Canada: Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

Last week I wrote about the fear among Democrats that the U.S. might be heading for a significant economic recovery before the election in November, such that the Trump campaign would be able to point to "the most explosive monthly employment numbers and gross domestic product growth ever" (in the words of Obama Administration senior advisor Jason Furman), and ride that good news to reelection. Well, yesterday morning we all woke up to news which suggests that that upward trajectory might be beginning. After months of catastrophe, with Great Depression-like unemployment figures, the May jobs report showed that the economy added 2.5 million jobs in that period, the most ever in a single month.

The news was so surprising that left-wing rags like the Washington Post had to frantically delete their pre-written tweets about how terrible the report was:

Of course, we aren't out of the woods yet. An unemployment rate of 13 percent is still pretty bad, even if things are heading in the right direction. And, as I argued last week, Joe Biden's willingness to squander our gains on his ideological program (or that of his advisors while he naps in the Lincoln Bedroom), including his announcement that he would definitively kill Keystone XL  pipeline upon entering the White House, should make us all wary about trusting him to save the economy.

Well, up in Canada we can see what it looks like to have people already in power whose instincts are invariably ordered toward ideology over job creation or the cost of living. We've already covered Trudeau's doubling the nation's carbon tax during the pandemic, a decision which ran counter to what basically every other nation in the world was doing. We also discussed his oil and gas aid package, which seemed ordered towards the end of an industry which accounts for roughly 10 percent of Canada's GDP.

This is the path Trudeau has committed his nation to, and it doesn't seem like it is going to slow down anytime soon. Dan McTeague, president of the indispensable Canadians for Affordable Energy, has been writing recently about the return of Justin Trudeau's college drinking buddy, Gerald Butts, who grew up to be an environmental activist, director of policy for then-Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, and eventually Trudeau's chief adviser. Butts, you may recall, was forced to resign in the run up to the 2019 election for his role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

Now that that election is over, McTeague reports that Butts is back in Ottawa serving on a new task force called Resilient Recovery. "The task force," explains McTeague, is "made up of green industry and environmental leaders [and] says its goal is to help seize a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity to build things in a “better” way post the COVID-19 pandemic." If you guessed that that means taking advantage of a crisis to get Canada even more entangled in the Green Energy industry than it already is and make it harder for oil and gas companies to operate, you win.

Butts: I'm ba-ack.

In the course of two articles, McTeague argues that Canadians should be aware of, and concerned by, this "green energy at any and all costs" task force, and especially by Butts' inclusion in it. Butts has the ear of the prime minister and a history of making life harder for Canadians. McTeague has taken the time to remind us of that history. In his first piece, he examines Butts' work in the McGuinty government in Ontario:

Gerry Butts is known as one of the architects of Dalton McGuinty’s disastrous Green Energy Act. The GEA hurt Ontarians (and is still hurting them), resulting in energy bills increasing by 70% from 2008 to 2016. Ontario’s claim to fame became its high energy rates - the highest in all of North America. Big manufacturers across the province began to flee for friendlier economic climates. Even former premier Kathleen Wynne said in her 2018 campaign that because of the Green Energy Act many families were having to choose between paying their energy bills and feeding their families.

The GEA originally promised the creation of 50,000 green energy jobs. The government later admitted that that number was not based on any formal analysis, that many of the jobs would be temporary, and that it did not account for the lost manufacturing jobs due to the increased energy prices. Wind and solar were incredibly expensive to produce... and the consumer was the one who had to make up the difference. How? Through a hidden tax euphemistically called the Global Adjustment Fee which suddenly started to appear on Ontario energy bills. A Global News article from 2016 stated that for every $100 in usage that appeared on your bill, $23 was actual electricity cost, while the other $77 was from the “Global Adjustment Fee”.

After a few years out of government, Butts jumped onboard the Trudeau train after the Liberals won their majority in 2015, and brought his wealth of experience making everyday life more expensive for Ontarians to Canadians more generally. That part of his career is covered in McTeague's second piece:

The costs of Butts’ climate agenda are apparent in the policies that the Trudeau government put in place during its first term, the most important (and destructive) of these being the carbon tax. It is no surprise that the mastermind behind the Ontario green energy debacle would help create expensive and ineffective policies at the federal level. The carbon tax adds at least 7 cents per litre of gas at the pump for Canadians. Because it applies to all energy sources, the hidden costs – on food and services and our competitiveness – will be even greater, and the carbon tax will increase annually by large increments.

Other expensive and anti-industry policies that were launched during Butts’ time in Ottawa include Bill C-69 (an overhaul of Canada's regulatory and resource project approval system) and C-48 (the oil tanker moratorium act). These have meant significant new and unnecessary regulatory burdens that restrict resource development, drive away investment, and have the effect of making energy more expensive.

Though Canada's May jobs numbers crept up somewhat, just like America's, Canada is still experiencing record unemployment. Bombardier just announced that they'ree laying off 2,500 workers. This is still a time of crisis, and for any recovery to be really resilient, it needs a laser focus on getting people back to work and getting the economy back on track. Gerald Butts' resumé speaks to the fact that he is more than willing to prioritize environmentalist virtue signalling over the benefit of ordinary Canadians.

Big Chiefs Vie for Supremacy in B.C.

