Michael Hlinka really should be writing for the
Sun. His regular business commentaries fall into that same overly-simplistic and entirely predictable vein. Business = good. Anything that impedes business = bad. So it was not a surprise to recently hear him decry the delay in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Hlinka put the blame firmly on political activists, the financers of the Democratic Party and those ever-so-pesky environmentalists. The problem is not only that Ottawa , as a nation, has been insulted, but that the decision to delay the project will cost jobs on both sides of the border. According to Hlinka, and hinted at by our Finance Minister, if the Americans can’t get their act together we should be looking to Canada to sell our oil. China
Early in his commentary, Hlinka states, “You would think that given the current state of economic affairs there would be widespread political support for the project on both sides of the 49th parallel.” One wonders if this means jobs should be the sole consideration with respect to any such project. And what does it say about the nature of our economy if so much hope is being pinned on a short-term highly-regional initiative. Even the number of jobs linked to the project is uncertain and contestable. One number Hlinka is definite about – he claims that this delay will cost TransCanada Pipelines one billion dollars. If this figure is correct, that a single entity can sustain such losses is in itself worth addressing and commenting on. Although I’m not sure how the delay of a projected tentative deal can ‘cost’ anything. Did it cost me ten thousand dollars when my boss failed to give me a raise this year? Maybe.
Hlinka also makes the case that Canadians should take the delay as an insult. He spoke of how “the decision should be understood as a slap in the face to the Canadian people.” My question is: which Canadians? Even those who opposed the pipeline? Should I feel affronted that the President of the
made a decision which may, or may not, alter the lives of a relatively small number of Canadians? And should I always feel personally insulted when a political decision is made which may, or may not, alter jobs. The reality is that such decisions are made – rightly or wrongly – on a daily basis in both United States Canada and the . And what might be even more shocking to Hlinka is that a lot of decisions don’t place the interests of workers first. One gets the sense that ‘jobs’ is code for profits and that the latter is much more important than the former. United States
Although he does acknowledge that the environmental organizers in
are ‘grassroots’ one gets the impression that these folks, and their ‘claims’, are not taken seriously by Hlinka. Somehow activists are suspect while high-profile lobbyists represent business as usual. In Hlinka’s mind all of the forces opposing the pipeline are forms of protest. There is a right way to do politics and a wrong way. And if this is part of Obama’s reelection bid, and the President feels more voters are opposed to the project than support it, this would suggest that the democratic process is both intact and working. If Obama has made a serious judgment error in this case it will be addressed in next year’s election. Imagine a process which is attentive and responsive to voters. That can’t be right! Hlinka and others must paint these would be anti-business forces in a negative light and suggest there is something deceptive and malicious about their motives. Lobbying is fine so long as it is a certain type of corporate lobbying. And, as with critiques of the so-called anti-globalization forces, I’ve never met a single person opposed to either business or trade. So what is really at stake is how, and in whose interest, such activities are conducted. These debates are much more nuanced than the easy-answers right-wing media (yes, even the CBC has them!) would have us believe. Nebraska
One also has to question where the voices for ‘ethical oil’ are in this whole debate. Yes, there are plenty of commentaries about how Canadian oil is more ethically suitable than the oil from several other countries around the world, but what about this focus on selling oil to
? It’s funny how the anti-communists seem to be silent all of a sudden – even when they are often the same folks making the ‘ethical oil’ argument. I guess this resembles the methods (by some clever slight-of-hand) pro-business/anti-communist forces in the China United States are able to keep the focus on Cuba rather than . Perhaps this has become a requirement as China China is holding a huge portion of government debt. I’m not making an argument for or against US , I’m just trying to figure out how this all squares in the minds of business commentators and politicians. China
My argument isn’t so much that Hlinka is wrong – or even that some of the alternatives to the pipeline are preferable. The point is that such issues are complex and by nature reflect a multiplicity of competing interests. Like it or not that is politics. Why it is assumed, as our Prime Ministers does, that such questions are ‘no-brainers’? Why is the environment not an ethical issue? Why is the whole ‘ethical oil’ argument confined to producers rather than consumers? I guess even when completion is the ideal state in business it is not always appreciated and welcomed in the realm of politics.