Harper Government

Regulators throwing loaded dice

Propaganda is a tool favoured by leaders who suppose unthinking citizens can’t determine the common interest. Noam Chomsky says it is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.

The tar sands extraction industry and parasitical agents like Ethical Oil, along with Stephen Harper’s government, are investing heavily in a campaign of duplicity and exaggeration as they use the metaphorical bludgeon on Canadians. Public relations and political arrangements have always been a significant cost of doing business in dirty oil. Even before Syncrude, the first significant Athabasca tar sands operator, began producing bitumen in 1978, they were spending hugely on spin doctoring. My employer in the seventies was one of the beneficiaries.

prop·a·gan·da   [prop-uh-gan-duh] noun
Ideas deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

In early days, as they do today, big city flacks talked much about economic development and harm-free bitumen production but not of carbon loads and mercury, arsenic, lead or other poisons that would destroy lives of permanent residents, mostly First Nations, in rural Alberta. Decades later, the energy subject illustrates what writer Stephen Hume once called a defective political culture through “deception by omission, misleading half-truths, disingenuous dissimulation and sleazy spin-doctoring.”

There is no better example than the Harper Government’s approach to energy regulation. The Toronto Star’s national affairs columnist wrote,

“It appears [Stephen Harper] is undermining the work of an independent panel that is hearing aboriginal and environmental objections to the $5.5 billion project that would run from Edmonton to the Pacific, from where Alberta’s oil could be shipped across to Asian markets.

“…he appears prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure a Keystone repeat will not be played out in Canada’s west.

“…As the regulatory process stands now, a denial of the project does not go to the federal cabinet for a final decision. But as Harper seeks a way to streamline the hearings process, those who know this file were suggesting he could also change the rules to allow cabinet to overturn a negative finding.

“…And he agreed Canada poured a lot of money into Keystone lobbying… He didn’t make it clear how that was different from American money being used to lobby against the Northern Gateway…”

Before federal government regulatory hearings began, allegedly to objectively examine the pipeline project, Harper’s federal government had already declared unbounded support for the project, calling it an exercise in “nation building.” The Joint Review Panel for Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is part of the National Energy Board and the Minister responsible for it is Joe Oliver.

Oliver demonstrates not even a pretense of even-handedness, saying that his ministry’s review process is “broken.” His open letter, released the day before hearings began, claims environmentalists have a radical ideological agenda and aim to prevent trade and stop any major economic project in Canada. Of course, the potential for developing truly significant industrial expansion in Canada is lost when industry chooses to export barely processed bitumen. Multinational oil companies care little about refining in Canada to produce intermediate and end products of petroleum: liquid fuels, lubricants and petrochemicals such as fibres, plastics and pharmaceuticals.

In a truly ironical closing, Joe Oliver’s letter says “our fair, independent” regulatory system must “review the evidence dispassionately” and then make an objective determination based on science and the facts. Of course, Toronto based Joe Oliver, a Montreal native who spent his career in corporate securities, is already playing with loaded dice. He is responsible for the National Energy Board, which consists of:

  • Chair Gaétan Caron, a Quebec engineer who has been a career bureaucrat with the NEB;
  • Vice Chair Sheila Leggett, a Harper appointee to the NEB, who is a graduate of Montreal’s McGill University who previously worked as an Alberta consultant;
  • Roland George, also a McGill graduate, worked throughout most of his career as senior principal of an international energy consulting firm;
  • Kenneth Bateman is a Calgary based lawyer who was Vice President of a large Canadian energy company;
  • Georgette Habib is an economist who came from the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board;
  • Lyne Mercier is a former executive of Gaz Metro, which distributes natural gas in Quebec and owns a number of financial interests in transmission, storage, gas and other underground systems enterprises;
  • David Hamilton, a temporary member of the NEB, is a career government bureaucrat whose appointment expires next year;
  • Bob Vergette, another temporary NEB board member, is a pipeline engineer who has been active on many pipeline industry association initiatives;
  • Hans Mathews a geologist with more than 25 years experience in resource management industries is another temporary board member.

