Stephen Harper's record of bullying is well-known. From character assassination attack ads, to the firing of multiple official watchdogs daring to do their job, to political dirty tricks in a Montreal riding, Harper has embraced the Karl Rove scorched earth school of politics with all the gusto of a frat boy at a kegger.
But his latest bullying of Canadians takes Harper to a new level still, since this time it's being done on behalf of dictatorial, communist China. And with it goes a part of Canada's soul.
Make no mistake, the proposed Gateway tar sands pipeline proposal has always been about China. Long before Harper began attacking "foreign" interests in the project, the early days of Gateway saw proponent Enbridge negotiating with Petro China, signing an agreement in 2005, but with Petro China abandoning it in 2007 due to delay, saying that Ottawa should be providing more help to get it done.
Enbridge dusted off the project to formally apply in 2010, amassing a $100 million war chest to grease the wheels with public relations, lobbying, and community outreach, and refusing to say who put up the money. It has since come out that Sinopec is a financial backer, with rumoured stakes also by China National Petroleum Corp and Sinochem Group. These are Chinese state-owned firms.
So, would Ottawa help China this time?
As the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to the U.S. Gulf went from being a "no brainer" to repeatedly delayed by the Obama Administration, Harper played the China card, telling the Americans that if they were uncomfortable with Canada's dirty oil, the Chinese wouldn't be. (Suddenly missing is Harper's promise to restrict raw bitumen exports to China on environmental grounds.)
The only problem? Many in B.C. don't want the pipeline or the supertankers it would bring to its coastline for the first time. For B.C., it's all risk and no reward. This is reflected in polls, in overwhelming First Nations opposition, and in resolutions by the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
And what does Harper do when confronted with opposition? He bullies.
The Conservative Party-entangled "ethical oil" shock troops were sent in first, trying to keep a straight face while attacking "foreign" interests in the pipeline debate. Meanwhile they refused to answer the point blank question of whether they were being bankrolled by Enbridge, and by extension in part by the Chinese government (see above). Ethical ouch.
Joe Oliver was sent in next to abuse the legitimacy of a Minister of the Crown by parroting exactly the same thing, but worse, as the Minister ultimately responsible for dealing fairly with the results of the hearings into the project, thoroughly prejudicing the outcome in the eyes of anyone paying attention. He needn't have bothered though -- the hearings themselves have been designed to hear more good than bad about the project. The fix is well and truly in, taking away the voices of thousands of Canadians.
Now a whistleblower alleges that the Prime Minister's Office is directly threatening Tides Canada over its sponsorship of a pipeline critic, saying it will remove Tides' charitable status unless it cuts ForestEthics loose. The PMO denies this, of course, like it always does, but its pattern of bullying is so well established that nobody believes it.
So, when Stephen Harper visits Chinese President Hu Jintao next month, he can rightfully argue that he is now fully engaged helping Beijing get the pipeline it's been after for quite some time, and that he's deploying his best bully-boy tactics to get it.
President Hu would nod knowingly, himself being well used to stifling internal dissent, and at that moment Canada would lose a part of its soul to the corruption of oil, compromising its democracy so that more bitumen can flow into China, into our waters, and into our atmosphere. This is where we are going as a nation, unless people stand up in greater numbers to raise their voice for the Canada we thought we were and that we want to be.