Quietly militarizing our energy policy?


I wondered what was going on in the province lately so I checked out CBC News.

Apparently two dumb kids broke out of the Dalhousie jail and got caught in a high speed chase in Fredericton . A 51-year-old Moncton perv was busted by the RCMP for having 5 million images of child porn on his computer. Our good premier, David Alward, refused to lay off cuts to education even though highway construction costs are coming in millions of dollars under budget. Tourism was down on Grand Manan because the ferry is still out of commission. A woman died in a motorcycle crash. Another woman was stranded on the Confederation Bridge. Saint John city officials are forcing some guy to take down the giant three-storey pirate ship he hammered together in his back yard. And Canada Post is still doing its cross-country rotating strikes. Just another happy week here on the East Coast.

Bad as some of this is, none of it affects me much. But I could see that all these news items had something in common. Every one of them had something to with transportation and communications.

To Canada, with its vast geography, the moving of goods, services and information is pretty much fundamental to the operation of a modern economy. Transportation and communications are huge, and it’s no surprise that they affect every aspect of our lives—including our politics, and especially our energy policies.

Speaking of policies, I caught a bit of news last week about Stephen Harper’s post-election approach to the future. He was telling the audience that Canada had to shoulder a larger role on the world stage. It seems it’s no longer Canada’s mission to get along with everyone else’s agenda or to “please every dictator with a vote at the United Nations.” What does that really mean?

I also caught another bit on Harper, this one in an interview with Tom Flanagan, a loyal Harper adviser and University of Calgary prof. who identified the core Conservative strategy for success. It’s incremental change. Which means, instead of provoking public reaction to sweeping dramatic change, the Conservatives are committed to making small, incremental changes over time to remake our country—with the minimum of public backlash possible. Smart.

But just how does all that translate to transportation and communications?

It has everything to do with Canada’s changing role in the world. But what is that role? Well, the biggest changes happening in the world have to do with energy and resource shortages. And, unlike most of the world, including our friends to the south, Canada has an abundance of those resources.

And remember those “dictators” with votes at the UN that Harper mentions? Coincidentally, they also have key resources, including an abundance of oil. These dictators include the leaders of oil-rich Libya, Chad, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, and extend to larger states such as Iran.

Dealing with, and moderating the behaviour of, resource-rich “dictator” states would very likely require the increased commitment of our military. If we take Mr. Harper at his word—and connect this with Canada’s increasing alignment with U.S. foreign policy—it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to picture Canada’s growing role in supporting American armed forces.

To my mind, this is a disturbing direction. What this tells us is that Canadian politicians are now more enchanted with power than with peacemaking. And Harper has already demonstrated a mastery of incrementally securing and maintaining power.

There’s a certain tunnel vision to this approach. Yes, the acquisition of power is necessary to any government. But the continual pursuit of power rather than addressing other priorities becomes a dangerous disease. But what’s the actual end game for the power play?

To restate the obvious, it’s oil. Harper remains loyal to his early connections to Alberta’s oil industry. He’s staunchly committed to the ongoing mining of the western oil sands and accessing Arctic oil reserves. On the other hand, he’s slow to endorse and commit Canada to any significant world climate change policy, instead content to follow whatever the U.S. chooses to do.

Canada, with its geographic expanses, faces greater transportation and communications challenges than most countries. Keeping our trans-com sector operating requires huge inputs of energy to service a small and widely scattered population.

In reality, we Canadians should be weaning ourselves from our own addiction to fossil fuels. But with an abundant supply, that’s a difficult proposition. We’re just not that motivated. And besides, there are a lot more profits and jobs to be had by doing business as usual.

If we were a truly conservative country, we’d begin the process of conserving our non-renewable natural resources for the future, and begin investing heavily in new technological innovation rather than arming up to dominate foreign countries to “secure” their resources for ourselves and our American neighbours, wouldn’t you think?

But strangely, given the importance of the transition to alternative sources, we hear precious little about the politics of this in the news—ever. Shouldn’t we be concerned about this, just a little?


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