In this piece, the first of a series of three, we explore why a National Energy Program is political suicide, yet something called a National Energy Strategy is all the rage.
Decades ago Canadians were treated to a strategy that involved the oil and gas industry called the National Energy Program – its implications still resonate today. The program entailed Canada getting its fair share of the abundant natural resource wealth while establishing Petro-Canada as a vertically integrated, well to pump, crown corporation and an integral component of the industry. At no point did this move represent nationalizing the industry, as most of the world’s industry is, but instead simply aimed to have Alberta’s resource bounty diversified throughout the nation, while working in conjunction with private industry and its major players. What James Laxer explains as a “Canadianization” of the industry.
Through price controls that kept domestic consumption affordable and taxation on exports, which filled coffers in Ottawa by targeting foreign-owned players in the Canadian oil and gas patch, the federal government was able to offer a wide array of attractive incentives designed solely to encourage the upstart, growth and stability of wholly owned Canadian firms, while at the same time developing the public crown corporation to serve Canadian domestic needs and Interests.
This allowed for a threefold approach which involved: limiting the excessive dominance of foreign oil majors, creating “Oil independence” from the international – OPEC led – market, and encouraging development of private Canadian owned oil companies while nationalizing some of the benefits in an effort to facilitate a strong Canadian stake in the game, important operational inroads into the industry, and a handle on its reserves and future direction.
Since Harper’s regime was installed by the oil giants operating in Canada, a much diminished and demonized Petro-Canada was quietly privatized for a song (marking the single largest share divesture in history). Five years later, in what was billed as a bid to bolster Canadian Nationalism, Suncor, the Tarsands behemoth, sucked up Petro-Canada in a merger that saw share prices rise once again, a reoccurring event after the public divesture of the remaining 45 million plus shares. The 2004 dumping of Petro-Canada marked the end of reasonable policy making in the oil and gas patch and the final victory for an unbridled global corporate free-for-all.
Under the NEP of old, foreign operators such as CNOOC would not be anywhere near the Tar Sands control-and-command centre, let alone slowly becoming a dominant player. Instead, they would have a place in developing the resource and exporting it but that would come at a significant cost in the form of export taxes going directly to Ottawa, something domestic companies could avoid. Moreover, had we still run with NEP-style policies, domestic prices would be capped and Canadians would enjoy both a secured supply into the future, eastward flowing supply lines (limiting our reliance on imports) and affordable petroleum products, while at the same time encouraging wholly owned and private Canadian companies to be at the very center of the growing industry, with the resulting fiscal rewards remaining within our borders and in the pockets of Canadians.
That is the fundamental difference between a National Energy Program stickhandled in Ottawa on behalf of Canadians and a National Energy Strategy stickhandled by oil majors on behalf of Global Corporate interests and executed by our politicians. Fundamentally speaking, the NEP goal was a fully integrated domestic industry shielded from the whims of the global market place, while a National Energy Strategy is the exact opposite. It is instead fully integrated with the global markets and largely owned and operated by foreign interests. One offers the people of Canada an integral role, adequate returns and a myriad of perks, while the other is a complete capitulation to some of the most powerful forces on earth in lieu of governments standing down and implementing the strategy drafted in corporate board rooms and rolled out by the EPIC corporate “think tank” (the secretive group of energy and political power-brokers previously detailed in these pages).
It is not difficult to comprehend the stark contrasts between the two approaches and why the rhetoric resulting from them is drastically different. When governments implement policies such as the NEP of old, people will benefit in the form of stronger public budgets, greater control over the resource and its extraction processes and policies, secure energy supplies into the future and a greater share of the pie, not to mention perks like affordable petroleum by-products and a much reduced price at the pump.
By contrast, the policies being ushered in by EPIC and its compliant politicians result in the mirror opposite. A reduction in our ability to protect the environment and a gutting of processes designed to uphold Canadian values. Exposure to globalized petroleum markets resulting in high prices at home, little control over the development and export of the resources and royalty regimes that cater to multi-national interests as Canadians are left exposed to the whims of market volatility. And, of course, there is the over all socializing of losses, costs and environmental impacts, as well as, a privatization and off-shoring of the wealth that is generated while governments are left to file deficits and increase debt.
The “benefit” to Canadians accrues to the very few plugged into the higher levels of the petroleum industry, their lackies and those lucky enough to obtain the few high paying “jobs.” In the final instance of jobs it seems those lucky few will in fact be American service men and veterans as apparently the talent pool in Canada does not exist, even with the swelling unemployment lines resulting from the 500,000 manufacturing jobs shed during Harper’s oily regime.
These fundamental underpinnings are never raised in the corporate media. Instead we are treated to a now decades-old demonizing of the NEP and similar policies while celebrating a new “National Energy Strategy” which is designed to fleece Canadians as illustrated above. Our mainstream media and politicians are only too happy to dish up an array of ridiculous rhetoric which amounts to hollow grandstanding and politicking while avoiding the real issues Canadians care about, all the while paving the way for the aggressive globalization of the agenda.
This is done through the implementation of the National Energy Strategy which has seen its most pivotal times occur during the height of the Summer vacation season in Kanaskis and again this summer on the east coast, in a less than transparent bid to keep the protests at bay and the implications under wraps.
With these fundamental points established, I will continue explore the details of the new National Energy Strategy offered up by EPIC and dutifully carried out by Canadian politicians on behalf of the corporations interested in transitioning Canada into an Energy Superpower in the remaining two pieces of this three-part series.