These people are industry insiders with urban backgrounds. They were selected by political masters to further commercial objectives yet Canadians are told the NEB will conduct a “fair and independent” examination of a project that is essential for achievement of the goals that led China to invest billions in Alberta tar sands production. The Harper government gave tacit approval to that Chinese investment a few years ago and the resulting demand for Canadian dollars pushed the currency exchange rate upward to the detriment of Canadian exporters such as those in British Columbia’s forest industries.

Here is a further example of how the review process is fundamentally flawed. Sheila Leggett sits on the three person Joint Review Panel for Enbridge Northern Gateway. In 2008, she described the NEB to an international pipeline conference in Calgary:

“We are a Canadian Federal energy regulator. Our responsibilities include regulating:

“- The construction and operation of pipelines

“- Transportation, tolls and tariffs
“- International trade in oil, gas and electricity as well as some frontier Oil & Gas regulation.

The agency sees itself as a facilitator of pipeline construction and promoter of trade in international energy. Indeed those things are its raison d’etre and Ms. Leggett says the NEB’s aim is to promote the energy infrastructure.

In December 2011, Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Northern Pipeline Agency, announced,

“…designation of Sheila Leggett as Deputy Administrator of the Northern Pipeline Agency (NPA).

“…The NPA was established in 1978 to facilitate the construction of a pipeline by Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd., now owned by TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. The pipeline would carry natural gas from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and potentially Yukon and northern British Columbia to markets in Canada and the lower 48 states.”

Ms. Leggett’s assigned role is unambiguous. In this project, her duty is to “facilitate the construction of a pipeline.”

Ian Austen writing in the New York Times sees through the current propaganda efforts of one well financed industry shill:

“Foreigners and their foreign hired hands should butt out,” said Kathryn Marshall, a spokeswoman for Ethical Oil.

“While most Canadian environmental groups are charities and must disclose the major sources of their funds, Ethical Oil does not. Ms. Marshall said that the group accepted money from only Canadians and Canadian companies, although she declined to directly say if that included Canadian corporations controlled by foreign entities. Many of the large energy companies active in the oil sands are foreign-owned or -controlled.

“You can look up the definition of a Canadian company,” she said.”

In the Enbridge project, the National Energy Board will ultimately offer reassurances about diligent inspections and increased spill response capabilities but environmentalists are mistaken if they see the Joint Review Panel as anything more than window dressing for a project that will proceed. Since it provides certainty of higher oil prices to both domestic and foreign consumers, the multinational energy industry has called the tune. The obedient Harper Government has begun to dance.

16 replies »

  1. The “defective political culture described by Stephen Hume was so obvious today in Joe Oliver's interview on CBC. Thanks for the information on the National Energy Board.


  2. Canada used to be somewhat of a haven from the the scourge of global corporate capitalism. Unfortunately the said powers now have their man in place! Mr. Steven Harper. How sad that we have lost our global image as a gentle people on this earth….and are now viewed as a petro-state with little regard for our planet, ensuing climate change, the living conditions of 7 billion of our fellow human beings and the world environment we share with numerous(and rapidly declining)species.

    Under our current majority government we have become partners with the Americans in their “oil wars”. And Harper is now planning to sell off our “ethically questionable dirty oil resourses” to fossil fuel hungry China and Korea, while ignoring the energy needs of eastern Canada (which imports mostly from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia). Ethical????

    This is not good for our environment and/or our economy….do the research folks.

    Ironically, “The Harper Government”…formerly known as the “Government of Canada”(frightening)and their cohorts spin the “Ethical Oil” argument to sell off our fossil fuel resources, which offers no benefit to Canadians and benefits the dictatorship regime of Communist China..all the while supporting its prevalent disregard for human rights.

    This is Stephen Harper…..corporate lacky….claiming to represent the interests of Canadians. With his majority government mandate he has transformed our country into a place where we now must fight against his fascist style “propoganda war” enabled by the messages pumped out incessantly by corporate owned and controlled mainstream media.

    We can thank this hidious evil man for one thing!

    He will be the ultimate catalyst for the civil disobedience neccessary to maintain our national moral beliefs and indentity. And the upcoming fight to save our planet.


