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A Short History of Joe Oliver, Canada's New Finance Minister

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Joe Oliver, Canada's new federal Minister of Finance, made quite a name for himself during his tenure as Minister of Natural Resources. In his former position Oliver proved himself a fierce and outspoken defender of the oilsands as the economic engine of Canada. But is it just the oilsands he wants to protect from the criticisms of the public? Or is there more to his fondness for corporations in general, even at the expense of public health and the national interest?

With Oliver moving to the helm of the country's finances, perhaps it's time to take a look back over his notable career.

Oliver, it should be pointed out, is no slouch. He obtained both his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Civil Law from McGill, one of Canada's most prestigious universities. After making the Quebec Bar, he graduated with an MBA from Harvard's Graduate School of Business. Before he was elected to Parliament, he enjoyed a high-flying career in the corporate sector of which he seems so fond. First a career in the investment banking industry, starting with Merrill Lynch. Then on to the executive directorship of the Ontario Securities Commission before becoming president and CEO of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada.

According to his bio on Prime Minister Harper's very own website, he also played prominent roles as chair of the advisory committee of the International Council of Securities Associations and as chair of the Consultative Committee of the International Association of Securities Commissions. A graduate of the Directors Education Program at the Rotman School of Management, he was also a member of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Business Valuators, and he sat on the board of the Canadian Securities Institute Research Foundation.

Somewhere along the way (Harvard? Rotman? Harper?) he learned the virtues of spin, because he has proven more than willing to muddy the truth in his mission to convince Canadians, Americans and Europeans that the oilsands are a clean, responsible and sustainable source of energy. His use of little black lies and greenwash is encyclopedic. Here are a few of his best:

  • In an open letter in the Globe and Mail and the Wall Street Journal, Oliver attacked Canadians who oppose oilsands expansion and advocate for investment in cleaner sources of energy, calling them "radicals...with radical ideological agenda[s]" who "use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest."
  • In a Chicago press conference that was part of a formal junket to promote the beleaguered Keystone XL pipeline, Oliver claimed the oilsands are a "greener" source of energy without mentioning, of course, what the dirtier ones were.
  • Oliver told a major newspaper (Montreal's La Presse) that, "Scientists have recently told us that our fears (on climate change) are exaggerated," even as the International Energy Agency had just released a report that stated two-thirds of the existing known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground to achieve the global commitment, Canada included, to prevent average global warming of more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, of which Oliver apparently had no idea. It turned out that the "scientists" to which Oliver referred was a single climate change denying columnist named Lawrence Solomon. In response 12 of Canada's climate scientists and energy experts wrote an open letter to Oliver, expressing their concern that the minister was not taking climate change seriously.
  • Recently Oliver told a New York audience Canada was emerging as a "21st century energy superpower," despite having no climate legislation and no renewable energy strategy.

As I pointed out in a previous post, it's abundantly clear that where the oilsands are concerned, Oliver and other Canadian politicians continue to ignore the ethical and practical guidelines (the Competition Bureau's Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers) the federal government has set out for businesses, advertisers and "any person who promotes a product/service or business interest who is likely to benefit from the product's environmental claims," so as to avoid using "misleading or deceptive claims relating to an implied or expressed environmental benefit."

Is Oliver's selective use (and misuse) of the facts restricted to the oilsands? Turns out, he has had a history of soliciting for numerous corporate interests along the way, including asbestos and farmed salmon.

The move to finance
Former finance minister Jim Flaherty faced severe criticism for several changes to Canadian legislation introduced through budget bills, most notoriously the 425-page omnibus budget bill C-38 which saw sweeping changes to environmental assessment procedures, weakening of environmental laws and devastating funding cuts to science and research stations across the country. In total 74 pieces of legislation were abolished in the bill which was quickly followed with another 443-page omnibus budget bill C-45 that significantly reduced the number of waterways protected in the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Oliver's new position as finance minister could signal the continued use of parliamentary budget bills for such purposes -- to the benefit of industry and detriment of the environment.

Jeff Gailus, DeSmog Canada

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