04/06/2012 09:58 EDT | Updated 06/05/2012 05:12 EDT

We Need a Better Recipe for Canada than Just Boiling It


Paul Wells' recent Maclean'scover story about "How Ottawa Runs on Oil" should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand where Canada is heading under the Harper government. He not only puts into context the tactical attacks on environmentalists, but also explains how there is a fundamental shift underway in Canada, one based on oil.

Wells touches on how oil is helping to drive the demise of what some call the "Laurentian Consensus," the marriage of Ontario and Quebec elites with communitarian values that has shaped the last 150 years of Canadian history, and has shaped what our country is today and whom we are as a people. Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson goes into detail about the collapse of the Laurentian Consensus in a powerful essay.

With Western elites now firmly in charge of Ottawa, and with oil now dominating our economic, foreign and environmental policy, it's clear that we are facing a tectonic shift in Confederation. Wells and Ibbitson are less likely to judge rather than to try to explain, but the simple fact is that the new reality can't survive if we are to have an atmosphere that continues to let us prosper as a species.

Governor General Award-winning author Andrew Nikiforuk is less circumspect about Canada's descent into a "petro state." He draws on the work of Thomas Friedman to show how Canada is starting to exhibit the signs of anti-democratic oil regimes -- noting that Alberta is already ahead of the rest of the country in this regard. Nikiforuk has also been one of the few writers in Canada trying to educate Canadians about Dutch Disease and how Canada's case is costing hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs -- yet because they are out East, they matter less in the new ideology that sees jobs only out West.

And here's the rub with the new regime in a nutshell: it is predicated on cooking the planet. Little publicized from last summer's Energy Ministers summit was the fact that the rationale it provided to justify Canadian oil expansion assumed six degrees of planetary warming, three times the amount that scientists consider safe to avoid catastrophic climate change.

This is why the Harper regime cannot tolerate environmentalists and their reminding Canadians that the Canada he wants to build is equivalent to driving off a cliff.

Yet it remains true that there must be something that replaces the Laurentian Consensus as a positive model for Canada that a majority of Canadians will vote for, and we don't know what it is yet. We do know that it must connect to the underlying values of tolerance and fairness that are still strong across the country, and that it must work for the next generation of Canadians who will have to deal with environmental change.

This is our work. To articulate the new vision and to build the infrastructure to develop and support it politically. The clock is ticking.