CCF, Social Credit, Reform, etc. The current Torrie mandate, for example, seems to largely be some Reform planks polished in a way to appeal to Ontario. The recent Liberal implosion represents its attempt to be a national party without recognizing the importance of regional grounding.

Coyne's argument about oil completely masks the complete absence of regional politics for Ontario and -- to a certain extent -- Quebec (given the tension between the Bloc and the NDP). Imagine a new party that was established to specifically appeal to the ridings between Manitoba and New Brunswick. Call it the Canadian Centrist Party. Would it be attractive in the 905, 514, and 416? Absolutely (and that's a lot of seats!). Would it be "anti-oil"? Not necessarily but it might seem that way.


From: Wayne Peterson (Mar 25 2012, at 12:34)

Your blood pressure may have gotten the better of your understanding.

The meaning of "The fundamental question is whether the enormous wealth this represents is an asset to be managed, or a problem to be solved." seems fairly clear. Some people will be more concerned with the environmental issues and others the business side of resource exploitation. It becomes even more reasonable when you include the part in parenthesis that was omitted, "(It's both, of course, but politics has a way of turning complex questions into binary choices.)", which I take to mean that it's necessary to balance environmental concerns with the business.

As an Albertan I've been around enough people who work in the Oil business to know that there is a strong feeling of, shall we say, doubt about the causes and effects of Global Warming. Which is not to say that Albertans don't care about the environment but an NDP or Liberal policy of higher taxes on the Oil industry to ""internalize" environmental costs" or "discourage exports" is likely to receive a fair amount of resistance. As Upton Sinclair's said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it!".


From: IanRae (Mar 27 2012, at 10:23)

Ontario is the home of the auto industry; the province's largest industry. Automobiles burn oil to make pollution. The East-West political rhetoric seems to always forget this fact. Ontario is no more green than Alberta.


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