It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
That epic specimen of run-on sentence, opening salvo to Charles Dickens’ mid-nineteenth century A Tale of Two Cities, would fit perfectly as plagiarized lead-in to a present-day Tale of Two Pipelines, so polarized have been the reactions to Justin Trudeau’s eleventh-hour salvage of the Trans Mountain pipeline. But fiction it isn’t - Dickens himself would have struggled to imagine this glorious mess.
The prime minister, flanked by his minions, rode to the rescue like a knight in shining armour, resuscitating the gasping project by buying the entire troubled venture, lock, stock, and barrel, from the weary company that threatened to abandon it. That he bought it with four and a half billion bucks of our money, with another seven or eight billion loonies to follow, needs hardly be said – proudly or not, each tax-paying Canadian now owns roughly 30 cm of ageing pipeline between Alberta and the left coast.
“All hail the conquering hero,” our intrepid PM may have expected as exuberant response to his bold move, given the intense hand-wringing by the energy industry, Canadian economists, and the beleaguered populace of Alberta that preceded his purchase, so worried were they by the prospect of “the last pipeline” being asphyxiated.
That was certainly the response of Rachel Notley: the delighted Albertan premier danced a celebratory jig with her caucus on the steps of the legislature, her faint hopes of re-election rescued perchance along with the pipeline. She was joined in her joy by the CEO of Kinder Morgan: the pent-up sigh of relief exhaled by that man leveled cane fields in Australia, so vast was the blast. (“Climate change is the culprit,” shell-shocked farmers of Oz were assured by a globe-trotting David Suzuki, Down Under to sound his perpetual prophecy of doom.)
But feedback from other quarters has been a titch less admiring. Unbridled outrage erupted from the cabal of eco-nuts militantly opposed to the “tar swamps” and the siphons that drain them, led by Tzeporah Berman (former oil-sands “advisor” to Premier Notley – I'm not making that up) and Green Party Leader Elizbeth May (already once-convicted of criminal contempt for her pipeline-protesting exploits). B.C.’s John Horgan, chief architect of the pipeline fracas, shook his premier’s fist in righteous and obstinate anger, even as he sued both to block the flow of oil from Alberta and to ensure the flow of oil from Alberta. The diabolical trio of B.C. Green MLAs, the threesome who actually hold all the power in this fight, relinquished their trees temporarily to hug themselves instead, overcome with emotion by the havoc they have wrought.
The apoplectic leftists were joined on the right by incensed federal Conservatives howling about the Liberals chasing private sector investment out of the energy industry and denouncing the irresponsible use of taxpayers’ dollars. Poor Jason Kenney, hopeful premier-in-waiting of Alberta, was caught uncomfortably somewhere in the middle, forced to resort to the well-worn political tactic of talking out of both sides of his mouth, synchronously supporting and condemning Mr. Trudeau’s investment.
And pink-wrapped Jasmeet Singh, not to be outdone, screeched in concert with Horgan’s Zeroes, in full-throated opposition to his NDP bedfellows in Alberta.
It’s been a stupefying, cacophonous spectacle.
It’s difficult not to feel a bit sorry for Justin Trudeau, these days, besieged as he is on all sides by trouble. Being treated as gum on Donald Trump’s presidential shoe this week had to be particularly jarring for a man accustomed to being celebrated as eye-candy icon by hordes of progressive feminist leftists.
Mr. Trudeau and his team happily took credit in March when the president granted Canada a reprieve from levies on steel and aluminum, a victory lap that was a tad presumptuous, as it turns out. As preamble to likely ripping up NAFTA, Mr. Trump sank the shiv of punitive tariffs in to the hilt on Thursday. Canada, bringing its pea-shooter to the fight, retaliated with penalties on orange juice and felt-tip pens. I doubt the Yanks are trembling overmuch.
But Mr. Trudeau can’t blame Mr. Trump for the pipeline muddle – that’s a mess of his own making.
Primum non nocere, the bedrock principle of “first, do no harm” that has guided physicians for centuries, serves as useful construct for making sense of Mr. Trudeau’s pipeline contortions. An incompetent physician who inflicts great harm to his patient cannot expect much credit for belatedly trying to resuscitate that patient from those injuries. Nor can Mr. Trudeau expect to be recognized as a hero for his last-gasp efforts to rescue the oil patch, given that it was his blundering and wrong-headed policies that drove the healthy industry to the edge of its grave in the first place.
“There is no path to prosperity in Canada without a thriving, vibrant energy sector,” said Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr in Edmonton this week as he boasted of the pipeline purchase. Right: by musing openly about phasing out the oilsands, by killing off Northern Gateway, by letting Energy East die on the vine, by throwing up a thicket of new regulations to ensure no pipeline can ever again be approved, and by allowing Kinder Morgan to be chased out of the country – by all of that it’s fair to conclude that this Liberal government has done a bang-up job of eradicating that path.
And even if Mr. Trudeau manages to punch that pipeline to the coast (still an extremely dubious prospect) through swarms of protestors and countless obstacles, his government has so thoroughly gummed up the oil industry’s circulatory system that it will be akin to supplying a bit of oxygen to a dying patient - palliative, but hardly restorative. For proper healing to take place, major surgery is required, but he can't be trusted with the scalpel.
We spend little time in my business feeling sorry for physicians who carelessly harm their patients. We simply remove their licenses and transfer their patients to competent doctors. Nor should we waste much time feeling sorry for Mr. Trudeau. Next year, at the ballot box, Canadians have the freedom to strip him of his license, and to transfer his power to more competent hands.
We must not fumble that opportunity. Because it is not too late for the great Canadian energy industry: the patient is still breathing, and where there’s life, there’s hope.