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Petrostate Politics

Oil corrodes not only pipelines, but democracy itself. Canada has long been considered one of the fairest, most compassionate countries in the world. But the Canadian government's recent intense focus on tar sands expansion has aligned it closely with the global oil industry, seeing it sabotage international efforts to prevent climate change and undermine its own democracy.

The Canadian government has muzzled its scientists, eliminated environmnental laws at the behest of the oil industry, restricted public participation in tar sands approvals, and attacked charities who advocate for alternatives. These are classic signs of a petro-state.

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Overview:
Canada's tar sands industry has unprecedented influence over government
Key Issues:
- Environmental laws, climate science, and research have been gutted
- Canada actively blocks global efforts on climate change
Current Status:
Canada is increasingly disrespected by and out of step with its global allies

Canada has seen a consistent erosion of democracy since tar sands development escalated 10 years ago. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government holds a large majority of seats in Parliament. It’s political base is anchored in Alberta, whose provincial legislature is also dominated by like-minded Conservatives, and the influence of the tar sands industry reaches deep into the federal cabinet.

Meanwhile, anyone who questions the logic of a tar sands-based economy has been branded an unpatriotic extremist, while tar sands corporations and interest groups operate with little or no actual oversight. At the behest of the oil industry, the federal government has gutted Canada's most important environmental legislation to fast-track tar sands development, and crippled effective public oversight of an industry that poses tremendous social, economic and environmental risks for Canadians and the rest of the world.

The government has slashed financing for climate science, closed facilities that do research on climate change and other important environmental issues, told federal government climate scientists not to speak publicly about their work, and made it more difficult – and in some cases, impossible – for Canadians to participate in public reviews to determine whether new tar sands mines and pipelines are in the national interest.

As bestselling Canadian academic and author Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote in The New York Times, “this coercive climate prevents Canadians from having an open conversation about the tar sands. Instead, our nation behaves like a gambler deep in the hole, repeatedly doubling down on our commitment to an industry that is interested only in generating billions more in profits."

Conservative politicians from Alberta and Ottawa also use taxpayers’ dollars to undermine progressive efforts globally and in Europe to combat the catastrophic effects of climate change, all while misrepresenting the risks and benefits of tar sands development.

The promise of easy riches from Alberta’s bitumen boom is turning Canada into a petro-state that is deconstructing the democratic traditions upon which it was founded.

Petrostate Politics Updates & Resources

Open letter asks CRA to stop political audit

September 16th 2014

Press Clipping: More than 400 academics are demanding the Canada Revenue Agency halt its audit of a think-tank, saying the Conservative government is trying to intimidate, muzzle and silence its critics. In an open letter, the group defends the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think-tank that was targeted for a political-activity audit. The letter says the centre is internationally respected, conducting its research in a "fair and unbiased way," and that its frequent criticisms of government policies does not make it a partisan organization.

First Nations chiefs boycott Alberta government over consultation plan

Marty Klinkenberg | Edmonton Journal - August 31st 2014

Blog Post: Complaining they were not adequately consulted, a dozen First Nations chiefs from northern Alberta denounced the province’s proposed aboriginal consultation policy on Thursday and skipped an “engagement session” with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Frank Oberle. The Treaty 8 chiefs hand-delivered a letter to Oberle saying they will no longer participate in discussions about the legislation, which allows government to decide how much consultation is needed for development projects on native lands.

State department enables illegal Enbridge scheme to expand tar sands

Feature

August 22nd 2014

Press Clipping: The State Department just released documents revealing a scheme by Canadian tar sands giant Enbridge to bypass the Presidential Permit process for expansion of its Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline. “With no public notice, the State Department has shockingly backtracked on its commitment to require environmental review and approval before more dirty tar sands oil enters the United States through Minnesota,” said Marc Fink, a Minnesota-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

$24M ad campaign for Keystone pipeline had little impact

Sophia Harris | CBC News - August 22nd 2014

Press Clipping: The Canadian federal government’s $24 million, taxpayer-funded international oil sands ad campaign was a failure. It was intended to boost American support for tar sands crude and the pipelines that would take it south by convincing U.S. policymakers that "Canada is a secure, reliable, and responsible supplier of crude oil" and other resources. All it did was waste taxpayer money and convince Americans that Canadians are their friends.

Did the Conservatives actually read damning Lac-Mégantic report?

Feature

August 20th 2014

Press Clipping: Just tell people you haven't gotten around to reading the report yet. Because if you haven't read it, it hasn't happened yet. That appears to be the Conservatives' bright idea on how to defend themselves against Tuesday's damning Transporation Safety Board report that concluded Transport Canada's weak oversight was a cause and contributing factor in last year's Lac-Mégantic train derailment that killed 47 people.

Fossil fuel economy costs Canada far more jobs than it creates

Mark Taliano | CommonSense Canadian - August 20th 2014

Press Clipping: The current trajectories of Canada’s predominant political economies are increasingly dysfunctional, due in no small part to the fact that we have become, in many respects, a petro state, rather than the much vaunted “Energy Superpower” that we were promised. While Alberta is not a sovereign nation, it does qualify for “petro-state” status under these criterion. So does Norway. But the differences between the two polities ends there. While Norway manages its resource wealth extraordinarily well, Alberta — and Canada, by extension — does not.

Government memo criticized top biologist for comments on oil sands

Sunny Freeman | Huffington Post Canada - August 20th 2014

Press Clipping: One of Canada’s top biologists says he will not stop talking to the media after a government memo accused him of bias and speaking out of turn about the environmental impact of Alberta’s oilsands. Queen’s University professor John Smol said he was shocked and outraged to learn of an internal government memo criticizing him over comments he made to reporters about a study on lakes near the oilsands. Smol’s response? “They cannot stop me from talking about research done in my lab."

Environmentalists want stronger action to reduce oilsands air pollution

Feature

Sheila Pratt | Edmonton Journal - August 18th 2014

Press Clipping: The Pembina Institute, an environmental research body, disputed the government and industry view that a level three trigger is “a long way from” the legal limit for either pollutant. “It’s a trigger for action to reduce emission, not a trigger for more investigation,” said Amin Asadollahi, program director of the oilsands for Pembina. “They are not enforcing their own rules.”