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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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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

Harper says there’s more to the Canadian economy than oil

Bill Curry | Globe and Mail - January 27th 2015

Press Clipping: Stephen Harper is playing down the impact of energy on the overall Canadian economy, noting that other sectors will help keep growth strong during hard times for the oil patch. The Prime Minister, who has previously promoted Canada abroad as an emerging energy superpower, stressed the importance of small business, manufacturing and innovation during an event in St. Catharines, one of many Southwestern Ontario communities that have lost manufacturing jobs in recent years.

Harper’s delusional hubris to blame for Obama’s Keystone XL veto


Sandy Garossino | Desmog Canada - January 22nd 2015

Press Clipping: If revenge is indeed a dish that's best served cold, the President of Cool just served up a four-star pièce de résistance for Stephen Harper. Tuesday's announcement of Obama's planned veto of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline should not have been surprising, yet when the blow came it carried a shocking intensity. And how did things go so badly that Canada doesn't have the heft or goodwill in Washington to add a single pipeline to a nation benoodled with them? The answer lies in the delusional hubris of Stephen Harper.

Failure to investigate tailings ponds sends the wrong signals on NAFTA environmental oversight

Jennifer Skene | NRDC - January 19th 2015

Blog Post: News reports indicate that the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the environmental review body established under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), may soon announce a decision on whether to investigate NRDC and Environmental Defense Canada allegations that Canada has failed to adequately regulate the tar sands industry. What is most troubling is that Canada jumped the gun when a government official announced that this vote, which has not yet taken place, will be a unanimous rejection of the investigation.

NAFTA scrutiny of oilsands tailings ponds opposed by Canada

January 12th 2015

Press Clipping: Canada is trying to stop NAFTA's environmental watchdog from taking a closer look at the environmental effects of the huge tailings ponds produced by Alberta's oilsands, and it appears Mexico and the U.S. will go along with efforts to stop a formal investigation. "It was important for us know whether this was happening and whether environmental laws were being broken and whether the government is upholding those laws or ignoring them," said Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence, one of the groups that launched the complaint in 2010.

WATCH: The Keystone XL jobs myth that won’t die

Coleman Lowndes & Denise Robbins | Media Matters - January 8th 2015

Blog Post: As the newly GOP-controlled Senate attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the long-debunked myth that the pipeline would create 42,000 jobs continues to pervade in the media -- despite the fact that it will create only 35 permanent jobs.

Harper, the message and Canadian democracy

Chris Cobb | Ottawa Citizen - January 5th 2015

Press Clipping: In his new book, Kill The Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know, Ottawa author and longtime Press Gallery member Mark Bourrie takes a hard look at the Conservative government’s control over information and, among many other examples, gagging of the bureaucracy. Bourrie spoke to CHRIS COBB about what he sees as a major threat to Canada’s democracy.

How Harper misread Obama and botched Keystone XL

Campbell Clark | Globe and Mail - December 17th 2014

Press Clipping: Campbell Clark argues that Canada’s Conservative government has misplayed the politics of the Keystone XL pipeline, and badly. There is a constituency in the United States that wants action on climate change, and they made Keystone a symbol for this battle. But Harper and his fellow Conservatives just pushed harder on the idea that the U.S. was going to need Canadian oil, anyway. This turned out to be a mistake, and it’s almost certainly too late to get Mr. Obama to ever approve this pipeline.

Who killed it? The case of the government’s vanishing climate change press release


December 16th 2014

Press Clipping: Maybe it was Minister X in the conservatory with the delete button. Natural Resources Canada spent months editing a news release about a devastating climate change report, according to documents newly obtained by PressProgress through Access to Information. Their work was all for naught. The release was never actually issued in what appears to be a textbook example of How to Bury Bad News 101.