Stephen Harper and the New ‘National Energy Program’

This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian – JG.

By Mihael Willman

What a difference several decades can make! In 1980, so long ago that, as a non-Albertan, the memory of that period had been pushed back into the recesses of my mind, then Prime Minister Pierre Eliott Trudeau introduced his National Energy Program (N.E.P.).

It took the mention of the N.E.P. to bring the memories flooding back! Two goals of the program were to increase Canadian ownership in the oil industry, as well as the country’s self-sufficiency in oil, at a time of increasing world oil prices. Laudable goals for any government! Another goal was to increase the federal government’s share of the oil revenues, and included a tax to fund the government-owned Petro-Canada Corporation. Also driving this policy was the desire to insure a reliable and cheaper supply of domestic oil for the eastern provinces, particularly Ontario and Quebec.

The uproar in Alberta, particularly among the oil corporations, was deafening. How dare Ottawa encroach upon provincial rights? Here were clear signs that Trudeau’s Liberal government was getting ready to nationalize the oil industry, a socialist agenda if ever they saw one.

Foreign companies sold off their Canadian assets, resulting in lost jobs, mostly in Alberta. The job losses escalated and led to a real estate market crash. Though external factors, such as a growing world surplus of oil and the eventual declining prices, contributed their part, Trudeau and the NEP were primarily blamed for the resulting economic crisis in Alberta. The opposition and anger against the NEP and the federal government reached such heights, that at one point rumors circulated among Conservatives that hatred of Trudeau had gone so far as to result in money being put on the table for his assassination. Memories are long in Alberta and the federal Liberal party has never been able to live down the NEP.

Into this conflict came Stephen Harper. Some people grow up with a bias, others acquire it. In Stephen Harper’s case it appears to be a little of both. His father worked for Imperial Oil as an accountant, a company for which Stephen later worked for in Edmonton. Originally a member of his high school Young Liberals Club, Stephen left because of his objection to the NEP. Joining the Progressive Conservative party, he would also leave that party because of, among other things, Mulroney’s tardiness in revoking the NEP until 1986. Clearly, the interests of the oil industry and Alberta were becoming paramount in his mind.

And it is this bias that seems to be guiding the policies of his government today. While Eastern Canada continues to import foreign oil, Alberta and its oil companies are more interested in selling it to foreign buyers. As is Stephen Harper. And at the top of the list is Communist China. And not just the finished product, but the resource itself! Eager for greater and greater communist Chinese investment in Canada, especially in our natural resources such as mining and oil, Harper has gone to China declaring that Canada was open for Chinese investment. And Communist China has responded in a big way. After making some minor investments, it has made a move to take over an entire company, namely Nexen.

We all know that Stephen Harper is in favor of the Chinese takeover of the Nexen oil company, despite growing public opposition and repeated warnings from CSIS about the national security risks involved. The politician who was strongly critical of Communist China’s lack of basic human rights; oppression of its own dissidents; occupation and suppression of Tibet and cultural genocide in that country; its support of rogue nations and dictatorships worldwide; has now become little more than a common Chinese lapdog. In other words, what China wants from Harper, China will most likely get.

Of course Communist China isn’t the only beneficiary of this new Harper policy. The other beneficiaries are his friends in the oil, gas and mining industries. To make these decisions easier to swallow, it is coated in supposed economic benefits for the entire country, not just individual corporations, even if national security might be compromised. Afterall, national security is an intangible, only felt once it is gone, while the financial benefits to investors and companies can be experienced in all the lovely money they will get to spend. Particularly, the money they will be able to contribute to their favorite political candidates!

So the question arises: what has happened to the Stephen Harper who was so critical of Beijing and its policies while in opposition? Or did he never really exist? Was his political stand just a sham, to gain support from Conservatives and Canadians at large in order to advance the interests of one particular industry and only one province, at the expense of everyone else?

And how can someone, who was so opposed to the NEP, to Canadian government ownership of the oil industry, find nothing wrong in allowing a foreign, government-owned company, particularly a Communist Chinese government-owned company, take over a Canadian oil company? Too bad Stephen Harper’s father didn’t work for Canada’s intelligence service! If so, he might have grown up with a greater interest and respect for the needs of national security over monetary gain for the oil corporations.

*****

A final word on the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement…

What a difference a few years make, or the difference between being a leader of the opposition and being the governing party in Canada.

In 2011, when the opposition parties talked about joining together to force the minority Conservative government out of power, Harper said that it was illegitimate for parties without a political mandate to combine forces to take power. In 2004, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, Jack Layton and the NDP and Giles Duceppe and the Bloc approached the Governor General asking her to consult with them before taking the decision to call a federal election. As the opposition parties constituted a majority in Parliament, a coalition of these parties was proposed as a possible alternative, should the Liberal government fall.

At the news conference held by the three leaders, Harper said:

“It is the Parliament that’s supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party. That’s a criticism I’ve had and that we’ve had and that most Canadians have had for a long, long time now so this is an opportunity to start to change that.” (1)

And yet it is Harper and the Conservatives who refuse to allow any debate on the merits or lack thereof of the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement which will automatically take effect on 1 November. No debate in the House, no input from other elected members, nothing! Only the unilateral decision of ’the largest party and the single leader of that party.’

I guess it all depends on which side of the fence one is on. What Harper called for in opposition, is not the same thing he believes in now that he has a majority! Hypocrisy at its most blatant!

(1) – See the “Coalition attempt” section in the “Bloc Quebecois” Wikipedia entry here.

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