The revelations over how the federal Tories used a robocalling firm (or firms) to contact voters in possibly 30 or more ridings during last year’s election — misleading them about where polling stations were located — is just another example of the Harper government’s undemocratic tactics. This is on top of their new online surveillance bill that would allow police to access people’s private data without a warrant.
And don’t forget the police brutality wielded against protesters during the G20 summit in 2010, and twice proroguing parliament in 2008 and 2009 to shut down debate on the Afghan detainee scandal and prevent opposition parties from forming a coalition government.
While the robocalling scandal was breaking, Harper was in Asia sucking up to the leaders of China, extolling the virtues of Canada’s tar sands and encouraging their investment in Alberta. Harper, acting as front man for the oil patch, is desperate to have China as a customer of our dirty fuel, even if it means strip mining and poisoning all of Alberta to do so.
There is something all very banana republic about where Canada is drifting. On one hand, you have a government that is authoritarian — using every dirty trick it can muster to slime its opponents, denying democratic participation and debate at every turn, while decimating and browbeating the one media outlet that has had displayed some independence in the past — namely the CBC (which is taking a 10 per cent budget cut this year). On the other, we have a government that has allied itself with corporate interests and the autocratic pathology that goes along with it.
Which suggests Canada is heading towards becoming a petrotyranny.
In 2000, the Canadian environmental activist and scholar John Bacher published a book called Petrotyranny which examined the politics and economics of the oil industry. One of his troubling conclusions was how energy-rich countries tend to be led by undemocratic regimes: indeed, the amount of oil reserves found in countries ruled through non-democratic and unrepresentative means is more than six times the reserves found in more democratically-aligned countries. “Oil wealth is the biggest single factor sustaining these tyrannies,” Bacher wrote. “Oil profits aid to repression also makes them a principal cause of war.” Countries like Iraq, Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia stand out in this regard.
In Canada, our economy is witnessing a shift in balance of power — from the manufacturing east to the oil-producing west. And the Tories’ strongest base of support is in the west. It seems to be no accident that the stronghold of the most undemocratic right-wing element is Alberta, a province where the Conservatives have been in power since 1971, and where the government derives as much as 40 per cent of its revenue from the oil patch.
Democratic diversity is no longer part of Alberta’s political DNA, it seems.
Oil is deeply distorting the economic foundations of Canada. The world’s demand for fuel has driven up oil prices, and kept our dollar artificially inflated. And in doing so, has decimated our manufacturing sector in eastern Canada.
Industrial Info Resources, a business intelligence group, reported recently that Canada saw 79 industrial plant closings in 2011, costing nearly 14,000 jobs — twice the pace of the U.S. Overall, Canada lost 50,000 manufacturing jobs in 2011. And from 2004 to 2008, we lost more than one in seven manufacturing jobs, nearly 322,000 in total. Since the early aughts, Canada has gone from a relatively well-rounded capitalist power to one that is increasingly dependent on selling our raw resources abroad. In fact, last November Canada had $1.1-billion trade surplus based largely on energy exports.
Yet, instead of addressing the demise of Canada’s manufacturing base, Harper sees our economic future based on building pipelines out of western Canada. They have displayed tremendous passivity over the loss of the Caterpillar plant in London, and the sell-off of Canada’s steel and mining industry to foreign corporations, or their refusal to rescue Nortel from bankruptcy and prevent its valuable assets from being auctioned off to foreign competitors. And if RIM dies, you can bet Harper won’t step in to rescue what’s left of Ontario and Quebec’s high tech industry.
As the election-manipulation scandal unfolds in the coming weeks, beyond the obvious observation it is part and parcel of the introduction of U.S.-styled (in particular Republican) political methods to Canada, people also need to look at the connections between Big Oil and authoritarianism (and reread John Bacher’s prescient book). I think they are closely related.
This article was first posted on the Progressive Economics Forum.