Harper’s Last Stand

Waiting for the pipeline shuffle (rhymes with hustle)...

Recently a sober CBC report (aren’t they all?) indicated that a corporal’s guard of Federal cabinet ministers, bolstered by “senior bureaucrats,” are deploying to British Columbia in a concerted effort to sell the natives on the China-or-bust oil pipeline initiative. By “native” of course we mean the original residents, who apparently are the only ones with a common sense concern for the environment. White British Columbians, as usual, are either lulled into sleep by their dead-ass media, or else transfixed by riveting news items such as visiting guitar artists or hockey scores. Unfortunately, decades ago, the Crown deked the originals out of their land, along with their children and their culture, so all they, the indigenous ones, can do these days is protest, demonstrate and listen to the blandishments of their straw men — those “Chiefs” on the government payroll — to play ball because there’s good money in it.

Announcing Harper’s Last Stand, a plan intended to fast-talk the locals into laying down their tomahawks so The Prime can connect the dots; which is to say, Alberta oil sands, B.C.’s ports and the insatiable Chinese demand for bitumens. The mode d’emploi they’ve heard before and learned by rote from their friendly southern neighbors, who (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) called on a sandy-haired Lieutenant-cum-General and the Seventh Cavalry.

In the Canadian version, Harper’s Folly doesn’t use the Van Doos or the Princess Pats or even the Musical Rider Boys, but rather a regiment of suitably armed politicians, with all the subtlety of a 100-yard earth mover. Number two, “negotiations” (especially with Enbridge’s flagship Northern Gateway) with intransigent “stakeholders,” (who as usual are burning at the stake) have struck out, as if the metaphors haven’t been mixed enough already.

Just to run down the roster of participants and their supporting cast:

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, (feeling anything but grand) said: “I have a sinking feeling that they’re covering their backsides in terms of a consultation record… and laying the groundwork (for) when the decision is finally made by Prime Minister Harper and the cabinet, regardless of what the joint review panel comes forward with in terms of an approval or a rejection of these proposed projects.”

That’s a pretty long-winded sinking feeling that Chief Philip (the first Indian in history to use the circumlocution “backsides”) experienced, when what he meant was as inevitable as a Florida sink hole. But the hustle, the appearance of deep deliberation – for the benefit of the watchful media and the dozing public – must go on. Deliberations and addressing, the two favorite Ottawa mots.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, born with a silver stock certificate in his mouth, will front the group as lead minister. This guy has all the bona fides: law degree from McGill, MBA from Harvard, former Mayor of Toronto, ran the Ontario Securities Commission and the Investment Dealers’ Association of Canada, plays well with other neocons and theocons. Enfin, as right wing as Todd Bertuzzi of the Detroit Red Wings. Jeez, he’s even more Conservative than the Assistant Queen in Rideau Hall.

Then there’s the point man, Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, who replaced John “Fry-bread” Duncan six months ago. (Who announced that he wanted to spend more time with his constituents in B.C.’s Cowichan Valley, where — according to the latest census — there aren’t any Indians.)

Bernie Valcourt is no stranger to Canadian Cabinet ranks. First elected to Parliament in 1984 when Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives swept into power, Valcourt was swept into Mulroney’s Ministry of State, but swept out again following a traffic accident, during which he (a) was DUI, (b) was riding a motor cycle without a helmet, and as a result (c) lost one eye.

Since binocular vision isn’t a pre-condition for cabinet appointment in Ottawa, Valcourt has served since as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, Employment and Immigration, not to mention the multi-Ministered State department.

A keen observer of problems faced by natives, albeit uni-optically, Valcourt is called “Parmie” by some bi-lingual spokesnatives because of his embodiment of the expression “Parmi les aveugles, le borgne est roi.” (“Among the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”) Shawn Atleo, Chief Chief and grand pooh-bah of the Assembly of First Nations, commented on the appointment: “A great pick” (although the final word was misspelled in one native publication).

Valcourt had already been in B.C. for a week attending hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (Are they still hearing? Or are they just healing?) Prior to Thanksgiving — the Canadian variety of that national holiday that splits the difference between Labor Day and the American turkey shoot — there will be still other key Cabinet Ministers deployed for the Pipeline Persuasion Program. They include Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq. (Check that last one: the environment portfolio is held by an Innuit princess. A touch of class, that. In his aboriginal outreach, Harper will stop at nothing. Reminiscent of Pope Emeritus Ratzinger who, up to his holy harmulka in native genocide, canonized a Mohawk maiden.)

