Monday, October 24, 2016

Keeping His Word

Justin Trudeau came to office, claiming he would put an end to the cynicism of the Harper years. Michael Harris writes:

When Justin Trudeau was running to become prime minister, he said that cynicism — about the future, the fate of our kids, and most especially the political establishment — was a serious problem. Somehow, someone just had to win back the public’s faith in the system. Otherwise, we would become a society of malcontents, nay-sayers, and self-seekers divorced from any meaningful sense of community. The national myth for those people would be that the whole shooting match was rigged against them for the benefit of the few.

On two critical files -- electoral reform  and the environment -- Trudeau has been backing away from his promises:

The prime minister found himself in a firestorm of criticism when he suggested in an interview with Le Devoir that he was backing away from his commitment to ending Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system. The implication of his words was that his election had somehow fixed the problem, or made it far less urgent at very least. That sparked one commentator on social media to ask for a retraction of Trudeau’s words or his recall.

Trudeau was supposed to be the antidote to years of Conservative mismanagement on the environment. At best, his record has been spotty, at worst, a betrayal of environmentalists who saw him as their champion.

While it is true Trudeau has finally put a price on carbon emissions, it is also true that he supported the Site C dam project in British Columbia, despite the opposition of environmentalists, First Nations leaders, Amnesty International, and the Royal Society of Canada.

The Trudeau government has also failed to legislate its own moratorium on oil-tanker traffic on the North Coast of the province. Instead, it has given conditional approval to Pacific NorthWest LNG’s massive $39-billion project that will also create five million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually should it ever be built. Not exactly what the summiteers in Paris had in mind — nor a lot of voters in British Columbia who went Liberal. 

South of the border, we are presently witnessing a lesson about the wages of cynicism:

Part of what everyone is witnessing in the U.S. Presidential election is the extent to which “every day Americans” hate the political establishment with a passion once reserved for the country’s foreign enemies. So desperate have these people become, so overwhelming has been the avalanche of lies and betrayals visited on them by politicians of all stripes, that 50 million Americans are about to vote for a man whose preferred form of greeting women is a hearty grope.  

If Justin is wise, he'll keep his word.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It's Over

Andrew Nikiforuk has been writing for sometime that bitumen's heyday is over. There are four reasons that account for the decline and fall of black goo:

1. There is no way to clean up bitumen spills.

Basic science shows that neither industry nor government has developed an effective spill response for conventional oil on the high seas. As a consequence, marine oil spill response remains a public relations sham that does not remove spilled oil or fully restore damaged marine ecosystems.

Because the low-grade heavy oil must be diluted with a gasoline-like product to move through a pipeline, it presents an even graver logistical challenge than a conventional spill. 

2. The economic case for pipelines has totally collapsed.

Bitumen will always require higher transportation costs and more upgrading and processing due to its appalling quality. As a consequence, it has always sold at a price differential of around $6 to $7 dollars to conventional oil.

This historic differential widened when the Alberta government rubber-stamped so many projects that industry flooded the North American market with bitumen between 2000 and 2008. The differential dropped again to historic norms as more and more refineries in the U.S. retrofitted to process heavy oil.

 Art Berman, a reliable Houston-based oil analyst, calculates that industry is pumping about half a million barrels a day more than what the world can burn or afford. Most of this overproduction has come from Canada, the U.S. or Iraq.

At the same time, demand is not really growing due to profound global economic stagnation — a lasting legacy of incredibly high oil prices from 2010 to 2014.

But overproduction has now depressed prices to the point that many bitumen miners and American frackers continue to pump oil solely to generate enough cash to service their increasing debt loads or keep their creditors at bay. The world economy, as Berman notes, has become a volatile casino.

“The oil industry is damaged and higher prices won’t fix it because the economy cannot bear them,” Berman adds. “It is unlikely that sustained prices will reach $70 in the next few years and possibly, ever.

3. Bitumen cannibalizes the economy.

Nearly 100 years ago, it cost but one barrel of conventional crude to find and pump another 100 barrels. Today those energy returns now average about one to 20. In the U.S., they’ve fallen to one to 10 and in the oil sands they have collapsed to one to three, or in some cases close to zero. In simple terms, bitumen doesn’t bring home the bacon.

Unfortunately, mined bitumen and fracked oil aren’t easy, cheap or carbon neutral. Companies extracting fracked oil from Texas and North Dakota typically spend four times more than what they make. Bitumen miners aren’t much better. They burn more energy and capital, and all to deliver fewer returns and surpluses to society. It’s like cycling backwards.