If you want to get your way out west in the 21st century, but can't win at the ballot box, becoming a public nuisance is the next best thing. That's the message coming out of this past weekend's hi-jinks in Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, D.C., and elsewhere. It's also the message of the agreement the Liberal government in Ottawa and the socialist NDP government in British Columbia have recently struck with a handful of hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

In case the pandemic and the George Floyd riots have pushed the recent history of the Wet’suwet’en out of your mind, let me quickly remind you of their situation. They are a First Nations community based in northwestern British Columbia, Canada, who found themselves at the center of a firestorm back in February. Protests erupted across Canada "in solidarity" with the Wet’suwet’en, who objected to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline across their land. Or, at least, that was the narrative pushed by Canadian media. In reality, as Mike Smyth explained in B.C's The Province at the time,

The First Nations directly impacted by the Coastal GasLink pipeline — and the thousands of Indigenous people they represent — largely support the project. All 20 First Nations along the pipeline route have signed benefit-sharing agreements with the pipeline company through their elected band councils. That includes the multiple elected councils of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. But the protesters have aligned themselves with five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the pipeline, and not the 13,000 Indigenous British Columbians represented by all the band councils that support it.

In fact, as I wrote back in February, roughly one-third of the people working on the pipeline are native, and a great many of the Wet’suwet’en people stand behind the elected chiefs who signed onto the original agreements with TC Energy. They were critical of those five hereditary chiefs who -- as Wet’suwet’en member Troy Young put it -- chose to do "everything via media and not following proper protocol." And they were grateful for the job opportunities afforded them by resource development on their land, and concerned about the consequences of killing or altering a multi-billion dollar project at such a late stage (Troy Young again: "If the project were to be halted, the loss would be probably insurmountable. Nobody's ever going to invest here again").

But the media delivered. Canadian news outlets like the CBC churned out wall-to-wall, breathless coverage of the plight of the five hereditary chiefs on the one hand (who, they continuously suggested, were really more legitimate than the elected chiefs, since democracy is a western import, although there has been a system in place for the election of chiefs for nearly 150 years) and of the occasional arrest of protesters for such minor offences as blockading major rail lines and arson). By the end of the month the federal and provincial governments felt compelled to sit down with the hereditary chiefs to hammer out a new agreement, with construction suspended while they did so.

And then the virus and the lockdowns came, sucking up all of the media oxygen for months. But while everyone was looking elsewhere, BC and Ottawa were continuing to negotiate. And then, without an announcement, a Memorandum of Understanding was agreed to by both sides in March, the details of which are only now coming out. And, from what we've seen of it, it has the potential, as Gary Mason writes in The Globe and Mail, first, "to fundamentally alter politics in this country forever," and second, "to be viewed, ultimately, as a horribly one-sided sellout by British Columbia and Ottawa."

The memorandum recognizes the hereditary chiefs over and above the elected chiefs, who weren't involved in the negotiations. This detail is remarkable, because it involves a significant shift in the locus of Indigenous power and and heightens the internal tensions among the Wet’suwet’en. But the more dramatic aspect of the agreement is that it recognizes the Wet’suwet’en as having title over its territory. As the hereditary chiefs explained in pitching the agreement to their people, “You will be the first Indigenous Nation in Canada to have recognition of your Aboriginal title over your territory by agreement.”

What that means in practice is to be worked out in negotiations over the next several months, but one key aspect of it seems to be that, at least as Mason reads that section, "the hereditary chiefs will have exclusive domain over natural-resource development" on that 22,000 square kms (13,670 square miles) of land. To get such a significant concession in a negotiation, you'd imagine that the hereditary chiefs would have to give up quite a lot. Well, you would be wrong -- at least in their words, they conceded “Absolutely nothing.” Including, as Mason emphasizes, "any promise to not continue blocking the [Coastal GasLink] pipeline from crossing their territory." He continues,

There are so many potential land mines in this agreement, it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s start with how it gives power to hereditary chiefs over elected chiefs and their councils. In many cases, elected chiefs represent a new generation of Indigenous leadership. The hereditary chiefs who signed this agreement appear to be able to use their new power to stop the pipeline from crossing their land.... Hereditary chiefs elsewhere are undoubtedly going to see this agreement as precedent-setting. They will insist on the same powers. And that has the potential to undermine many other royalty-sharing agreements that elected band councils have signed with resource companies.

Getting here required good bit of of dirty pool from the hereditary chiefs. According to Chris Selley,

They have stripped pro-pipeline hereditary chiefs of their titles and installed anti-pipeline replacements. They did not keep promises — echoed by provincial and federal politicians — to at least run the memorandum of understanding by the rank and file. They wouldn’t even distribute draft copies.

And, of course, it has meant ignoring the wishes of ordinary members of the Wet’suwet’en nation. That being so, why are Victoria (capital of B.C., located just 75 miles across the water from Seattle) and Ottawa moving ahead with it? As Selley puts it,

[F]or the governments involved, this wasn’t about offering the Wet’suwet’en a better future. It was about putting out a fire: [Among other things, a] group of Mohawks thousands of kilometres away in eastern Ontario had blockaded CN’s main line in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs; and the Ontario Provincial Police, armed with an injunction demanding the blockade end, refused to lift a finger. Something had to give. Somebody had to get screwed, and it was the rank-and-file Wet’suwet’en. For no good reason whatsoever, the hereditary chiefs now hold all the keys to their future. It’s an appalling and appallingly predictable result.

We shall see what the outcome of all of this is. The details of the agreement are still being negotiated, and then it must be ratified by both sides. But it isn't looking good for the legitimately elected Wet’suwet’en leaders, nor their thousands of followers who are sick of the publicity and the games and just want to work. At this point the lesson of all of this, in Selley's words, is "make friends with the Ontario Mohawks. They pretty much run the country."