    It was a democratic electorial mistake!! We bought into his lies and economic “fearmongering”. Time for a ALL CANADIANS to wake up.

    We're under seige here in Canada (as the rest of the world) and especially here in BC with the proposed Enbridge Pipeline and tanker trafic on our pristine coatline . Threatening our environmental and economic future… for the good of “Big Oil ” profits!!!!! BC takes all the risks. …with nothing to gain.

    I should comment more on your excellent Blog and investigative journalism Norm…just pulled in many directions and limited with time.

    Keep up your EXCELLENT work my friend..it's deeply needed.


  3. Harper with 1% more of the popular vote than he had with his minority, is a long, long way from representing the will of the greater majority of Canadians.

    Even at that he only represents an even smaller minority of Canadians who ever would or ever could see the world his peculiar way.

    The man and his 'government' are little more than ill informed, loud mouthed bullies who will turn tail and run for home whenever they are physically or intellectually challenged.

    They don't have the muscle or the intellect to deal effectively with either.

    Thanks in no small way to our beloved First Nation's people and all those wild-eyed environmental shrieking banshee radicals, they are melting away before our very eyes.

    To see Joe Oliver back down and put his mouth in reverse on Poweer and Politics today was delicious to watch and enjoy. Better than ice cream.

    The tide is turning and the big bad bullies are in full retreat.

    Don't ever let them get back up.


  4. I saw Joe Oliver today also on Power& Politics spouting about the good of this for Canadians and the question in my mind was, how?
    There is no good for the Canadian public in this.
    Selling off our precious resourses raw to the highest bidder, are you kidding me? not while we pay outrageous prices at the pumps that will surely only get higher if this line of thinking persists.
    No it is as Mr. Pyper above so stated and I must say very well. We are quickly becoming the most undemocratic and uncaring country in the world, a disgrace, a sick place of liars and corporate lackies.Ethical my ass!


  5. If Canadians were actually selling the resource for a good return, it might be a different situation. The fact is that royalties and taxes paid to Alberta and taxes paid to Ottawa are far less than they should be. From tarsandswatch.org

    “During a recent seven-year period, 1996-2002, the Canadian government spent $8.3 billion on subsidies to the oil and gas industries. For the most part these subsidies continue today at around $1 billion a year. A tax break allowing tar sands operators to defer taxes on 100% of capital spending will not be phased out until 2015.”


  6. In the Mansbridge interview Harper stated that Canada's energy policy is “market driven” I hit the ceiling, metaphorically, and have yet to come down. Our energy policy, indeed all olicy, needs to be driven by the interests of Canada and Canadians. On the other hand, maybe China and Koch brothers & their ilk really are his constituents. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harper_v._Canada_%28Attorney_General%29

    Canada has nothing to gain in this pipeline deal, not even the oil. If you haven't already sent a message, you can do so here. http://www.leadnow.ca/canadas-interests

    At least the US has the ability to make a Constitutional amendment outlawing Citizen's United Superpacs. Here the corporations have Harper and he's giving away our country!


  7. Seem's like Harper and the Conservative government of Canada, are bent on committing suicide.

    The people of this country are seeing through the propaganda (lies !!!) that the present Canadian government is peddling and are getting increasingly fed up and frustrated. If it is good enough for the average person to act in a honest, acceptable and responsible manner, then it is darn well good enough for the government to do likewise.

    I see nothing but refusals ahead with the Northern Gateway pipeline project, from the majority of people affected. The benifits are minimal and the large oil corporations get really fat and ugly at the expense of everyone else.

    It is time to think about taking Canada back for Canadians – not the big corporations and their corrupt policies.



  8. Harper has immersed himself in the provincial issue of Alberta’s oil resource and has commented in favour of the project; also allowed comments from his ministers even when hearings into the proposal are on-going.

    On the other hand, he refuses to involve himself in the provincial issue of health funding debate asked for by the provincial premiers.

    I am sure, if challenged on this, the excuse would be that the oil extraction is an international trade issue, unnecessarily made that way by attempting to sell this resource out of the country.

