Is Canada Becoming a Jingoistic Petro-State?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 20 2012 6:46 PM

Saudi Arabia. Nigeria. Venezuela. Canada?

Is our neighbor to the north becoming a jingoistic petro-state?

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Meanwhile, Ezra Levant, a Bill O’Reilly-style TV host on a network that has been dubbed “Fox News North” is leading an effort to brand Canada’s tar sands as “ethical oil” and regularly accuses environmentalists of abetting terrorists in Iran and Saudi Arabia. The jingoism has reached comical proportions in recent months as Levant has fueled a popular backlash against Chiquita—yes, the banana company—after it announced a boycott of tar-sands oil. The American corporation, he asserted, was run by “anti-Canadian bigots.” He concluded one anti-Chiquita rant by telling the company’s vice president, Manuel Rodriguez, “chinga tu madre.”

Even oil-hungry America is looking askance at Canada’s tar sands these days. President Obama this week rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have connected the two countries by pumping tons of tar-sands oil straight from Alberta to Texas. Harper, for his part, quickly pivoted to China, again touting Canada’s “national interest.” The pipeline he is now pushing would send the same oil to the ports of British Columbia, crossing aboriginal lands and forests that have historically been preserved. The prime minister has made it clear he won’t let those concerns stand in his way, telling the CBC, “Just because certain people in the United States would like to see Canada be one giant national park for the northern half of North America, I don't think that's part of what our review process is all about.”

With less than 4 percent of its GDP tied up in the oil industry, Canada is not dependent on oil to the same extent as Venezuela (12 percent) or Saudi Arabia (45 percent). Still, the Canadians’ increasing reliance on crude natural resources has economists on the lookout for symptoms of “Dutch Disease”—a phenomenon in which a natural resources boom strengthens a country’s currency, making its other exports more expensive and less competitive on the world market. Remember when buying stuff in Canada was cheap because of the weak loonie? No more. After hitting a low of 62 cents in 2002, the Canadian dollar is now worth essentially the same as a U.S. dollar. That’s great for the federal government’s coffers but rough on industries such as manufacturing, which have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in recent years.


While we haven’t yet reached the point where Canadians are stitching the Stars and Stripes to their backpacks when they travel abroad, not all Canadians are buying into the rally-round-the-maple-leaf mentality. The loudest “petro-state” cries have come from within the country’s own borders. The website “Sorry, World,” in which a Canadian apologizes to the globe on his country’s behalf, also has some 24,000 likes on Facebook.

But Americans should think twice before attempting to reclaim the moral high ground from the country up north. Even without Keystone XL, America is by far the largest consumer of Canadian oil. Oh, and about that pipeline: President Obama’s rejection of Keystone XL is only as secure as his re-election. GOP front-runner Mitt Romney has called the decision “shocking,” and Newt Gingrich called it “stunningly stupid.” By 2013, the two North American countries could be on the same team again when it comes to oil. If so, it’ll be us against the world.



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