Well, the bully’s back. Canada is getting its lunch money taken again, but this time it’s even worse. The bully shows up at our house on weekends too and takes $50 million per day, give or take $10 or $20 million.
This is the same bully that told Canada it had a weak leader. There was a lot of indignation over that; Canadians aren’t all that keen on being seen as weak. On the other hand, Canadians now see themselves in a position where the problem can possibly be rectified.
It was excellent to see that Prime Minister Trudeau picked up on the pulsating and coiled mood that is unfolding across the country due to the disgraceful way in which we are giving away our oil and natural gas resources. In his visit to Calgary yesterday, he made it clear that he hears the message “very, very clearly.”
The easiest thing would be to lapse into a lazy, blistering attack on the PM as sometimes happens with overly crotchety commentators. The pressure is on to pour scorn and rage at Trudeau for the box he has put us in, and it is understandable where that comes from. Part of it is purely political, and in that theatre Trudeau will never win approval even if he grabs a shovel to help with Trans Mountain himself. Part of the anger though is the view that Trudeau had a good hand but played it poorly. It is the latter that deserves analysis, and perhaps is worthy of debate across the country.
So perhaps a clearer mind is useful here; this is not a simple rant about journalists valiantly but misguidedly attempting to analyze the petroleum business. We are talking about the elected leader of one of the top 10 (this week) economies in the world, and we should give him space to tell us his plan.
We can see the political plan well enough. Trudeau, obviously, has been attempting to steer a path “down the middle” – which is what the national Liberal party tries to do. As such, politics would dictate – and let’s not forget that this is the view from the seat of a PM who wishes to get re-elected – a strategy to appease the widest possible number of voters. That means to appeal to those on the soft left and soft right, to moderate environmentalists and moderate business types, and assume that will be enough.
This strategy applied to energy seems to be to allow some green initiatives to proceed, and to allow some pro-petroleum (pipelines) projects to proceed. Where things seem to have gone off the rails is in the latter part.
The pipeline crisis is acute. Energy East and Northern Gateway were sacrificed in what seems to be a calculated measure, and the carbon tax is well on its way to fruition. The last leg of the stool then to win the middle ground for Canadian hearts is to have enough pipeline access be constructed, just enough, to keep the oil patch healthy.
The expected successful paths, however – Keystone XL and Trans Mountain – have not proceeded. Enbridge Line 3 is alive, but one never knows until it is flowing. As with many other bad situations, it takes a tipping point to bring things from annoyance to crisis stage. And we have now arrived there. The lack of proper market access has gone from a thorn in the side of producers to a national economic calamity.
It would be great to have a magic wand to wave and solve the problem in the near term, but of course we don’t. What we also don’t have is any indication of where to go from here.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit was welcome, and we are grateful that he acknowledged having heard the problem so clearly. But. And it is a very big but (and I don’t like big buts (and note the single ‘t’ there, no other commentary to be inferred)). It is one thing to hear this message clearly, but what is going to be done about it?
What was missing from Trudeau was something we see even in the NDP’s Premier Notley – outrage. Notley has not a lot of friends in the oil patch, in large part because her past as a pipeline opponent did not help, but even opponents can see that she is now fighting for Alberta’s petroleum interests.
We do not get that sense of urgency from Prime Minister Trudeau. We get that he heard the issues, but we don’t know what that translates into.
So, Prime Minister, a few questions for you: Are you just hearing us, or are you outraged that we hand $50 million per day to the guy who called you a weak leader? And, you may have heard us, but what is your plan? What are you going to do about it?
A long time ago, your dad grabbed a national crisis by the scruff of the neck and wrestled it to the ground. When told he couldn’t do that he said “Just watch me.” Prime Minister Trudeau, yesterday in Calgary you called the market access issue a crisis. We are watching you. Make us proud.
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