The shell game

On Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 in Island Tides, Kinder Morgan

The idea of a shell game is simple enough.  Three small shells or cups glide around a surface, hiding one small object.  Wikipedia notes that this game is an elaborate, if simple, confidence trick, designed to perpetrate a fraud.

Stephen Harper’s latest moves in the Enbridge project debate have been a lot like that shell game.  He has whizzed the cups around the table.  In the blur of moves, some may believe he has changed his position.  

Analyzing the moves in sequence helps focus on the most likely of explanations.  This latest “wait for the science” gambit is all about defusing the pipeline issue before and during the spring BC provincial election.

Things have been shaken up on this issue by two key events. The first, July 10, 2012, was the  release of the findings of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Accident Report on the Kalamazoo, Michigan Enbridge spill.  The second was Premier Christy Clark’s announcement, a toughening stand unveiled from July 16-21, that she could not be counted on to support the project, unless Alberta and the federal government agreed to concessions. And in this blur of news, Stephen Harper seemed to have a change of heart, claiming that he had always said the decision would rest on the findings of the Joint Review Panel.

Of course, if Stephen Harper was thinking about the evidence, the logical time to have spoken up about pipeline safety was immediately following the July 10 condemnation of Enbridge by US officials.  Is there any evidence that the US NTSB 150 page report lambasting Enbridge for incompetence and negligence had any impact on the PM? 

The PMO message machine did ensure a strong statement was made in response to the accident report.  On July 19, Environment Minister Peter Kent leapt to the defence of Enbridge. In a Globe and Mail story headlined “Ottawa maintains support for Enbridge and Northern Gateway,” Peter Kent said, “Pipelines are still, by far, the safest way to transport petrochemicals in any form.”  According to the news report, Peter Kent also said he had not read the U.S. NTSB report.  His defence of Enbridge? 

“It is an older pipeline; it is a different set of geographic and technological realities from some of the new major projects being proposed,” he said.

Pity poor Peter Kent; told by the Boss to peddle an impossible sales pitch.  Is the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to remain perpetually new? A never-get-old pipeline? Just the next week, July 27, Enbridge had a new leak in relatively new, 1998 vintage, pipeline in Wisconsin.

In the time between Peter Kent’s defence of Enbridge’s 2010 Michigan spill and the new one in Wisconsin, Christy Clark made her first public criticism of Enbridge.

On August 1, on CKNW and the Bill Good Show, Heritage Minister James Moore became the first member of the Harper cabinet to criticize Enbridge.  Moore chose to criticize Enbridge while praising Kinder-Morgan’s pipeline expansion plans.

Chronologically, the next development was within days. Clearly, prior to Moore’s August 1 radio comments, the wheels were in motion for the letter from Peter Kent and the head of the NEB to the Joint Review Panel.  The letter, dispatched on Friday August 3, told the JRP that their report would be due on December 31, 2013. Frankly, to that point, all indications pointed to forcing the completion of the review far sooner than December 2013. 

On Tuesday, August 7, (the first business day following the Kent deadline letter), Stephen Harper met with Christy Clark and then recast the issue, claiming he was going to allow science to decide whether the pipeline would be approved:

And as I’ve said repeatedly, the government does not pick and choose particular projects. The government obviously wants to see British Columbia’s export trade continue to grow and diversify; that’s important. But projects have to be evaluated on their own merits.” (emphasis added)

The reality is that the Prime Minister had never said anything remotely like this before.  With specific reference to Enbridge, he has “repeatedly” used the term “national interest” to describe the importance of the project.  Speaking in China in February, Harper made his clearest commitments to ensuring the Northern Gateway project is built. In a Reuters story, “Canada PM vows to ensure key oil pipeline is built,” Harper said, “our government is committed to ensuring that Canada has the infrastructure necessary to move our energy resources to those diversified markets.”

Is he really backing away from unequivocal support?  

Rather than a change in his position, the new con game is about trying to reduce the opposition to the pipeline during the BC election.  That’s why the deadline is now December 2013. My bet is that trying to reduce the “with us or against us” rhetoric was the main topic of conversation when Clark and Harper met. The more people believe it is only a hypothetical threat, the more the BC election may not require BC political leaders to harden their opposition to federal railroading of a risky super tanker and pipeline scheme.

In this con game, my money is still on the reality that Stephen Harper is more determined to export bitumen to China than to any other policy objective.

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  • Elaine

    Way to keep the shenanigans exposed!

  • Jim Rosgen

    Considering the age of the Kinder Morgan pipeline (60+ years) I think it is entirely appropriate that Harper should pick the Heritage Minister to defend it. I doubt they noticed the irony however.

  • Heinz

    Unless Enbridge takes out the sand by pre-refining this tar-sand, no pipeline will ever be safe for an extented period of time.

  • shafto3

    The PM is trying to “REFORM” the masses with His on again off again opinions on the issues this country has to face. His pockets are deep and with the money He seems to control whether right or wrong He will decide on the side of big business and not the welfare of Canadians.

  • Mark Taliano

    I wish they were just “shenanigans”. The health of the planet and humanity is literally at stake. The nomenclature for describing the Harper government corruption (electoral fraud etc.)needs to reflect the severity of what he is doing to democracy, Canada, and the planet.

  • dkoroma

    I wish the ugliness of oil-spills and disasters would just stay in Alberta, and I think many people in BC wish the same… The dictator is actually steam-rolling his agenda in spite of science and popular dissent.

