Standing Up to Conservative Bullying

iraq war
Child victim of the war in Iraq. Photo from Newcastle-Emlyn anti-war site.

Canadians, for the most part, love peace and nature, and we are progressive in our thinking. Unfortunately, we are also complacent, naive, and poorly informed. This has allowed a small but determined conservative minority to steal the vast majority of our country’s resources and sell them, cheap and raw, to foreign corporations who often use them to manufacture goods they then sell back to us at a huge markup.

It has also allowed warmongers with a right-wing ideological agenda to commit our defence forces to a partisan role in the Middle East, not the peacekeeping role we were duped into believing we were committing to.

In the last few days, two important events have set the stage for a war of wills between a passive progressive majority and an aggressive conservative minority:

  1. Imperial Oil (ExxonMobil Canada) announced that the cost of the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline, planned to run from the fragile arctic permafrost and caribou grounds to provide cheap energy to the rapacious Alberta Tar Sands, is $9B (120%) over budget, and threatened to walk away from the project unless the federal government funds the shortfall.
  2. Three more Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan (bringing the death toll to 60). They were killed while traveling in an open vehicle in a supposedly secure area by what a military spokesman termed “a determined enemy”. The incident followed hard on the heels of yet another bombing error by the foreign occupying armies, which killed seven children.

tar sands
Alberta Tar Sands sludge mining, in what used to be pristine boreal forest. Photo: Melina Mara, Washington Post

Classical neocon tactics are being used to spin both events:

  • Brinkmanship is being used to force the federal government to write a blank cheque for the pipeline, and indemnify Exxon against ecological disasters and further cost increases. If they don’t, native communities that have invested in infrastructure to prepare for the construction influx left in the lurch, and the entire massively expensive, ill-conceived (it currently consumes 0.7 gallons of energy to produce every gallon of energy produced) and ecologically devastating Alberta Tar Sands project will be threatened.
  • Absolutism (Bush-style “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” framing) is being used to bully Canada into committing to keep our troops in the midst of the anarchy and civil war in Afghanistan. The PR from the military is increasingly using the term ‘enemy’ to describe anyone in Afghanistan who opposes the continued presence of foreign troops in their country. The ideologically rabid Harper Conservative minority government routinely uses the “if you don’t support our war, you don’t support our troops” line to disparage anti-war groups. And today a military spokesman lambasted the Canadian media for daring to publicize opinion polls showing Canadians’ strong opposition to the war, saying it was “demoralizing our troops”.

George Lakoff and others have explained to Americans how these devious and manipulative ‘end justifies the means’ tactics work, and how to fight back against them, but for Canadians, used to gentler, fairer debate, this is new territory, and progressives and moderate Canadians have fallen for the neocon rhetoric, or at least been cowed into silence. The conservatives’ vile US-style ‘attack ads’ personally ridiculing Liberal leader StÈphane Dion have been blanketing the airwaves, a warning to those who would dare challenge the neocon program.

Someone needs to stand up to these dangerous people; they do not speak for the majority of Canadians, even though the majority of Canadians are now too confused or too frightened to speak up.

Those who remember the last (Mulroney) Conservative government’s use of brinkmanship will recall how close we came to having our country broken apart by it — anglophone and francophone Canadians were pitted against each other and told that unless they both agreed with the Mulroney constitutional plan (to cripple the federal government and transfer most power to the provincial governments), each ‘side’ would reject the other permanently. Instead, Canadians of both languages united and rejected the Mulroney government, which fell to obscurity and was taken over by Harper’s right-wing Reform party.

The only response to brinkmanship is to push back, to refuse to choose between the artificial alternatives presented. We must reject, once and for all, environmentally ruinous and financially unsupportable ‘development’ projects. The fact that the pipeline is economically non-viable, despite soaring energy costs, is not because of approval delays, but because it is simply too risky, too extravagant, and too inadequate (the amount of natural gas available just doesn’t justify the expenditure, at any price). Like drilling in the Alaskan ANWR, and the colossally expensive and ecologically ruinous Tar Sands, this is just a dumb idea, which is why the government is being asked to subsidize it and indemnify the corporations involved against the massive risks it poses. We must kill these moronic resource megaprojects once and for all. There are many ‘renewable’ uses for this land, like ecotourism, that provide a much more compelling, low-risk, sustainable ‘return’ on investment.

The only response to absolutism is to reframe the debate in terms that reflect the real complexity of the situation. Afghanistan and Iraq are countries that have been economically destroyed by despots and occupying armies. Decades-long wars will not ‘rebuild’ them, and our presence merely sets us up as a convenient military and rhetorical target for the combatants. These countries need to solve their own political problems, and what we should be doing is providing economic and social assistance to them, but only when it is safe to do so and when we can be assured the assistance will not be diverted to corrupt regimes and warlords. This is an immensely difficult task, but it is not solved by our wading in and taking sides and fighting their wars for them. We must withdraw our military forces and cease military activities in the Middle East immediately. Yes, this will probably result in a greater power vacuum that will intensify the civil war, but that war is inevitable and we are just delaying its full onset with our presence. We should try to help in humanitarian and infrastructure (economic, educational and social rebuilding) ways, but until order re-emerges from the current anarchy we may be helpless to push this process. And yes, this further jeopardizes our energy security. That’s our problem, not theirs, and we should refocus our efforts on addressing it, through tax shifting, investments in renewable energy and large scale conservation programs. Not by waging futile wars of occupation.

It’s time, not just in Canada but throughout the affluent nations, to stand up to conservative bullying and say enough. How many times must we make the same mistakes before we learn the lessons of history and find better ways to deal with the intractableproblems of our time?

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4 Responses to Standing Up to Conservative Bullying

  1. andrew says:

    Dave – right at the end you use two words : intractable and problems – let’s reframe at the fundamental level of language – consider that they are not ‘problems’ that are ‘intractable’ to ‘solutions’- but are something else – that does not even require a ‘solution’ and therefor we are not so inthe ‘grip’ of needing ‘traction’ which is an illusion (?) we can start to leave that scenery and we might just see the reality of it for what it is – an illusion ;-)Just a thought

  2. Scott says:

    Amen to that, Dave. I read one of your posts awhile back in which you stated that your blog isn’t as popular as it could be because you make people think. Well, popularity or not, we all need to do what we know is right and stop pussyfooting around. Thanks for making us think — you’re one of the few who do.

  3. PeterC says:

    I agree with Scott and have added your blog to my blog’s list of must reads. Anyhow, to the topic at hand; when journelists simple repost media releases about the tar sands, how can we re-frame the debate in the public eye? I plan to do something tonight that I’ve never done before and write my MP a paper letter, and I’m going to CC any MP that might be friendly to the cause of not paying oil companies more money! Unfortunately, they are too busy getting passports for people who want to shop in the US to do much about, say, governing the country so what next? A frustrated,PeterC

  4. Jon Husband says:

    … aaaargh ! I used to like being Canadian (actually, still do but am quite fearful of what Harper’s machinations will reveal over he next couple of years).

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