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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

Science museums urged to cut ties with fossil fuel donors

Katherine Bagley | InsideClimate News - March 30th 2015

Press Clipping: Hundreds of museums across the country––including some of the most prestigious––are being asked by more than 30 scientists to cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry. In a letter sent to more than 330 science and natural history centers on Tuesday, the researchers said that when "some of the biggest…funders of misinformation on climate science" give millions of dollars to science-focused museums, it acts to "undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions.” The campaign comes just weeks after the release of public documents show Smithsonian-affiliated astrophysicist Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon published articles arguing that the sun, not greenhouse gases, is driving modern climate change after receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel interests.

Provincial energy-climate agreement cannot trade climate for tar sands pipelines


Editors | Tar Sands Solutions - March 27th 2015

Blog Post: Environmental groups across Canada today responded to a new pan-provincial energy agreement cautioning that no climate progress can be made if tar sands pipelines are approved. "A pan-provincial climate deal that greenlights tar sands expansion is a complete non-starter to any serious climate discussion," said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada. "The science is very clear that more than 85% of tar sands reserves need to remain in the ground if we want to stabilize the planet. It's time we listened to the science, said no to the pipelines and yes to the green energy that Canadians want."

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund holds lessons for Canada

March 23rd 2015

Press Clipping: Norway today sits on top of a $1-trillion Cdn pension fund established in 1990 to invest the returns of oil and gas. The capital has been invested in over 9,000 companies worldwide, including over 200 in Canada. It is now the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. By contrast, Alberta’s Heritage Savings Fund, established in 1976 by premier Peter Lougheed, sits at only $17 billion Cdn and has been raided by governments and starved of contributions for years. "We all agree we're not facing a crisis," says Siv Jensen, Norway's finance minister. “We have low unemployment, we have growth, we have a huge surplus – that’s a very robust start in the face of declining oil prices”, she says confidently.

That’s the power of protest. Or at least, it is for now

Elizabeth Renzetti | Globe and Mail - March 23rd 2015

Press Clipping: Now, legitimate protest is under threat once again. Not just overseas, in some far-off dictatorship with cockroach-infested prisons, but here, where the divide is economic and political and increasingly bitter. It’s environmentalists who are the new fifth columnists, and new mechanisms are being forged to squash them.

Worried about C-51? You’re probably a terrorist.

Joanna Kerr | Greenpeace Canada - March 18th 2015

Press Clipping: Are you now, or have you ever been, a terrorist? That is the question being asked over and over by Conservative MPs of expert witnesses called before the Commons standing committee reviewing Bill C-51, the so-called anti-terrorism law.More than 100 legal experts have written to parliamentarians to say that C-51 is dangerous — that it will make it harder to effectively fight terrorism while introducing unprecedented infringements on our rights and privacy. Their concerns have been echoed by four former prime ministers, five former Supreme Court judges, the federal Privacy Commissioner, Amnesty International, the Assembly of First Nations and a host of other organizations. Are they all terrorists?

Does RCMP anti-environmentalist rhetoric make us safer?

Andrew Gage | West Coast Environmental Law - March 18th 2015

Blog Post: If you are an advocate for climate solutions, if you oppose tar sands pipelines and supertankers, or aspire to have a more balanced Canadian energy policy, you may have recently learned that the RCMP characterizes you as part of a harmful “anti-Canadian petroleum movement” made up of “peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists.”Like many other “peaceful activists”, West Coast Environmental Law* was shocked to see our name in a recently released RCMP memo, and by the implication – with absolutely no justification or evidence – that our efforts to safeguard the environment from the impacts of runaway climate change and the threat of oil spills are in some way linked to “violent extremists”.

CSIS helped government prepare for expected Northern Gateway protests


Jim Bronskill | Canadian Press - March 18th 2015

Press Clipping: Canada's spy agency helped senior federal officials figure out how to deal with protests expected last summer in response to resource and energy development issues — including a pivotal decision on the Northern Gateway pipeline. Release of the material comes amid widening concern among environmentalists and civil libertarians about the spy agency's role in gathering information on opponents of natural resource projects. Those worries have been heightened by proposed anti-terrorism legislation that would allow CSIS to go a step further and actively disrupt suspected extremist plots.

Bill C-51 protests held across Canada

Morgan Lowrie | Canadian Press - March 17th 2015

Press Clipping: Thousands of Canadians came together to loudly denounce the Conservative government's proposed anti-terror legislation in rallies held across the country on Saturday. In Vancouver, a crowd of about 700 to 800 people gathered in front of the city's art gallery. Aboriginal leaders and civil liberties groups spoke to the crowd through a megaphone, while onlookers cheered and waved signs. Protester Larry Johnny said he feared that First Nations protesting mines in the province could be labelled "terrorists" for speaking out if the bill is passed.