Commentators should always know their history

 “It would be a nation-building project on a par with railway construction in the 1800s, ‘a win-win situation,’ he said.”

  •  John Ivison: Thomas Mulcair offers Alberta an updated version of a bad idea, By John Ivison, National Post, Last Updated: Nov 14, 2012 9:05 PM ET

So before I go any further, let me be clear. As it comes to dealing with Alberta Oil, I disagree with Mr. Mulcair. His idea of shipping Oil to Eastern Canada is wrong on two fronts. Firstly, it poses a greater environmental risk. For example, depending on the route, an oil pipeline from Fort McMurray to the BC Coast would be just over 1500 km in length. If one were to go with Mr. Mulcair’s options, one would see two potential outcomes. Either, the Bitumen would be transported to Churchill, Manitoba or Thunder Bay, Ontario for export; or the Bitumen would be transported to Sarnia, Ontario or the Maritimes for refinement.

While, a pipeline to Churchill might be about the same length – given that it would have to by-pass lakes and other water ways – an oil spill would have more dire environmental consequences. For an accident in the Northern Prairies and/or Hudson’s Bay would easily affect the Hudson’s Bay Basin. This would mean that instead of having a spill effecting one or two provinces, a spill into a waterway could easily touch Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nunavut and Quebec. Furthermore, given the sensitive nature of the Northern ecology, one would have to say that running a pipe to the West Coast would be easier than running one to Churchill.

Or one could look at running the pipe even further into the country. Think of a pipeline running to Thunder Bay, Ontario. The problem with that is it would be at least 1,000 km longer than a Western Pipeline. That means 1,000 km of additional risk. But it would not end there. For one still would have to get the Bitumen overseas or to a Canadian refinery. The additional environmental risk should possess significant problems to Mr. Mulcair’s ideas. However, a spill of Alberta Oil into the Great Lakes or Hudson’s Bay is not my only concern.

For, NDP policy would require the decoupling of the Canadian Oil Market with the rest of the World. Unless, they are proposing a “North American First Energy Policy”, decoupling oneself from potential customers does not seem like an intelligent thing. While, it is true that Eastern Canada does get much of its oil from international sources, one can easily see that part of the reason is cost. Many of the Oil and Gas companies that serve Eastern Canada are integrated on a North American wide basis. Therefore, many Eastern Canadians get the same products that are provided to the Eastern Seaboard of the US. Changing such a market must have either a political or economic benefit. To date the NDP has not provided one. Consequently, it is my view that there is no need for Government Intervention into this market, at this time. Therefore, one can clearly see that I disagree with the NDP on their understanding of the Alberta Bitumen Recovery Industry.

However, in saying this, I have to show my equally substantial frustration with the piece written by John Ivison’s. Throughout his piece, Mr. Ivison leaves the reader with the feeling that Government intervention is problematic. Or as he says, “But ideas that this product be land-locked or that the federal government should attempt to build up the domestic refinery business to service the Canadian market are at odds with the prevailing economic winds.” The Truth is that Oil Production in Canada has generally been at odds with prevailing economic winds. Hibernia only became economically viable because of the entrance of the Federal and Provincial Governments. Or don’t forget the investment of money by the Trudeau Liberals – alongside the PC’s Government in Ontario and Alberta – into the failing Syncrude Project in 1978. For, those who may not remember, Canadian Oil was uneconomical until Governments got involved. They changed public policy and tax regimes. They provided investments and took risks to make the Petrochemical industry work. They made choices that Markets were not willing to make.

Therefore, it is easy to see that Canadian Governments have always tended toward supporting “nation-building projections”. Accordingly, John Ivison’s contention that building a National Pipeline is a “nation-building project on a par with railway construction in the 1800s” is absolutely wrong. In fact, it is shockingly misguided. For years, I have listened to many Pundits – in media, academia and politics – talk about Canadians lack of historical knowledge. Yet, it is those same Pundits who make basic mistakes.

Just look at the presumption that nation building ended in the 1800’s. While, TransCanada is now a major North American energy company, its creation was due to a national-building project. Founded in 1951, TransCanada won the right to control, maintain and develop a pipeline built by an American Company for the Canadian Government. For those who don’t remember, in the 1950s, Canada’s population was booming and energy shortages were becoming problematic. The Liberal Government of Louis St. Laurent wanted to solve the problem. It wanted to get Alberta Gas to the East. So through the effort of Minister C.D. Howe, the Government of Louis St. Laurent pushed through Parliament a set of deals that would allow this to happen. While this move led directly to the election of John Diefenbaker in 1957, the Liberal Government of Louis St. Laurent created a piece of infrastructure that is still a vital part of the Canadian Economy. Building a piece of infrastructure that went from Alberta to Quebec should surely be comparable to the building of the railways from Ontario to BC to fulfill the promises made in 1871.

Or maybe on should look at the building of the Trans-Canada Highway. Also built by the Government of Louis St. Laurent, that construction spanned the entire country. Creating one of the longest highways in the world, that Highway connects a number of Canadian cities. This includes Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton and St. John’s. These are two strong examples to show how wrong John Ivison’s contention is. National Projects are a relevant part of Canadian Policy and have been for years.

The Federal Government built the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950’s to help make Canadian naval navigation safer and faster. That one project reduced the shipping time for Western Grain and Eastern Manufacturing Goods. All were destined to go to International Markets. Another national project built and paid for by the Federal Government.

Even our telecommunication system has been touched by Canada’s needs for National Projects. Canada was the third nation to launch a satellite and part of the reason was the need to enhance our telecommunication system. For, Canadians had a hard time talking to each other. Given that we are the second largest nation by area, this should not be surprising. Therefore, our public and private sectors worked together to build the countries telecommunication infrastructure. In fact up until the 80’s, most of the airports in this country were built, owned and maintained by the Federal Government. These are all examples of the Federal Government stitching together our nation by use of National Projects.

To heap distain on National Projects, in many ways, is to dismiss Canadian History. Throughout Canadian History, the Federal Government has reinforced our country through the building of sophisticated Telecommunication Networks, the Nationalization of Air Canada or the Creation of the CBC. Through these acts, the Federal Government has built markets and East-West Trade Patterns to ensure that our Country remains the bastion of Peace, Order and Good Government that we desire.

Therefore, I would recommend that Media Pundits study Canadian History. In doing so, many will learn that Canadian Governments have been driven toward National Projects; so that they could provide the Greatest Good to the Greatest Number. Through that understanding, individuals in Canada were able to build markets and companies that could be competitive. By the completion of National Projects, individuals and corporations had access to the best infrastructure in the World. This meant that they could be efficient and assist the “Other” with their needs. Sometimes, that meant providing jobs to the “Other”. Sometimes, that meant providing Charity. Other times, it meant protecting the “Other” through times of struggle. However, through building, Canadians were able our society. Accordingly, distaining National Projects is a dangerous thing to do because it flies in the face of our collective History. This is what is what Canadian History teaches us and this is why Pundits of all stripes should read it.

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