There's nothing that the Chinese government likes more than Western leaders dropping all that human rights stuff and instead coming around to kowtow before them, as Steven Harper will do with President Hu Jintao this week. The Chinese government is so pleased, it will even give him the panda treatment, freeing up two bears to visit the Toronto zoo.
And what has brought about this change? In a word: Oil.
A few years ago, the Chinese government was definitely not in the panda mood. Its pipeline to the tar sands across Northern B.C. was going nowhere, seemingly unloved by Harper who instead had the audacity to meet with the Dalai Lama, that notorious "splittist" still carrying on about how his homeland has been invaded and his people violently persecuted, even today.
PetroChina ended its agreement with Enbridge and the message was sent that Ottawa needed to do more to get the pipeline done.
Fast forward a few years and Enbridge puts together a secretive $100 million war fund from Chinese state oil companies and others to mount a regulatory and public relations push for the pipeline. But, has Harper heard the lesson? Has Harper heard his Hu?
Absolutely. About a month ago, the Harper government and its agents unleashed a bully campaign on behalf of China's pipeline, attacking opponents, discrediting Canadian voices, and even financially threatening a charity that supports one of the critics.
Team Harper's labelling of critics as "foreign radicals" would resonate with his Chinese hosts who use similar bully rhetoric, although it may also make them nervous considering all that Chinese money that has gone into Enbridge's lobbying campaign inside Canada. Harper can console them on this point though: Hypocrisy does not apply to those uninterested in self-reflection.
So Harper has heard his Hu and is now fully engaged on his behalf. Harper tries to wrap this pipeline up in language about Canada's "national interest," but allows no definition of that term that does not coincide exactly with what the tar sands industry wants, which is mindless expansion at any cost.
Yet Harper is unlikely to inform his hosts that despite his best efforts, the democracy called Canada is not ready to rubber stamp this pipeline just yet. He probably won't say that First Nations remain vehemently opposed and can at the very least tie the project up in court for many years. He also won't say that his bullying is backfiring, or that British Columbia simply doesn't want the pipeline and could very well elect a government that won't let it happen.
Overall, Canadians will be happy to see panda bears, but they want even more to protect their very own spirit bears from oil spills and that means no tar sands pipeline to China.
More importantly, they want a government that doesn't sell out Canadian values -- going from supporting victims like the Dalai Lama to bullying its own people -- all to promote a dirty product that is stealing the future from our children.