Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Canada’s dying pipeline industry and its genteel lobbyists

Can you imagine the noise, the rhetoric, the picket lines, the emergency meetings, the petitions and the op-eds if the governments of Canada or Quebec ended the dairy industry’s monopsony or called in their loans to Bombardier Inc.?

Either of these hoary burdens to consumers and taxpayers alike would raise righteous hell, would have under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and will, as surely, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

So, isn’t it strange that Barack Obama and Canada’s new Prime Minister can kill two regulator-approved, multibillion-dollar oil pipeline projects, blocking recession-racked Alberta’s most economic new pathways to continental and global oil markets, and, consequently, harm profoundly the economic credibility of the only reliable growth region of Canada—and then move on, smilingly, hand in hand, to address other business?

Obama reasons that TransCanada Inc.’s Keystone XL project doesn’t fit with his green, global vision of himself. After seven years of painful gestation, his "legacy" logic spreads gently like you-know-what on troubled waters. While Trudeau, his Cabinet and chief office networker Gerald Butts rush to assure Obama’s White House that their country can take a punch and that he’s already as green as the President.

Trudeau doesn’t openly use his predecessor’s National Energy Board's legislation to disallow the Enbridge Inc.’s Gateway pipeline to the Pacific. He only insists that the oil that gets there by flowing it won’t be able to use the Pacific Ocean to go any farther.

The actions of both politicians fit the logic of their electoral politics.

Powerless Canadians would be embarrassed by a sore loser Prime Minister. Furthermore, they still very much like Obama, personally. While British Columbia’s asset-rich beach-dwellers long ago decided that "their" rain-socked, essentially inhabitable, north Pacific coast belongs to the gods of leave-things-alone.

The only weird part of this smooth economic catastrophe has been the tone and seeming intent of the responses of the immediate victims.

Enbridge’s pipeline spokesman whispers, for example: “We are confident the Government of Canada will be embarking on the required consultations with First Nations and Métis in the region, given the potential economic impact a crude oil tanker ban would have on those communities and Western Canada as a whole.” Also, they’d love to have one of those "re-set" chats with Trudeau.

These are the true sentiments of a company that is laying off skilled employees, that has already wasted tens, if not hundreds of millions, on law firms, negotiators, anthropologists, environmental planners, engineers, media commercials, and, needless to say, in-house and retained, multi-party government relations specialists.

Are they truly confident that the Trudeau government—answering to an absolute majority of green Liberal MPs who have no direct skin in the fate of Alberta’s oil industry—will reverse itself? That Justin Trudeau will exclaim: “Oh my, Enbridge has convinced half a dozen coastal First Nation bands to take a bit more of their money to stop guarding their pristine coast.”

Such fake, Pollyanna, convoluted, supine optimism reminds me of a proposition that ought to be on every boardroom wall in the fossil fuel business:

“When the Fox hears the Rabbit scream he comes a-runnin', but not to help.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

Barack Obama: alliance against terror’s 'thankless child'

Barack Obama’s presidency—in terms of American blood, treasure, executive time, and personal commitment—intensified the War on Terror. And so did the leaders of his two most reliable allies, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Obama remains the reluctant, but undisputed liberal leader of a war alliance. While, on the other hand, his conservative fellow warriors—Stephen Harper and David Cameron—are portrayed by innumerable liberal zealots as warmongers and closet authoritarians, men who’ve used terror on the television to manipulate their citizens and compromised their rights.

Barack Obama doesn’t have any obligation—or demonstrated capacity—to help repair the profiles of other politicians. Besides, Cameron and Harper choose freely to continue to support Obama’s US-led war. And they keep calling themselves conservatives despite the risks. It bears attention, however, that Obama has stood aside and allowed his borderless popularity—and his most well-known advisors and mercenaries—to actually work against the electoral interests of his two conservative allies in arms.

David Cameron won the recent British election, despite the help that Labour Leader David Miliband received from Obama’s high-profile political advisor, David Axelrod. Stephen Harper didn’t survive last month’s election and was defeated by a Liberal who enjoyed the council of Obama’s battleground-state advisor Mitch Stewart and a platform blessing by Obama’s Great Recession fighter, Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers.

Tories on either side of the Atlantic are never short of things to be bitter about.

However, Stephen Harper and his champions, especially, have little reason to be silent about Obama’s meddlers. In Canada’s election, mediocre US relations were a significant issue, along with Harper’s support for Obama’s controversial military intervention against ISIL.  

Sure, Obama’s friends were hardly decisive, in either election. And, anyway, self-identified liberals should be free to sell their services, advise and campaign for progressives abroad as well as at home. After all, aren’t we fighting together to preserve those very freedoms?

Still, these arguments don’t excuse Obama personally.

None of the Democrats who dragged Obama’s name into our elections were doing it to save liberal values or advance urgent Democrat Party interests, let alone Obama’s foreign policy. David Miliband, Justin Trudeau, Thomas Mulcair and, for that matter, David Cameron and Stephen Harper are all as liberal—or more so—than the Obama presidency. None of these British and Canadian politicians promised to be better or lesser allies.

The conduct of men Obama made famous is part of the Obama legacy. He’s a self-declared war president, a president who supposedly rejected unilateralism and sought out and secured allies in arms. Yet, he’s allowed his stature as commander of that alliance to be trivialized by the sloppy conduct of men who profit immensely by being Obama’s men.

