By Jim Harding
It’s good that the Harper Conservatives dropped the term “Progressive”. It’s also good that they didn’t call themselves “Reform”. The existing Conservative Party isn’t “conservative” in any normal sense of the term; they don’t want to conserve Canada’s democratic traditions, or the lush waterways, or, with their wedge politics, unity among Canadians. And rather than positively reforming government (e.g. the Senate), they have become the least transparent, least accountable and most manipulative government in our history.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but oil is on the short list. Harper’s vision hasn’t been about building up Canada as a whole, it’s been more about making us a Petro State. With his obsession to increase oil exports came environmental deregulation, the industrialization of water, and the push for pipelines going in all directions. And the authoritarian politics to try to force these things through! The urgency of the climate crisis has had to be denied, as has the historic role of oil in the growing turmoil in the world.
To Canada’s detriment Harper has misread the global reality. The crash in the highly subsidized oil market, clear signs of the impending climate crisis, steady growth in the renewable energy sector, and the escalation in the Middle East of the greatest humanitarian crisis since WWII have chipped away at his one-dimensional ideology. While Alberta’s economy was chugging along and he could exploit taxpayer’s money to promote his Economic Action Plan, Harper could present himself as the strong economic manager. With this image tarnished he’s tried to present himself as the strong fiscal manager, able to manoeuvre a pre-election “surplus”. With the pillars of his big narrative crumbling, he’s back into divisive wedge politics and crass voter bribes.
Some basic history helps us understand just how far off course Harper has taken us.
For a century addiction to oil and Middle East turmoil have been co-determined. The lucrative petroleum industry began when oil was first extracted in the U.S. in the 1850s. The market for kerosene for home and street lighting grew quickly, and with some blatant price fixing, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil fortune was born. Petroleum extraction expanded into the Middle East and the Suez Canal helped Shell Oil transport kerosene more cheaply into the Asian market.
When the production of electricity revolutionized lighting the oil barons had to look for new markets. They were to become gasoline for the emerging automotive and airplane market and oil for the military during WW I. Soon it was war for oil and oil for war.
With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East and its oil resources was partitioned; oil-rich Iraq became a British colony. Companies and governments formed cartels to control oil supply. British control under Churchill helped defeat Hitler and after WW II the west gained even greater control of oil. Under Roosevelt the U.S. established Saudi Arabia as its main oil colony. Oil-based products, from plastics to clothing to pharmaceutics and agrochemicals to house-ware, flooded the post-war consumer market. (See the three part BBC doc “Planet Oil”.)
Cold War politics and Arab and Persian nationalism intertwined with the struggle to control oil. And all of us are living in the blowback.
The pro-American Shah of oil-rich Iran fell to an Islamic regime. The U.S. supported Sunni-dominated Iraq in a devastating war with Shiite Iran. It had also backed the emerging Afghan Taliban in their fight against “the evil” Soviet Empire. Saudi Arabia exported not only oil but Islamic fundamentalism, yet, even after 9/11, the U.S. continued to back this feudal regime.The U.S. and U.K. invaded Taliban-run Afghanistan as retribution for 9/11. Then on false premises they invaded Iraq and Iraq imploded. Sunni and Shiites further polarized; terrorist tactics spread.
War refugees from Iraq and Syria started to overwhelm Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The incoherence grew; Egypt had its short-lived “Arab Spring” and then returned to military rule. Turkey now bombs ISIS and the Kurds, who are the “boots on the ground” fighting ISIS. The U.S. and Iran negotiate a nuclear weapons ban agreement, while U.S.-backed Israel remains the only nuclear weapons power in the region. U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia now bombs Shiite communities in Yemen. Both Russia and Iran back Syria’s Assad regime, which continues to bombs its own dispersing people. More traumatized youth everywhere for ISIS or its successors to recruit. Refugees flood into Europe.
The contradictions are finally catching up with the Harper’s Conservatives. The U.S. doesn’t need our oil and China’s growth is faltering, while it makes big strides towards renewable energy. Harper’s politics of fear works for some, for awhile, but not so much when millions are on the move due to failed oil states and the gathering storm of climate change.
Harper has held our country back from playing a constructive role in the needed transition from oil, and its related geo-political conflicts and devastating climate changes. Ecological stability, human rights, peace and security, sustainable development and human compassion for those who have suffered through this destructive period of oil-driven history require Canada to have a new government.
When the history of this dark period in our history is better understood we’ll see the Harper Conservatives for what they are: not conservative, not progressive, not reformist, but a mean-spirited reactionary-populist politics that has made Canada a more polarized and less respected country. Let the healing begin!
Next time I’ll reveal how I plan to vote.