    Interesting to witness the inconsistency of governing from Harper.


  9. Harper was frantic and rabid to win the election, he even begged for a majority. He campaigned on election day, which the media permitted him to do on TV. Harper had a convicted American felon working for him. There were robocalls to Canadian homes, to confuse their voting locations. He is in contempt of the House. Harper isn't a true Canadian, a true Canadian would never be a dictator. I can't make myself believe, Harper won the election on the up and up.

    We are fed up with the many lies from Enbridge. They have an outrageous number of pipeline spills. They didn't even bother to clean up their disaster in the Kalamazoo River. BC has earthquakes, avalanches, mudslides, rock slides and fast running floods with debris, which could knock out pipes in a flash.

    From the many people who know the seas around Kitimat say, those seas are among the most treacherous in the world. I hear wind warnings on the weather in the news, even hurricane force winds. They say, the massive tankers have to navigate hairpin turns. There are 40 to 50 feet high waves. Recently there have been seven ships, run aground and breaking up. There have been tanker spills. There is another rig explosion. What in the hell is it going to take for, common sense to trump greed?

    There is a material called Vanadium. A Vancouver company says, Vanadium is an excellent material to store renewable energy. Vanadium is used to strengthen steel. China has an abundance of Vanadium, which they are planning to use for their energy.

    I don't speak geek. However, the info is on the web.

    Canada has had no job gains for six months. Harper has done a terrible job so far. With the outrageous salary's and gold plated pensions, of Harper and his ministers, they should all be fired. They are all dead wood.


  10. For propaganda;
    Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.
    —Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, Propaganda and Persuasion


    Regarding Kitimat, here are some comments from a fellow in his seventies that worked on the steamships when young and whose father was an engineer on the steamships;
    “I know that the water around Kitimat is very deep and that no anchor chain will touch bottom. The winds can be very strong at Kitimat, too. Each tanker would need at least four very powerful escort tugs to travel from Kitimat to an offshore area. Large ships can't travel fast in narrow waters since their backwash returns to the vessel and causes it to heel to one side (and hopefully returns to an even keel, unlike the Costa Concordia).


  11. Ahh, so the tax deferrals ending in 2015 got me thinking. That gives them a few years to force the working people to take a 50% pay cut. You know, wages are far to high and they must be reduced.

    Just wait for it, they have already begun the propaganda war on this one, what with the claim that in the future there will be a 77,000 shortage of jobs that can't be filled by Canadians and we need to bring in workers from China.


  12. Don't just worry about the waters around Kitimat, the going really gets tough once they get out of the channel and into the real rodeo of the Hecate Strait. I was reading some commentary recently that said some of the tankers (2 every 3 days) would have to deal with the Hecate Strait, well unless they just deliver the goo to the other side of the inlet, every tanker has to deal with the Hecate, there is no other way to China………

    I really think that between the FN, remember the Haida are involved as the entire east coast of Haida Gwaii is on the Hecate Strait, and other sane people Canadians and others, this pipeline will NOT BE ALLOWED to be completed and if somehow built, will not survive……hopefully it will rupture in Alberta rather than BC and then Ms. Redford can do some clean up photo ops instead of Christy, who will be long gone from public office before the pipeline is ever begun.

    Think back to what is now Naikun Park (the NE part of Graham Island – east of Massett, and how the Haida stopped logging there and then Lyell Island/South Moresby, their resistance to tankers in the Hecate will dwarf that if necessary, not to mention they will have over 100 other bands onside against the project as well as the rest of humanity who cares about the planet and agrees that the irresponsible exploitation of the gooey tarsands are an affront to the future of our species…………


  13. Christy Clark’s take on it?

    “We've got tankers going up and down the St. Lawrence for heaven's sake… I don't know why we'd ban them off the west coast.”

    And now that she’s holding hands with Harper and has his friend and advisor (and Enbridge lobbyist) as her chief of staff, I don’t even know why she bothers to pretend.

    Maybe Christy and Mr. Boessenkool should take a canoe trip across the St. Lawrence, and then another across Hecate Strait in November or December. Just to see if she can spot the differences.


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