Looking at the situation somewhat differently, my complaint looks plain silly: the alliance against ISIL and Muslim terrorists isn’t serious, certainly not one of those alliances in which allies instinctively have each other’s backs. The absence of solidarity may simply confirm that, along with those wild Republicans, the Obama White House sees America as still sufficiently powerful to not bother to let allied interests inhibit the mischief of its pals.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

“Sunny ways” for Conservatives too? Please.

Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s never ever been the subject of a bad photograph in his life, believes sincerely in the elixir of “sunny ways.” This is unsurprising and wholly consistent with the soft ideology of Liberal activists who insist that all good things start with a stirring national policy. Chastened Conservatives should think twice about this idea.

It’s one thing to regret not being “sunny.”  It’s quite another to try to get back in power by faking it. And, more important, it would be an act of masochistic naiveté to accept that the Liberals win elections being *nice.*

For the next four years, Conservatives will be in opposition, a planning deadline put in law by Stephen Harper’s fixed election legislation. Above other considerations, they’ll try to pick an appealing campaigner. Charm, a clean resume, a good mind and decent looks will matter greatly. But most of the time, they better oppose, being tough, articulate, ruthless critics. On this challenge, Liberals in opposition—in action—are most informative.

Jean Chrétien, Pierre Trudeau—and his son—didn’t restore Liberal majorities in 1968, 1974, 1993, and 2015 by appealing strictly to hope. Tory opponents were not merely out-of-date and gray. They were hair-raisingly blinkered, ideological, anti-immigrant, anti-science, and uninterested in clean water; and they were not competent to manage a bilingual, multicultural G7 power or a complex economy and a sophisticated and sensitive civil service. (When New Democrats, of course, even get close in the polls, they’re seen as too socialistic and soft on separatists—simplistic and cynical all at once.)

Conservatives itching to get back in the game shouldn’t bother looking for a visage as luminescent as Justin Trudeau’s or a clean slate. Liberal attack dogs don’t settle for “just not ready.” They fill in—definitively—what’s missing. Stockwell Day was a “creationist” and Preston Manning was a radical, America-inspired populist.

Finally, watch out for what Liberals and their thinkers generously recall about old Tory statesmen. For instance, they say today that Robert Stanfield was a gentleman in the campaigns of 68, 72, and 74. They suggest now that he had the inclusive temperament necessary for a winner. Then, the Liberal portrait was less generous. Then, he was only a gentleman, a decent gardener from a passé province too conventional to outsmart Liberals, let alone stand up to wrecking balls like Peter Lougheed and René Lévesque. Joe Clark today is a sophisticated red-Tory. In the 1979 and 1980 campaigns, he was branded as a right-wing kid who’d try to keep the peace by being the “head-waiter” at federal-provincial conferences.

Sure, Liberals buttressed these harsh images with charming, urbane campaigners and benign visions of tomorrow. Having less ruthless opponents also helped. But, “sunny” politics wasn’t their winning secret, ever.

Ironically, their case against Harper also included a case against his government’s genuine hope that more freedom for provinces (for businesses and for families) as well as more empathic support for Liberal allies, the United States, and Israel especially would lead to a surer future for, if you like, “sunny” millennials.

Expressed in national politics, conservatism can’t credibly be as sunny as today’s liberals about the role of the federal government in the country’s affairs. Nevertheless, identifying the excesses of your opponents sure didn’t get in the way of Justin Trudeau’s brutally successful campaign.

Hard-pressed swing voters are as heartfelt about their dreams as natural governing intellectuals are about theirs. But they aren’t terribly dreamy about what they expect from the federal government. The accusation that Harper was an ideologue stuck. But that’s just a fancy way of landing that old bread-and-butter charge of: incompetence.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Relaxed times and popular amateurs

Let’s play with an optimistic proposition: that we’re not alarmed by the recent popularity of reactionaries with their shiny visions because we’re sure they can do little harm. We’re smart enough and strong enough to indulge the clowns.

No serious person thinks a rude President will get more done in Washington or be more successful than an attractive one.

No serious person thinks old-style “sovereignty” for Great Britain and a bombastic President would make either country more just or safer internationally.

No serious person wants to break up the European Union or see the United States turn away from rule-based global trade or its allies.

No serious person thinks either class warriors like Jeremy Corbyn or jingoists like Donald Trump can effectively address the menaces of nuclear proliferation or climate change.

No serious person believes that effective politicians do all the talking or that politics are merely off-Broadway productions.

And, yet, throughout this loopy season, the world-wise apparently remain unperturbed.

Do we really think today’s reactionaries can’t win, that complex thinking has the ballot edge over simple assertions? That the machinery of power has an adult mind of its own—and will promptly outsmart victories malcontents?

Why not? Savvy insiders and privileged free riders have swallowed this suicidal proposition before.

Political economists have amassed compelling historical evidence that sustained middle- and upper-class prosperity nudges politics toward more generous, but also more emotional, preferences. And we tell ourselves to worry about the dangerous influences of too-easy success at the top.

But remembering to worry is hard.

It’s difficult to imagine that we and not a family dynasty or investment bank could really screw us up like one of those places we see on the BBC.

Today’s easy ride for insurgents, however, may not be a tribute to their talents as much as it may be to how long our times have actually worked out for the best.

Congratulations. Now, let’s start worrying.