4. Climate disruption and carbon anarchy aren’t a distant threat... they’re here now.

 Every day the science spells out some new horror: thinner Arctic ice; acidic oceans; record hot spells; flooded cities; drought-stricken crops. And every day, the economic costs grow dearer. The Fort McMurray wildfire cost $3.5 billion and was determinedly fuelled by petroleum production. The mega-flood that submerged Louisiana cost more than $8 billion and was also primed by oil extraction.

The emissions math on climate change in Canada is now pretty simple. Environment Canada states it boldly: “Emissions of GHGs from the oil and gas sector have increased 79 per cent from 107 megatonnes (Mt) in 1990 to 192 Mt CO2 in 2014. This increase is mostly attributable to the increased production of crude oil and the expansion of the oil sands industry.”
Canada can’t meet any reasonable target to decrease its climate-disrupting emissions by digging up more bitumen.

The writing is on the wall. The Bitumen Boom is over.

Image: Youtube

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Electoral Reform Cannot Be Postponed

This week, Justin Trudeau backed away from his promise to reform Canada's electoral system by the next election. There was -- rightly -- an explosion of criticism. By the end of the week, Trudeau was saying that his government is "deeply committed" to electoral reform. Alan Freeman writes:

Trudeau was rightly attacked from all sides for appearing to duck out of his election promise to reform the first-past-the-post system in time for the next election — and for the arrogance of the claim that his election alone was enough to deal with the issue once and for all.

Dropping an election pledge is nothing new. Freeman writes that lots of leaders have backed away from promises if they thought they could get away with it. George W. Bush, for instance, tried to privatize Social Security:

Bush launched a campaign to promote a dramatic reform that would allow Americans to set aside a portion of their Social Security and invest it themselves in private accounts. The ideological right and the investment industry, which had been pushing the idea for years, were thrilled. But voters, particularly older ones, were horrified when they realized that the change would simply impoverish the already-stretched Social Security system and risk the guaranteed benefits they depended on in return for the crapshoot of the stock market.

And Stephen Harper, with the support of Jim Flaherty, tried to harmonize the GST:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was initially a big proponent of GST harmonization, throwing billions of dollars at Ontario and British Columbia when they decided to come on board with a harmonized sales tax. He embraced the view of leading economists and his own Finance Department — that a harmonized GST would lead to tax efficiency and remove the burden of provincial sales taxes from business.

But the moment grassroots opposition to harmonization started to build in British Columbia, Flaherty ran for cover. He never spoke about harmonization again. At the Finance Department, where I was working at the time, the order came down that the department was not to answer any questions about the issue — to act as if it didn’t exist. In the end, B.C.’s harmonization effort died and the province refunded the big grant it had been given to go ahead with harmonization. Flaherty and Harper had dodged a bullet and spent not a cent of political capital doing it — but an opportunity to change tax policy for the better was lost.

Electoral reform is a bullet Trudeau can't dodge. If he takes that tack, he will not make it through the next election -- even if it occurs under the First Past The Post system.

Image: CBC

Friday, October 21, 2016

Lessons Learned?

It's been a year since the Harper government was sent packing. But, Gerry Caplan writes, if those vying to replace Stephen Harper are any indication, their defeat taught the Conservatives nothing:

There’s the widespread view among people within the party that the problem was their “tone.” It’s not at all clear what they think they mean by this, but it seems to have little to do with a series of mean and bigoted policies that failed to appeal to any but the Conservative base.

The Harperites have, so far, not morphed into Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. However, they haven't morphed into anything:

For example, take Kellie Leitch, who seemed at first to be ashamed of her shabby role in the Conservative pledge to establish a tip line to report barbaric cultural practices to the RCMP, but has since doubled down on the very notion.

As a leadership candidate, she is promoting a “discussion” of Canadian values for immigrants. Yet when given an opportunity by interviewers, she refuses to discuss anything except how very, very much she wants to discuss. So she simply advances her meaningless slogan, then repeats it over and over again without any elaboration.

Chris Alexander now claims he loves immigrants. But, Caplan asks, "Who can doubt his sincerity?"

Then there's Maxime Bernier. "Quebec MP Maxime Bernier wants to turn Canada into a libertarian dystopia; he’s the Ayn Rand candidate, beloved no doubt by many impressionable first-year university students."

And, of course, there's Brad Trost:

Someone named Brad Trost – allegedly an MP from Saskatchewan – offers to turn the clock back by repudiating both a woman’s right to choose and same-sex marriage.

The Conservative Party itself entered modern history only in May when its convention voted that marriage need not be defined as between a man and woman, something Canada itself had decided a decade ago. But history is moving far too fast for Mr. Trost and for that third of the convention delegates who voted against the resolution. But early indications are that they are resisting Mr. Trost’s reactionary lure.

