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Will Saudi Arabia's diplomatic tantrum provoke cognitive dissonance in Canada's 'ethical oil' crowd?

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Saudi Arabia has given the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to pack his bags and go home because, the Saudi Foreign Ministry complains, Canada is meddling in the internal affairs of the oil-soaked feudal theocracy by expressing concern in Tweets about its arrests of human rights activists, clerics, and journalists.

Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland Tweeted that she was alarmed to learn of the arrest by Saudi authorities of women's rights activist Samar Badawi. Another Tweet by the Foreign Affairs Department urged the Saudis to release women's rights advocates they have in custody.

The Tweets were a "major, unacceptable affront to the Kingdom's laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the Kingdom's sovereignty," the Saudis said, threatening to interfere in Canadian politics if this keeps up. With angry Tweets of their own, perhaps, or maybe a swarm of Facebook bots. They also recalled their ambassador from Ottawa.

In addition to the Saudis' diplomatic frappé at Canada's "explicit interference" in Saudi affairs, the Kingdom says it will refuse to sign any more trade and investment deals with Canada, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

So, here's a bold prediction: This is going to make the heads of some Canadian Conservatives explode!

Seriously, what will people like federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney have to say about this?

Scheer is the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, whose sine qua non is accusing Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of messing up the international trade file by failing to get cozy enough with U.S. President Donald Trump on regulatory "harmonization" and not building that pipeline they could ever make any progress on fast enough.

Kenney used to be a big shot in the government of Stephen Harper, the last Conservative prime minister of Canada and the one who sold off the Canadian Wheat Board to a Saudi hedge fund. Apparently he cries and pounds his pillow every night now because he doesn't have Scheer's job. He's still in a federal frame of mind, at any rate, and seems like he spends more time attacking the prime minister than he does thinking about Alberta.

Both men are big advocates of the notion Canada's oil is more "ethical" than oil from places like Saudi Arabia -- which Conservative supporters sometimes call "dictator oil," or "conflict oil." They argue, therefore, that people who think Alberta's oilsands shouldn't be developed because of their potential impact on the planet's climate are siding with repugnant foreign regimes, you know, like the one in Saudi Arabia to which we sell billions of dollars of armoured cars.

Given the connections between the Canadian oil industry and foreign petroleum plays, this has led some cynical folks to call Canadian oil "loosely ethical." Moreover, anyone who understands the Conservative Party position on regulation of corporations, which demand the right buy wherever they want wherever they feel like it, also gets it that the argument is "snake oil."

Nevertheless, Conservatives are heavily invested in it. Credit where credit is due, it was Ezra Levant, founder of the Conservative Party's equivalent of the Saudi Press Agency, who came up with the "ethical oil" squib, or at least popularized it.

So how will Conservative leaders try to square this circle? Will they assail Trudeau for mucking up our ability to sell Canadian-built Light Armoured Vehicles to the Saudis so they can attack their theologically non-conforming neighbours in Yemen and persecute minority religious communities at home?

Or will they accuse him of not being hard enough on the Saudis, the better to sell Alberta's ethical oil though that ethical pipeline to Canada's ethical tidewater they accuse the PM of taking too long to build?

They're going to have a cognitive-dissonance moment for sure. But probably they'll find a way to say both those things.

It must have almost killed them when their public opinion polling told them they had better side with the Liberal federal government when Trump slapped those "national security" tariffs onto Canadian steel and aluminum.

Lately, they've been showing signs of backsliding on their national solidarity pledge out here in Alberta. Perhaps Kenney can ask Devin Dreeshen how to handle this. The new United Conservative Party MLA's history as a tout for Trumpism was held to be a good thing during his successful by-election campaign last month, whereupon he was named party trade critic in the Legislature.

Speaking of American national security, Trump's latest ultimatum to Iran is strikingly reminiscent of Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia in 1914, and we all know how that ended up. So if this one works as it's apparently intended and starts a war with Saudi Arabia's greatest regional strategic and theological rival, count on it that Canada will be put under enormous pressure to help the Americans defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and keep foreign competitor oil flowing through the Persian Gulf.

This would mean ordering young Canadians to sail and fly into harm's way to save the feudal princes who are sending our ambassador home with a metaphorical boot mark on the back of his trousers today.

It's not hard to imagine what Canada's Conservatives would say about that, of course: Dictator oil? Never heard of it!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.


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