The federal government’s claim that big-money foreign interests are trying to hijack hearings into a proposed west coast oil pipeline is, at one level, high parody. It is also deeply disturbing.
The parody lies with the fact that Canada’s oil industry is dominated by multinationals. That means there will indeed be a lot of big-money foreign interests pushing the three-person federal review panel to okay a pipeline from Alberta’s oilsands to a tanker port at Kitimat on the British Columbia coast.
America’s Exxon Mobil, Britain’s BP, France’s Total E&P, China’s SinoCanada Petroleum Corp. and Japan Canada Oil Sands Ltd. have all asked for intervenor status at the hearings. So has the South Korean conglomerate Daewoo.
But foreigners who support the pipeline aren’t the outsiders that Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims to be worried about. As Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver explained to CBC television on Monday, these are the good foreign interests.
The bad foreign interests are the ones who help fund environmental critics of the pipeline. Oliver calls these bad elements “billionaire socialists … people like George Soros.”
If this weren’t a cabinet minister talking, it might be amusing. The Internet is filled with conspiracy theorists who view Soros, a self-made Hungarian-American tycoon, as evil incarnate.
The biggest rap against him seems to be that he openly opposed former U.S. president George W. Bush.
In Tea Party circles, this might count as socialism. But when a Canadian cabinet minister uses the term, he sounds — well — nuts.
And that’s the disturbing part. Harper and his minister probably aren’t nuts. But they are deliberately using mistruths and half-truths in a crude attempt to slander their environment critics.
Oliver’s statements have been particularly bizarre.
In an open letter released Tuesday, he said critics of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline were attempting to “hijack” the environmental assessment hearings “to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”
Their aim, he said, was to gum up federal regulatory hearings that are already too cumbersome. “Under our current system,” he wrote, “building a temporary ice arena on a frozen pond in Banff required the approval of the federal government.” That, he said, caused a two-month delay.
This example might be noteworthy if it were true. It is not. The town of Banff did indeed construct an outdoor rink this winter. But as Banff communications manager Diana Waltmann explained to me, the rink was built on a high school field (not a frozen pond), required the agreement not of the federal government but the local school board and opened on time for Christmas.
Similarly, Oliver cited hearings into one controversial Alberta oilsands project that took six years. The Joslyn North review did, indeed, take almost six years. But grandstanding by environmentalists wasn’t the reason. Public hearings into that project lasted just two weeks.
The rest was taken up by bureaucratic delay (it took Ottawa and Alberta more than two years to strike a panel) plus rulings from regulators that twice sent the applicant, Total E&P, back to the drawing board. That added another two and a half years.
Presumably Oliver knows this. But he and his master prefer to blame mythical fifth-column environmentalists.
Theirs is a nasty, stupid xenophobia. And it diverts attention from the real questions: Should this pipeline be built? Should oil tankers be allowed to ply the hazardous waters off B.C.’s north coast?
Incidentally, Banff’s new outdoor rink had to shut down briefly after Christmas. Not because of climate-change believer George Soros. But because the weather was uncharacteristically warm.