Harper's Conservatives were always stuck in the 19th century. The only member of the party who wasn't was Michael Chong. And, for that reason, Chong will face a tough slog for the leadership of the party.

Lessons learned?  There's no evidence of that. 


Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Classic Example

Last night proved beyond a doubt that Donald Trump has his foot to the floor and is headed to the wall. He has offended women mightily. Last night's vow to repeal Roe v. Wade will add to the Access Hollywood debacle. But, along with women, he's also mobilized Latinos and African Americans against him. E.J. Dionne writes:

The states on Clinton's new target list include Arizona and, of all places, Texas. In Nevada, the polling is mixed, though Clinton seems to have gained ground. A Monmouth University Poll released Tuesday put Clinton ahead of Trump here by seven points. Trump was up by two points last month. But a new Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll, which showed her in a commanding position nationally, had her still down here by four.

All these states have something important in common: They include large numbers of Latino voters, who are clearly mobilizing to defeat Trump. He is also suffering from profound weaknesses among African-Americans, college educated voters of all backgrounds, and the young.

After its second loss to Barack Obama, the Republican Party took a hard look at itself and concluded:

The nation's demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become," its authors wrote. "If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity."

They went on: "If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States ... they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."

One wonders if Trump read the report. He's certainly not following its recommendations. There is still disagreement about whether or not Albert Einstein was the source of the classic definition of insanity.

But Donald Trump is a classic example of it.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

There's The Rub

Pierre Trudeau famously quipped that Joe Clark wanted to be "headwaiter to the provinces." Susan Delacourt writes that his son will be no headwaiter:

In the years since Trudeau the elder left the scene, his successors have adopted a number of other approaches to the provinces, from the deferential to the collaborative to the virtually absent. From obsequious waiter to dumbwaiter, you might say.

But now it’s looking like we’d better get used to Ottawa coming to the federal-provincial table with some sharp and definite views about what’s on the menu. Even as the provinces grapple with Ottawa’s ultimatum on carbon pricing, delivered just weeks ago, they’re now being told that federal money for health will come with conditions attached.

Yesterday, Jane Philpott's meeting with provincial health ministers broke up without any progress on negotiating a new health accord. The provinces want more money. The Feds want to carefully track what happens to new money:

In September, Philpott declared: “It’s time to reclaim the political will, time and resources to develop and implement bold reforms in the funding and organization of front line delivery.”

It’s been a while since we’ve heard a health minister (or a prime minister, for that matter) declare that money going to the provinces for social programs would have strings attached. “Reclaiming the political will,” in that context, sounds a bit like a government that’s decided it wants to be more than a valet to the provinces.

Trudeau declared that he wanted to establish a new relationship with the provinces. The provinces want to keep the old one. Ay, there's the rub.

Image: CBC

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It Can't Happen Here?

Canadians like to think that Donald Trump could never happen here. But he's been here and left -- for the moment. His name was Rob Ford. And he had lots of editorial support. David Beers writes:

As Donald Trump burst into an orange fireball melting down the Republican Party, one pundit telling us why was the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee. His analysis on Saturday echoed others: Gullible Republicans had fooled themselves into believing Trump could be tamed. They shrugged off his deep personal flaws and the divisions his bigotry would sow. Now “the Donald has come home to roost.”

If the GOP loses big “it will only have itself to blame” for siding with those who “seeded the clouds for Trump.” Blame some media, said Gee. Blame those “talk-show ranters” who cheered the rise of an unhinged narcissist with right-wing populist appeal.

Which, by the way, is pretty much what Marcus Gee did six years ago. In February 2010 he cheered the rise of an unhinged narcissist with right-wing populist appeal in his column headlined: “Rob Ford, Please Run. You’re the Right Guy for a Lefty Race.” 

Ford was not very bright, driven by demons and -- in the end -- doomed. But he railed against political correctness -- just as Margaret Wente does:

The country club conservative Margaret Wente, for example, drolly makes fun of Donald Trump. She also happens to regularly nurture the climate that helps Donald Trump thrive. Wente may shake her head at the “angry man yelling at me on TV.” She may marvel that “What’s stupefying is that so many people can’t see that the emperor is naked.” But Donald Trump and his supporters would resonate with much else she says, and they would appreciate her digs at his enemies: We have Trump, she argued in August, because “The Democrats have morphed into an alliance of liberal elites and minorities, with a relentless agenda of political correctness that has driven millions of people away.”

Donald Trump could happen anywhere at any time. All it takes is editorial -- and public -- support.

Image: Huffington Post