Canada and Iran – an oily standoff

Last Friday, the Canadian government severed all diplomatic ties with Iran. Usually when countries take this step there have been increasing tensions and perhaps a series of escalating incidents. One might fairly ask what precipitated this event. The answer is, well, nothing. To be fair, diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have not been great since the revolution in 1979. Iran has always been a little pissed that Canada smuggled 6 Americans out during the hostage crisis. Factor in the death of Zahra Kazemi and relations have been strained. So the question is why now? Why would we take such a drastic step in the absence of any kind of simmering diplomatic feud?

I have a theory. Stephen Harper is from Calgary. I have blogged before about how American Calgary is in its view of the world. Although born in Toronto, Harper’s education was at the University of Calgary. Particularly in the 1990s, the University of Calgary was a hotbed of a pro-American brand of conservatism.[1] Both the economics and political science departments were rife with these politically motivated students and faculty.[2] Who knows how or why this started; did Calgary create them or did they impact Calgary? Regardless, this is the school of thought that informs our prime minister’s policies.

Now, what does all of this have to do with us severing diplomatic ties with Iran? If you were to listen to Vic Toews[3] you would have heard him say that Iran is the biggest threat to global security.[4] Iran’s threat to global security was no different last Friday than it was the Friday before or the year before that, so why now?

As an historian, I have been trained to look for broad conceptual contexts in which to situate events. When an event does not make sense, historians are trained to tease out what may actually be going on. Given how American Calgary is, I began to think about why Americans might take this kind of action. Pretty much all American foreign policy has to do with money, and it’s compatriot, oil. Iran is a major oil producer and a competitor to Canada. As we all know, Harper and Alberta have been trying to find a way to move Alberta’s bitumen to China. Harper has his eye set on China and moving bitumen there as a means to diversify our exports and take advantage of China’s huge economy. What does all this have to do with Iran? Well, if Harper can isolate Iran even more than it already is or provoke some time of military strike, Iran will be further isolated in the international community. UN sanctions will follow and China will be looking for a new source of oil.

I don’t think my theory is wrong. The drums to war have been beating for quite a while with regard to Iran. While I believe the Iranian regime and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are reprehensible, the rights of sovereign nations are still paramount. Invading Iran because they supposedly have nuclear weapons sounds a whole lot like Iraq having ‘weapons of mass destruction.’  Any action that impacts Iran’s ability to sell its oil on the open market benefits Canada.

As a British Columbian all of this really concerns me. It seems that Harper is willing to squander our hard earned, though somewhat tarnished now, international reputation to sell Alberta’s bitumen. He is also willing to put our province at risk to do it. The Gateway pipeline is almost universally opposed in BC. I fear this pipeline is going to be shoved down our throats whether we want it or not.

The pipeline is not good for Canada. It will ship unprocessed bitumen out of the country leaving us in our familiar ‘hewer of wood, drawer of water’ role. Like lumber, why would we ship this stuff out of the country without processing it and creating more jobs in Canada? I wonder if we might feel better about the pipeline if there was to be a refinery in BC that would process the bitumen before it shipped out to China? The reason we are not doing this is because it would make it more expensive and the Chinese would rather process it there for cheaper. So Harper is willing to sell out Canada to benefit is buddies in the tar sands.[5] Now there’s a surprise.


[1] I was at the U of C at this time as well. Some TAs in the political science department were caught trying to sell Reform Party memberships to undergrads.

[2] Tom Flanagan comes to mind.

[3] Who listens to him anyway?

[4] Clearly if we were to believe Vic we should be severing diplomatic ties with the US, but I digress.

[5] Make no mistake it is the tar sands. It has been called the tar sand for decades. Only recently did some PR schmuk come up with ‘oil sands’ to try to convince people it is not dirty oil. One is not against the tar sands by calling it the tar sands; one is simply being precise.

Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘viral’ edition

  • I am now on Day 5 of this nasty virus. I think my fever finally broke this morning. I don’t often get these things but when I do they make me really sick. I seem to get more fevers, which makes it difficult to function. The fevers can also carry on after the other symptoms are gone.
  • We watched Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ the other day. We were both very disappointed. The entire movie was about him trying to get sponsorships for the movie. Instead of exploring the increasing integration of product placement, the entire show was basically a series of meetings with Spurlock negotiating. He talks to some experts like Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader to get their opinions on the subject. However the documentary missed a really good opportunity. Plus, I hate meetings and watching someone else be in meetings for 90 minutes was pretty boring.
  • Alberta is looking pretty progressive these days with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta electing Alison Redford. Apparently she represents the left-wing flank of the party. She is going to immediately restore funding to education and health care. The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta is literally the definition of the old boys club. I wish her well!
  • I have decided I am going to brine our Thanksgiving turkey. We are having a lot of people over for dinner so I hope it goes well!
Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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