By John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, May 29, 2012
Mr. Mulcair has galvanized debate across Canada with his warning that unfettered development of the oil sands is not only damaging the environment, it is driving up the dollar and hurting manufacturing in Ontario and Quebec.
“This is about the future of the economy of the country,” he told reporters on Monday outside the Commons, “maintaining the equilibrium, coming up with a strategy that will allow us to maintain a vital industrial sector.”
Mr. Mulcair accuses the Conservative government of failing to require oil and other natural resource companies to pay the full environmental cost of their operations, and would compel them to do so if the NDP came to power.
“It's about the enforcement of federal legislation,” he said. “Since the beginning, we've made it clear that we're very concerned that the federal government is not enforcing federal law.”
Mr. Mulcair's message is powerful, first and foremost because he believes it. He was saying it months ago, long before he won the leadership. Cynics forget the impact that a principled argument, passionately held, can have.
Riding the petro-dollar, as Harper has been doing for the last several years, is not governing, in the sense that failing to require those companies that extract natural resources to pay the full cost of those extractions, including environmental protection, restoration and reclamation. Governing includes more than self-interest, and short-term self-interest at that. Relatively speaking, the Harper government's cynical approach, letting the extractors away with minimal costs and virtually no standards to meet, while depending on a short memory among the voters, while pointing to national data that indicate relatively moderate unemployment and a moderately strong dollar is insulting both to the government and to the nation.
And insulting the nation can only continue for a finite time.
Has that time come to an end?
We will learn more during and after the Mulcair visit to the west, and his visit to the oil sands and whatever interraction occurs between Mulcair and the western premiers.
There are certainly respected economists who agree with the Mulcair position. There is also clear evidence that the Harper government is not interested in either limiting the negative impacts of climate change and global warming or reducing the environmental footprint of the oil sands extractions.
One notion that disturbs about the Ibbitson piece is the link he tries to establish between Mulcair and this argument, as if personalizing it for the political "drama" of a right-left split in the electorate, something the conservatives and Ibbitson clearly include on their dream wish list, renders the Liberals extinct.
Predicting the extinction of the Liberals, based on the economic and national interests of the Mulcair argument, renders all voters another binary choice, either vote for Harper or for Mulcair in 2015.
While there are many reasons to object to this country's resistance to change, the preservation of a "third option" in the face of a binary tsunami has more merit for the long-term national interest, than the kind of reducction Ibbitson posits.
Nevertheless, waiting for the Liberals to stake out their position on the "development-environment" equation may leave enough time and room for the Mulcair forces to take the ground that has to be divided between the two opposition parties. And that thrust has already shoved the Liberals aside on the national stage.
While there are still ghosts of an anti-corporate policy history lurking around the NDP headquarters, there are also ghosts of the national energy program of Pierre Trudeau lurking around the offices of the Liberal Party, so both parties will have to shed these ghosts before they succeed in capturing the confidence of the Canadian voter.
Both all of both kinds of ghosts must never be adequate reason to continue to support the Harper government now or in 2015, when a federal election is expected.