Once again, Canadian and U.S. leaders have conflicting priorities

by Barry Cooper

Calgary Herald
December 21, 2016

Relations between Canadian and American leaders are conditioned by a mix of personal relations and policies.

Stephen Harper and Barack Obama were not close pals. For Harper, the president embodied much of what he detested in politicians: Obama seemed indirect, a dithering lawyer, a friend of the phonies of Hollywood, a glib preacher of hope. Obama knew Harper’s views.

Policy, especially the Keystone XL pipeline, also divided them. In September 2011, Harper famously told Bloomberg Television that the decision to build the pipeline should be “a complete no-brainer.” To a president proud of his cerebral acuity, the implications were insulting.

Once the pipeline became a unifying symbol of environmentalists’ fears, once they raised lots of money, chained themselves to the White House gates, and got themselves arrested on TV, Obama’s November 2011, announcement was inevitable: Keystone XL was on hold.

That decision would cost Canada an estimated $632 billion in foregone economic growth over the next quarter century, mostly paid by Albertans.

That not-so-ancient history came to mind in the wake of three nominations president-elect Donald Trump made last week. This time, the roles of economic confidence versus environmental anxiety were reversed.

The Alberta and Canadian governments expressed the fears of simpering environmentalists, while Trump nominated Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, to be secretary of state, Rick Perry, long-serving governor of Texas, to be secretary of energy, and a former attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

All three are excellent nominations. We should be so lucky in this country.

For the past century, ExxonMobil has been involved in every major oil play in the world. It is the closest thing the Americans have to a national oil company, and it has provided a home to innumerable retired State Department employees, some of whom have served in Calgary.

In short, ExxonMobil is not just a big oil company, but one where geopolitical realism is built in to their operations. Tillerson knows about Alberta. Will our political leaders have enough wits about them to take advantage of favourable circumstances?

Despite the title, secretary of energy, Perry’s chief responsibility is to oversee American nukes, from weapons to naval and civilian reactors. What is interesting about him and Pruitt is that both have sensible views on human-caused climate change.

Perry has said that anthropogenic climate change is a “contrived phoney mess,” which, if we recall the mendacity of climategate, sounds about right. Pruitt wrote earlier this year that he was aware that climatologists disagree about the extent of climate change and its connection to human activity. Now, there’s a refreshing zephyr of common sense.

Americans are getting an EPA director who has challenged in court the agency he will run, which means he can rein in bureaucratic ambitions and anti-energy activism. Imagine: a director of the EPA concerned with environmental protection, which is to say, actual air and water pollution, not CO2.

As sensible as these nominees are, as long as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Rachel Notley push ahead with a national carbon tax (except in Ontario and Quebec, of course), we are unlikely to benefit.

Notley says she trusts Trudeau, and his response to the nominations was that “Canadian climate policy will be made by Canadians” — a recipe for increased economic hardship and no climate impact.

And how might Trudeau and The Donald get along personally? Last week, while duck hunting in the cold with my friend Ted Morton, we came across a bald eagle on the ice, dining on a Canada goose.

May it not be a vision of future relations between the two leaders!

Barry Cooper teaches political science at the University of Calgary.

Image: Tony Caldwell/Sun Media

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