Chief Philip is a little jumpy over all the urgency, the sudden outpouring of Ottawa concern. Even Christy Clark, B.C. Premier, has requested an audience with the natives, and she’s a Liberal, for gawddsake, in the far-out western tradition of Gordie Campbell, now with a low profile in B.C. and High Commissioner in London. When troubles come, as Lear or MacBeth or some medieval monarch noted, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

Federal sources (probably the PMO) say that Harper’s objective is to “work pro-actively to convince First Nations, community groups, (such as the Board of Trade, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Club in Toronto) and B.C.’s government that moving oil through the province is good for the economy, and good for them.” Not to mention, as Al Capp would have it, General Bullmoose, Big Oil and Big China. Speaking of the latter, there was a receptive audience in Big Vancouver, where, ever since British Hong Kong took the hemlock, the average complexion has increasingly become lemon-tinted.

For openers, the Prime Minister’s Office, en masse it’s presumed, met recently with “First Nations representatives,” (the resident AFN payroll johnnies, of course), and “asked not what they could do for the Crown, but what Ottawa could do to address their concerns.” Not only Kennedyesque, but sort of like the ghost of George Steinbrenner asking Alex Rodriguez if he needed food stamps to supplement his $250 million contract. Instead of responding: “Address THIS,” as any thinking First Native would have, the Ottawa-resident Chiefs apparently expressed their support, pipeline-wise.

There are three proposals currently underway to flush all the Alberta crude (how apt), especially that grubby tar sands oil, out of Texas North: (1) the pipeline to Texas South that Obama is currently weighing with all the popular support of a Syrian invasion, (2) Kinder Morgan’s plan to double down on the existing Trans-Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver, and (3) the Enbridge proposal to traverse northern B.C. from the greasy northern tundra to the same salt chuck. The latter two are what Harper is addressing, like he has never addressed before. And the natives along the right of way are just as earnestly undressing.

There’s more. Taking their cue from British Petroleum’s launch of an ad campaign heralding the Gulf as a “vacation paradise” in lieu of ponying up the $100 billion in damage they caused, Trans Mountain and Trans Canada, the two pipelines to prosperity, figuratively with a Bible in one hand and a flintlock musket in the other, are sponsoring the Truth and Reconciliation Conference in Vancouver, hard on the heels of Bernie Valcourt, the one-eyed man who no way would be king, even in the Blind Institute.

Chief Philip has seen this movie before, even without the help of his clansman, Chief Dan George:

“In the late 1900’s,” he said recently, “the Catholic Church started a mission to Christianze and convert my people… by offering gifts to prominent Squamish leaders,seen as special in the eyes of the Church, and more likely, to assist with converting the people. They slowly segregated the people to the confines of reserve boundaries, enabling a massive theft and destruction of our lands. Look at the legacy: where are those gifts and where is the land?”

Ottawa is operating in the best BP tradition, announcing new regulations to improve the safety of oil tankers and terminals, raising corporate liability to $1 billion per offshore spill (beats Fukushima), and imposing new fines for safety breaches that would make the Gulf of Mexico operators blush.

The natives, by all accounts, are not impressed. Enbridge, with the Northern Gateway route, screwed up so badly dealing with the residents that they face a near-impossible PR job. And on the Trans Mountain project, the Coldwater Band near Merritt, B.C. is already warming up for a court battle, seeking a judicial order and National Energy Board approval that would signal Little Big Horn for Harper. Cold water, indeed.

A tale of sound and fury, perhaps signifying nothing. Because under the system of parliamentary government, as she is practiced in Canada, Hopalong Harper may just do the thing anyway, his pipe dream outweighing the fact that he’s an honorary Chief of the Blood Nation in Alberta.

Oil, particularly the tar sands variety, is thicker than blood.

Bill Annett writes four newsletters: The Canadian Shield, American Logo, Beating the Street, and The Oyster World. He can be reached at: hoople84@gmail.com. Read other articles by Bill.