If the Alberta and federal governments' mismanagement of oil sands development were not so clear and their defence of their policies not so divisive and intellectually dishonest, one could feel a little more sympathy with their foot-stomping and tears of outrage at Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair's diagnosis Canada suffers from "Dutch Disease."
You could argue that the dose of Dutch Disease Canada has caught isn't very serious, for example, or claim different economic factors are involved in other regions' problems. But it's pretty hard for anyone to make a serious case Canada’s currency has not been driven upward to some degree by the West's bitumen boom or that our muscular petro-Loonie isn’t having some economic side-effects in other parts of the country.
Indeed, the Globe and Mail revealed yesterday that researchers contracted by Industry Canada concluded "a third or more of job losses in Canada's manufacturing sector can be attributed to resource-driven currency appreciation."
And this isn't just major unionized manufacturing companies we’re talking about here -- which the Harper Conservatives may have ideological reasons for wanting to weaken. Another report cited by the Globe, an attempt to debunk the Dutch Disease thesis by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, suggests the damage is mostly being done to "small, labour-intensive industries such as textiles and apparel."
Economist Jim Stanford characterizes these hysterical attacks on the patriotism of anyone who dares suggest there may be two sides to the bitumen development coin as "Energy McCarthyism" by Conservative oil patch politicians like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Alison Redford.
This is true enough, although the tactic is hardly performing up to its users' expectations. From the perspective of most Canadian voters, it may not amount to much more than confirmation the Conservatives of the West are the crybabies of Confederation.
It is certainly not true -- as the Globe and Mail stated as if it were unquestioned fact -- that there’s a battle brewing between Mulcair and the Western provinces.
Excuse me! A lot of us out here in the West agree with Mulcair's analysis -- both of the economic effects of an overvalued petro-Loonie and the need to ensure any benefit analysis of bitumen extraction includes the costs of putting carbon inputs into the atmosphere, polluting and using up Alberta's water, and cleaning up the mess after the foreign oil companies have taken their profits and gone home.
Furthermore, we share the suspicion that many of the economic symptoms of western bitumen development could be ameliorated by more Canadian control of the oil industry and domestic development of the downstream industry -- not the 71-per-cent sellout of oil sands production supported by the fake-patriot Harper.
Like Mulcair, we're not opposed to bitumen development and we’re not from the greenest fringe of the environmental movement. But we are, also like Mulcair, in favour of environmental sanity and putting the interests of Canadians first.
So this is not a fight between all of us here in the West and the leader of the Opposition. Au contraire!
And you can count on it that Mulcair's arguments resonate powerfully in other parts of the country, or the federal Conservative reaction in particular would have been swifter and more vicious than the muted and hesitant efforts to date.
You have to know these guys are looking to unleash a million oil-drums of slime onto Mulcair -- that's their style. If they haven't yet done so on this issue, it’s because their polling tells them the Opposition leader's message resonates with many voters in many places.
This presumably is also why they're not screeching about NDP being tax and spend socialists for advocating a sane taxation policy -- because lots of recent polling has shown that a majority of Canadians are "tax-and-spend socialists" by that definition too.
The IRPP report, for example, sensibly argues that since resources constitutionally belong to the provinces, the federal government should treat Canada's Dutch Disease symptoms by using "additional federal tax revenues stemming from natural resource booms to invest in infrastructural and other activities that bolster the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector as a whole."
This, presumably, is precisely where Mulcair is heading with this debate. It is an argument that is bound to be persuasive to a large number of Canadians, including many of us here in the West. It is equally certain to be anathema to neo-Conservatives like our prime minister, his party, his "ethical oil" Astroturf shills and the significantly under-taxed foreign petroleum corporations that bankroll them all.
It is typical of the tactics of the Harper Conservatives to use wedge issues to intentionally divide Canadians along regional lines for electoral advantage, as they did cynically and openly in the long-gun gun registry debate, and then to disingenuously attribute the same strategy to their opponents.
It is ironic in the extreme that these professional climate-change deniers attack Mulcair as "ill-informed" and "foolish" when their own researchers and common-sense observation confirm his basic thesis.
That said, one feels that Mulcair and the Opposition are up to this debate and that these tactics will not go well for Harper and the Conservatives.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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