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.

Stephen Harper is Killing Canada – the ‘what is wrong with collective bargaining’ edition

Seriously, what does Stephen Harper have against collective bargaining? Why do they keep bringing in back to work legislation without letting the process take its natural course? I can see why governments might want to do this after a prolonged strike or lock out situation but less than a week? Give me a break!

The CP Rail workers have been legislated back to work today. Apparently their strike was costing the Canadian economy $540 million dollars a week. How could the government know this less than 3 days into the strike? The union was even letting commuter rail traffic that uses its infrastructure clear passage. No one was really being inconvenienced all that much.

Contrast the recent CP Rail back to work legislation with the Caterpillar strike in London earlier this year. The American management of Caterpillar wanted employees to take a 50% wage cut. When the union would not capitulate, Caterpillar then decided to close the plant and move the jobs to the US. Where was Stephen Harper then?

Stephen Harper is killing Canada is a new series here at The Swamp. Here is the first entry.

Published in: on June 1, 2012 at 9:57 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

We all need to take a lesson from Quebec Students

Students have been protesting planned increases to tuition for 3 months. It does not seem to matter what the Charest government does the protests come back stronger than before. This is not a surprise to those of us who are familiar with Quebec history. Whether it was the October Crisis, the confrontation at Oka or the power of the sovereignty movement, Quebecers have a long history of effective protest. What makes Quebec stand apart from other provinces is their absolute commitment to social justice and access to education. Quebec has the lowest tuition in the country. If the proposed tuition increases go through, Quebec will still have the lowest tuition in the country. Quebecer students don’t seem to care about the government’s claims – to them, this increase will reduce access to education.

Canada has never been a country to sustain any kind of long-term protests seen in other countries. We seem to just take what the government dishes out and retreat to our indebted homes to lick our wounds. Very rarely is public outrage translated into political action. One recent exception was the HST petition that succeeded in causing a referendum. I doubt it would have been so successful if it were not for the polarizing influence of Bill Vander Zalm.

Our current political climate is cruel and very negative. The Harper Conservatives keep lobbing cut after cut after cut at us and like good little Canadians we take it and hope that someone, somewhere will fix it. It started with extending the age of eligibility of OAS.[1] Since then we have seen medical insurance for refugees being cut[2] and now being told that we have to be prepared to take any job if we happen to need EI. The Conservatives are eroding, even further, what differentiates Canada from other countries.

I am sure that no one who voted for Harper saw all this shit coming. But it is so predictable. He is a social conservative. He believes that everyone just needs to work harder and they will have everything they need. We know this is not true. People do not languish on EI or welfare because they want to. No one wants the state to pay their way if they have an option. I am afraid that the Canada we get back when he is done is going to look nothing like the Canada of today. This makes me very sad and not very hopeful for the future. I only hope that our youth take a page from the Quebec students who will not back down. We need that kind of commitment to save Canada now.


[1] Which will not be felt immediately. Instead, it will hit my generation.

[2] Refugees will only receive treatment for conditions that are a threat to public safety (i.e. TB) or if they are not treated the person may be a danger to the public (i.e. severe mental health issues). Need a cane, forget it! A life-saving medication like insulin – not going to happen in Harper/Kenney’s Canada!

Opening up the Abortion Debate in Canada

Well, sadly, it would seem that I was prescient when I wrote Reproductive Rights Discourse on March 18, 2012. In this post, I explored how Canada is affected by political discourse coming out of the United States. In the last 2 years, there has been an assault of biblical proportions on not only abortion but also contraception in the US. Even though Stephen Harper has said he is not interested in opening up the abortion debate he seems willing to let his backbencher Stephen Woodworth do it for him.

Motion 312, put forward by Woodworth, seeks to change the definition of when a fetus becomes a child. Referencing Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada, a fetus becomes a human being once it is born. Woodworth is asking the following questions:

  1. what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth?
  2. is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?
  3. what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?
  4. what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1)?

The questions Woodworth is seeking to answer in Motion 312 would fundamentally change how abortion is viewed and provided in Canada. If passed, this motion could mandate all sorts of restrictions on access to abortion.

Now, one might want to ask why Stephen Harper has allowed this motion to go forward. There is no way that Harper the Control Freak would allow anything to go forward without his approval. So even though he says he does not want the abortion debate opened he is allowing just that to happen. He says he will vote against the motion but what does that really mean? By allowing this motion to move forward he is adding to the discourse that seeks to impose severe limitations on a woman’s right to choose. And, as students of discourse theory know, the more we talk about something the more powerful the discourse becomes and before we know it trans-vaginal ultrasounds are the norm prior to abortions in Canada.

Now, lest you think it is only the Conservative party of Canada who is seeking to oppress women let’s take a look at the Liberal Party of Canada. Justin Trudeau has been tweeting, quite proudly, that the LPC will have a free vote on this issue. That’s right folks, the LPC is also prepared to allow their MPs to vote their ‘conscience.’ This pisses me off. A quick scan through the list of MPs indicates 5 of 35 Liberals elected to Parliament are women. When Liberal MPs are allowed to vote their ‘conscience’ 30 men will get to have a say on what women do with their bodies. This is an excellent example of why the LPC is doing so badly in Canada: there is no leadership, no ideology to which people can adhere. It is in these really tough decisions that leadership makes a difference. Bob Rae has an opportunity to show he can lead. Sadly, I think we will all be disappointed.

What I find even more disturbing is the lack of leadership from Justin Trudeau. This is a man who grew up in a political house with one of the best leaders Canada has ever had.[1] He should understand how important ideology is to politics. Did he not learn lessons from his father? He is also of a younger generation than Bob Rae. This does not bode well his future in politics.

Now onto the NDP; Nikki Ashton announced “In Canada, in 2012, a woman’s right to choose is not up for negotiation.’ She confirmed that the NDP would vote unanimously against the motion. Don’t forget that the NDP now has over a hundred members from Quebec where Catholicism still runs deep. Tom Mulcair, unlike the wimpy Rae and Harper, is not allowing his MPs to a free vote. He understands that to do so would be to muddy waters about the real issue, which is safe access to abortion for all Canadian women.

Living in a society where men are the overwhelming decision makers about women’s access to reproductive choice is so incredibly disturbing. This makes it clear that women are still second-class citizens in this country. When men are able to carry a child to term, then perhaps they can have a say. Until then they have no right to force their or their god’s[2] will on women.


[1] I can never decide who was the best leader: Trudeau or Chretien.

[2] Don’t forget, most people who are anti-choice are doing it because of religious doctrine.

Quote of the Day

“I’ve always been scared and I still am scared, but I’m starting to speak out a lot better and more and I want it better for me and my grandchildren and my kids, so they can have a little bit of a better life, so I think this will help to heal a lot.”

Alice George – at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Port Alberni.

Residential Schools are a shameful part of Canada’s history. Aboriginal children, forced to live in these ‘schools’ away from their families, suffered systematic abuse at the hands of their captors. Alice George sums it up well – it is about healing so the next generation does not suffer.

Published in: on April 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,