What John A. would do: Keystone XL and Canadian Environmental Policy

“Stephen Harper’s response to the Obama administration’s punting of the Keystone XL pipeline decision was decisive. The Prime Minister made exporting to Asia and China a ‘national priority’ and is looking for foreign capital to support the oil sands. Every economic nationalist on the right and the left should be applauding. American rejection has driven Canada to create an east-west pipeline and potentially an east-west supply chain with all that entails. As Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney recently commented, the opportunity for the rest of Canada, and Ontario in particular, is “tremendous.”.”


  • Sir John A. Macdonald would back Harper and the Northern Gateway pipeline, J.C. BOURQUE, Globe and Mail Update, Published Monday, Apr. 30, 2012 9:00AM EDT

When I first read this piece, I was amazed by its convenience. I am a history buff, so I have read a bit about Canada’s beginning. Therefore, the expediency of argument was obvious to me. The argument, in fact, took history out of context. For while, Sir John A. Macdonald did push for the creation of the industry; he also was the first Prime Minister to push for the protection of the environment.  If Harper only pushed for a stronger Federal Environmental Policy, Mr. Harper would have had his prized Keystone XL pipeline.

Everything, I have read indicates that Sir John A. Macdonald was two things. Firstly, he was a pragmatic politician. So it should not be a surprise that Canada was not his vision. It was a vision held by Others. For years, the idea washed around the colony. In fact, it was not until George Brown made a speech in support of Confederation in the Legislature of the Province of Canada on February 8, 1865, that the prospects of a “larger Canada” had real possibility.

Or put differently, Sir John A. MacDonald worked on a few simple principles; one was to find options that satisfied a number of different players. So it is easy to see that Sir John A. Macdonald’s real gift was his ingenuity. As a Liberal-Conservative, he was able to think beyond the existing political spectrum. He was able to make deals with Liberals, Conservatives, Independent Liberals, Independent Conservatives and true Independent Politicians. The RCMP came out of this view point. Or put in other words, in our early years, Canada needed an armed force in the Canadian West to deal with issues of external or internal sovereignty. Some advocated for an Army Regiment be dispatched to solve the problem. Yet, one issue was clear: any such action would provoke the US. They had just fought a Civil War and their federal government was already sending their Calvary, Infantry and other Armed Units to deal with American Expansion. Since no Canadian Politician wanted to awaken the sleeping American Giant, another option had to be found.  So Macdonald’s government created a Paramilitary Force called the North West Mounted Police. It eventually became the RCMP. This was the pragmatism behind the success of Sir John A. Macdonald.

Consequently, unlike Stephen Harper, Sir John A. MacDonald would likely have tried to sue for a peaceful settlement. Instead of fighting, American and European Politicians, Sir John A. MacDonald would have regulated industries. We know this because he did. Instead of arguing with America and Canadian Environmentalists, Sir John A. MacDonald would be able to play up a long term vision and have the system to back it up. Carbon Rules would be clear and his opponents would look foolish. This is what a courageous man like Sir John A. MacDonald would do.

Like Trudeau or Mulroney, Sir John A. MacDonald would have explained the need for pain now, so as to guarantee expansion later. This, after all, is how Canada was built. Each province got a little gift for joining Canada. The Atlantic Provinces got a disproportional amount of seats in the Senate, while PEI and BC got permanent transportation links. So some form of effective carbon emissions rules would be brought into effect. While he might have not accepted Kyoto, he would have put forth a regime which would have been comparable. We know this because as was noted in J.C. Bourque’s piece, Sir John A. MacDonald would have acted on his own when the US would not co-operate with his policy goals. This cannot be said of Stephen Harper – a man who has promised to act only when and if the US does.

Furthermore, Macdonald’s action belies much of his thinking about Government Action. While, he sought power, he also knew that Government had an active role in Society. At times, this meant imposing a solution. Sir John’s “National Policy” ran against the trend of history. It was a policy which called for Government Action. For only the Federal Government could bring forth tariffs and taxes on imported goods, both finished and raw.

Unlike, Mr. Harper, Sir John A. MacDonald favoured a policy of tariffs and taxes which favoured manufacturers based in central Canada; while, it was extremely unpopular in rural and western Canada. So Mr. MacDonald was not scared to upset Premiers or Regions. He forced farmers to buy Canadian agricultural equipment at higher prices, yet farmers had to compete on the international market for grain. This led to some problems for him from Liberal and Progressive forces; however, he stood his ground and did what was right.

Sir John A. MacDonald’s actions both good and bad created controversy and scandal, but it also provided the infrastructure that built a nation. While, Sir John A MacDonald might supported the Northern Gateway pipeline; he would also have brought forth a solid Carbon Reduction Programme that would likely include real conservation goals. He would have done this because it would have reduced the strength of his critics.

We know he would not have attacked charities, environmental think tanks or interest groups because he choose in his life to use his wit and intelligence to deal with his critics. He won enemies over to his side and did not use the “authoritarian” solutions afforded to him because of the advice he could give to the Crown.

In fact, Sir John A MacDonald had a hand in creating Banff National Park. So the short sidedness of the gutting of environmental rules would not have happened under him. John A would have likely have looked at turning Mr McGuinty’s Energy Play into a national programme. The closing of Coal Generation Plants would be his way. Creating Smart Grids and working on Solar and Wind Generation would be the way he would go. Sir John would find a way to balance competing policy goals. We know this because he did it. It is a shame that Mr. Harper did not learn more of the history of Conservatism in Canada for he would be a better Prime Minister if he did. History tells us that Sir John would have approved Gateway and found a way to protect the Environment. Maybe Harper and his government should learn the lessons afforded by history.

One thought on “What John A. would do: Keystone XL and Canadian Environmental Policy

  1. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with some pics to drive
    the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is excellent blog.
    A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.


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