    I agree fully with your analysis. I wish you’d run for Liberal leadership! ;) just a thought…

  • rlagasse

    I am glad you mentioned the tankers, but curious to know why you waited till the end. The tankers ARE the issue on the coast, including Victoria and Vancouver where most of the population of BC is. Why not make a united front with the NDP on this issue. Dix has taken a clear stand opposed to the project and to the tankers. You can win a lot of respect by acknowledging that and showing that the stakes here outweigh partisan considerations. What do you think?

  • haloangelboy

    @dkoroma the greens have fiscal differences that are incompatible with the liberals “anything goes” budgets.

  • sharon

    Thanks for all your hard work on behalf of the citizens of BC, Elizabeth. At this point I can’t see how Harper could ram Enbridge through. Literally everyone I know is adamantly opposed to the project and many who’ve never taken any civil action before have stated they’ll lie down in front of a bulldozer before letting this happen. Still, Harper does seem astonishingly blind to the will of the people he is supposed to be serving. If his will does prevail, we’re moving to Europe, where there is still a semblance of democracy. Not that he’ll care!!

  • bruce jackson

    Thank you for the analogy. Recently an old pipeline welder and I had a conversation regarding the Enbridge Line. Our conversation began as a confrontation of ideas but as we listened to each other we came to some significant consensus. His experience of welding on most of the pipelines that crossed BC and the technology and workmanship was there were many pipelines that have never leaked. I questioned where was the pipe that you worked on was made. He replied “from Japan” where some of the best steel of the highest quality came from.
    With recent “free – trade” agreements if the country of origin has similar standards of quality as Canada then the product can not be inspected by Canadian inspectors. On the ground welders are saying the current pipeline steel from China does not have the quality they were used to welding on. The welder in conversation stated that oil and gas pipelines have a hundred years of technology and a proven track record. BUT he reiterated – this bitumen sandy oil in a pipeline is a whole different product with no previous history and there is no record and proof that the product can be shipped safely.
    We agreed that oil and gas float or dissipate. Kalamzoo has shown how bitumen sinks in the water and can not effectively cleaned up.
    I appreciate how the Chinese are buying up the Canadian companies to gain the expertise in how to develop the tar sands for their own tar sand deposits. Strategically it makes sense for an empire to use up the other empires supply first before using your own which you can sell back to the fools who gave it up in the first place. Short term gain and greed – where there is no long term vision the people will perish. Meanwhile let’s develop a strategy to reduce – and use alternative energy so the diversity will provide options for life in the long term.
    I believe Canadians may need to be reminded of all the little games that are being played. It really is a shell game of delusion and idiocy!

  • Marilyn

    I agree with dkoroma and can’t understand why this disgusting oil sands product can’t be processed in a refinery right at the source, eliminating the very idea of pipelines and destroying thousands of miles of countryside and eventually our BC coast and everything in it. Surely then it could be transported by truck or rail to markets within Canada saving us the need to import.

    Our dictator PM must spend all his time dreaming up ways to hoodwink the public and remove all barriers just to get his own way regardless of cost, Canadians or the environment. Any income after the huge expense will come long after he is out of office, and BC gains nothing and loses everything! I can’t see the point?!

  • maxiview

    The people of BC who are against pipelines and tankers in the Straits have been betrayed by both the provincial and federal governments. The NDP are also on board with the Pacific Trail fracking gas pipeline making a trail through the Great Bear Rainforest for Enbridge to follow in twinning these pipelines. A doube whammy. Both oil and gas tankers in the Straits. They think that fracking gas is green energy. This is not any better.
    Stephan Harper’s confusing statement about the Enbridge pipeline as “the science will make the decision “ is hypocritical after he fired most of our environmental scientists; and in killing two birds with one stone he was pandering to the visiting Chancellor Merkel who is known to focus on science and the environment. More shell games. The man is dangerous and needs to be stopped.

  • Mark Taliano
  • Sherry Huntley

    Mr. Harper sounds like he has already signed paperwork with China so the pipeline must happen!! with our small earthquakes in BC this has to be the craziest I can’t even finish my sentence. How many accidents does it take to get through to Ottawa that this is not just money it is OUR PROVINCE that will be having to TRY to clean up oil spills and save the animals, and environment WHEN it is full of sludge!! Hello where has common sense gone.

  • Mike Mackinnon

    Don’t think anything is signed, yet. A Romney (Republican) whitehouse would quickly revise the US pipeline (Romney is already on record for this position). Harper wants US to believe NG is going full speed ahead, but ultimately it is a contest. Of course if Obama wins, Harper will show his disappointment by favouring China. Side note; why is it OK to critcize Ban-Ki-Moon for going to Iran, but its OK to sell our most precious resource to China? Money talks, conscience walks? China may also be helping Iran to develop those pesky nukes, as well as blocking UN action on Syria. With friends like that…

  • Michael Moore

    In the 60′s I traveled to Kitimat BC and a good friend of my Father’s offered to take us around town; during that tour we were shown an area that was covered in displaced dirt and gravel – quite a massive area really, and our guide explained that this had been a brand new park almost at completion; He said that one night, days before the official opening, the huge earthwork machines were littered all over the acres and acres of park area when the world shook, the earth opened up swallowing all of these massive machines, brand new park benches, picnic tables, information signs and even outhouses, trees, cookhouses – everything swallowed up. When the earth stopped moving, nothing of the park remained, not one sign, not one bench, it was like the whole thing had never happened. This is where this pipeline is to go to hookup with these super tankers – this is the place where all of this bitumen is to be transported. Never mind the horrendous record of the pipeline company, Enbridge; this project is just wrong on so many fronts.

  • Katherine

    Once again, a great analysis by Elizabeth May. Thank you for keeping us informed.

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