Sunday, October 30, 2011

Letting Go of the Urban Legends

I attended an event yesterday for Ron Hartling, who is running as president of the Liberal Party of Canada. Speakers included Peter Milliken and Liberal MP Ted Hsu.

However, I learned more from one of the guests, who like me, had been a supporter of the federal PC Party until it was bought out by the Reform-Alliance.

She told me that she had grown up in Calgary, moving to the Toronto area several years ago, until finally settling in Kingston. She mentioned the first time she returned to Calgary for a visit. Her father accused her of talking like an "Easterner", but she said "no, dad. I'm not talking like an Easterner, I'm talking like a federalist."

So much of the Western alienation that brought the Reform Party, and even the NDP, to prominence, is the stuff of urban legend. The difference between the NDP and Reform, is that the NDP grew up and moved on. Canada's new Conservative Reform-Alliance Party has not, nor do they want to.

They need to keep the old grievances alive because those are what fuel the Conservative Movement on both sides of the border.

The first bit of sand in the shorts came when Alberta's Social Credit premier, William Aberhart (1935-1943), wanted to create his own currency and rewrite banking laws.  Ottawa stepped in.

Then in 1960, Social Credit premier Ernest Manning (1943-1968) considered allowing the American oil industry to detonate a 9 kilotonne atomic bomb in northern Alberta, in an experiment to determine if nuclear power might help remove oil for the oilsands.  It could have removed Albertans as well.  Ottawa stepped in.

Many in the West, have used Ottawa as a scapegoat for decades.  Not to say that they didn't have legitimate complaints, like bilingualism and the metric system.

However, the largest catalyst has been the National Energy Program of Pierre Trudeau.  Three decades later, they just can't drop it.  So maybe it's time for a little history lesson.

The Alberta corporate sector didn't like the NEP, because it discriminated against petroleum companies that were foreign owned.  The devastation in the wake of the NEP was not due to the program, but Brian Mulroney's scrapping of it, leaving no protection for the industry when OPEC moved in.

Says author and political science professor Trevor Harrison:
Oscar Wilde wrote that there are only two tragedies: one is not getting what one wants; the other is getting it. In the fall of 1985, the latter tragedy befell Alberta's oil industry. The OPEC cartel failed to agree upon a world oil price. The result was a global free-for-all among producing nations. Canada's oil and gas producers were caught in the middle. Having recently gained freedom from the NEP, Canada's oil and gas industry was not protected as the price of oil dropped from US $27 per barrel ... to $8 per barrel by August 1986. ... Forty-five thousand oil workers lost their jobs."  (Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, By Trevor Harrison, University of Toronto Press, 1995, ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6 3, p. 97)
In fact, many Canadian corporations liked the NEP because it allowed further exploration on public land.  However, by 1980 only 26.1% of the Petroleum industry was Canadian owned and 18.7% Canadian controlled.  Canadians had lost their voice.

However, the grievance of both American and Canadian corporations, was proposed changes to the tax laws, which would have closed up loopholes.
When Allan MacEachen was appointed finance minister in 1980 big business requested that government examine the tax system with a view to making changes. But MacEachen's senior advisers soon focused his attention on how billions of dollars were being lost yearly to scores of dubious corporate tax breaks.  Finance officials put together a tax reform package designed, among other things, to eliminate 165 of the most costly and counter-productive tax expenditure measures and in the process increase revenue by close to $3 billion. When he introduced the legislation it caused a firestorm of protest from the corporate elite.

Neil Brooks, now professor of tax law at Osgoode Hall Law School, was working for the finance department on the tax reform package and has recalled the tactics of the large corporations. "It's almost a classic example of what's called a capital strike. I mean, business simply said to the government that if you go ahead with these measures we will stop investing in Canada." The development industry reacted instantly. "Literally the next day they were closing jobs down and . . . pulling cranes off construction jobs." (The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen: Canada and Democracy in the Age of Globalization, By Murray Dobbin, James Lorimer & Company, 2003, ISBN: 1-55028-785-0, p. 168)
If this was really about the manipulation of oil prices by Ottawa, then Ontario would also have a grievance, over Diefenbaker's National Oil Policy.
The aim of the National Oil Policy was to promote the Alberta oil industry by securing for it a protected share of the domestic market. Under the policy, Canada was divided into two oil markets. The market east of the Ottawa Valley (the Borden Line) would use imported oil, while west of the Borden Line, consumers would use the more expensive Alberta supplies. For most of the 1961-73 period, consumers to the West paid between $1.00 and $1.50 per barrel above the world price, which, just before the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and price increase, stood at around $3.00. They also paid proportionately higher prices at the pump than Canadians east of the Borden line. (Towards a Just Society: The Trudeau Years, By Thomas S. Axworthy and Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Viking Press, 1990, ISBN: 0-670-83015-1. p. 51)
This meant that Ontario paid the higher Alberta price and were restricted from shopping for a better deal, while foreign owned companies got to import cheaper product.

So why aren't Ontario politicians riding NOP in the same way that Western politicians ride NEP?  (Wouldn't that make a great Cat in the Hat episode?).  It's because of different philosophies.  Forward thinking politicans let go of the past.  The regressive Conservative Movement needs to keep the past alive to continue to ride the wave of anger.

"Us" against "Them".

In the spirit of Halloween, it's time to let go of the urban legends and ghosts of the past, and move toward what is best for all Canadians.  Unfortunately, under our current government, that will never happen.
"Westerners, but especially Albertans, founded the Reform/Alliance to get "in" to Canada. The rest of the country has responded by telling us in no uncertain terms that we do not share their 'Canadian values.' Fine. Let us build a society on Alberta values." Stephen Harper
That would be fine if they were "Alberta values", but they are in fact, American Conservative "values", so, no thanks.

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