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Stephen Harper wanted to make Canada 'a global energy powerhouse.' How did that work out?

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Image: London Summit/Flickr

Anybody remember Stephen Harper's plan to turn Canada into "an energy superpower"?

That was in July 2006, a dream articulated in Harper's first speech abroad as Canada's prime minister.

Canada was not only about to become "a new energy superpower," Harper told the Canada-U.K. chamber of commerce in London, his government intended to turn the country into a "global energy powerhouse."

Those were the days! The G8 (remember that?) was about to meet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Oil was selling for US$74.57 a barrel. The United States had to import oil to keep the wheels of its economy turning. Harper was threatening to show Russian President Vladimir Putin a thing or two for not bowing to the new neoliberal imperium.

"We believe in the free exchange of energy products based on competitive market principles, not self-serving monopolistic political strategies," he grumped at Putin, explaining that the world, including Russia, must allow market forces to prevail.

"An ocean of oil-soaked sand lies under the muskeg of northern Alberta, my home province," he bragged. The Globe and Mail, covering the story, noted how Canadian diplomats had been instructed to tell business leaders and politicians how much energy Canada supplies to the United States, reinforcing the message that Canada was a safe, reliable and market-based source of energy.

Almost 14 years have passed since that heady day, when the new prime minister even got to have tea with Margaret Thatcher, his hero and the model for his plan to use fossil fuel revenues to finance the change to an ideological market-fundamentalist utopia, without anyone noticing what was actually being done until it was too late.

So how's that market fundamentalist fantasy coming along in 2020?

Harper hasn't been prime minister for almost five years now, although he's still lurking in the background trying to foment a regime in Canada that nowadays looks more dystopian than utopian to most Canadian voters.

The United States pumps out enough oil to satisfy its own needs. So, as we keep forgetting to remind ourselves, our number one customer has become our number one export competitor. So much for the bountiful benefits of allowing market forces to prevail!

Not only that, but people everywhere have concluded global warming is an actual thing, and they're looking for answers that don't include steaming out petroleum from that ocean of oil beneath the "muskeg" in Harper's Alberta back yard.

The former prime minister's acolytes are back in power here in Alberta -- plotting to save the collapsing oil industry by setting up a Russian-style monopoly with looted teachers' and nurses' pension savings. Putin, I'm sure, would approve.

And the Russian president is confident enough now to tell Saudi Arabia to drop dead when it tries to blackmail his country into curtailing production in the face of a global pandemic that's already suppressing demand for oil -- blowing former Harper cabinet minister turned Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's aspirational 2020 budget to smithereens less than two weeks after it was tabled in the legislature!

Time for a new one already?

When Kenney was elected in 2019, promising an immediate return to oil-boom nirvana after the previous NDP government and the Progressive Conservative one before that had struggled with depressed energy prices since 2014, it was supposed to herald the return of the "Alberta advantage."

All that was needed, Kenney told us, was low taxes and a war room that would tell those urban green European extremists global warming was baloney and Alberta's bitumen was the very best, most ethical oily sand in the planet. Then Alberta would be great again.

He'd have a summer of repeal, he vowed, and make MLAs stay up late in the legislature to dump the NDP's efforts to diversify the economy and reduce the province's enormous carbon footprint. And give the man his due: Promise made, promise pretty much kept!

But instead of low taxes and a booming economy floating on rebounding oil prices, we've got oil prices plunging into the sub-basement with no alternative source of revenue, pushing Alberta toward a financial meltdown that can't really be blamed on any of the United Conservative Party's usual scapegoats.

Who knew that markets respond to supply and demand?

Last night when I last looked on my handy-dandy cellphone app, West Texas Intermediate was down to US$27.69, and Western Canadian Select, our tarsands special, was trading at $14.43.

I imagine most people in Canada are thanking god Harper and his so-called Conservatives were run out of office before they hollowed out what was left of the country's manufacturing sector in the name of putting all our economic eggs in the oil basket.

But here in Alberta, about all we have is the former leader of the Opposition, and not, incidentally, the recipient of a nice Canadian parliamentary pension, yelling for Alberta to separate if we don't get right back on the Harper oil train! As if that's going to make the price of bitumen magically rise.

This is apparently what passes for serious political discourse in Alberta nowadays.

So how's that energy superpower thing working out?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: London Summit/Flickr

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