The national interest, we're hearing that term a lot right now from Rachel Notley, Prime Minister Trudeau and those others who are eager to see the Kinder Morgan pipeline twinned. So what is it? And is this controversial pipeline truly reflective of it?
The idea’s beginnings have quite a cynical and Machiavellian foundation. Succinctly put, the notion of national interest replaces a divine rationale for the existence of a state and the exercising of sovereign power with an economic or political one. Applied early on as Europe balkanized into nation-states, in France it is also referred to as raison d'etat, or the reason for the state. The crusades to the holy land to protect Christiandom are replaced with protectionist or expansionist measures to grow the economy and defend (or create) national identity through imperial wars, large infrastructure projects, major policy reforms and so on.
Repeated attention has been drawn to it by Premier Notley, Prime Minister Trudeau, and their various Ministers when championing Kinder Morgan, which makes it seem as if all Canadians benefit when this pipeline is built. Future generations of Canadians will thank us that a Texas-based multinational corporation was finally able to get the lowest value form of petroleum product to tidewater just in time for China to ban all gas powered vehicles.
Justifying Kinder Morgan in the National Interest is some pretty ironic Orwellian double-speak, because Alberta's oil and gas sector had a chance to genuinely serve a national purpose at one point and it lashed out, just like now, to make sure that didn't happen.
There’s a beautiful saying by Utah Phillips, the American labour organizer and folk singer that “the long memory is the most radical idea in America”. I believe this saying holds just as true in Canada, and right now is a teachable moment as to why. It has to do with Prime Minister Trudeau, but not the current one. Alberta's chance to ensure its oil and gas sector could expand and develop in the national interest came when Prime Minster Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Justin Trudeau’s father, put forward the National Energy Program in the early 1980s, so the industry could support a national energy framework providing both energy security and contributing to public finances across the country. This would have been similar to Norway, which has built up a trillion dollar sovereign wealth fund that is actively divesting of fossil fuel intensive holdings now for its citizens, unlike the $44 billion pile of debt Alberta has built up for its own in roughly the same time span. Fierce opposition from Alberta’s political elite and American oil companies who have always been active in the oil patch, put the damper on the National Energy Program in the interest of a more free-market approach.
This approach continues to see global corporations gorge themselves on Alberta's oil with its basement bargain royalty rates - a large part of why the province has a massive debt instead of a sovereign wealth fund today. Alberta oil has never been about a national purpose, like in Norway, as much as it has been about the Bonanza, the rush, the rugged individualism of staking a claim and striking it rich while you can, before the mines and wells go dry.
If Notley and Trudeau want BC to capitulate to Kinder Morgan a la the national interest, then Alberta’s oil sands should be nationalized so that the profits go towards the public good, and not multinational corporations who are eager to automate the very jobs we are sold these projects on. A recent poll by the Globe and Mail shows the majority of Canadians agree.
That is unless we the public have some skewed intuition about what the national interest is in fact about. Perhaps it’s not about us at all? Perhaps Notley and Trudeau aren't engaging in some kind of knee-jerk Orwellian double-speak but are in fact showing us the bare truth of the matter: that Canada was colonized so that raw resources could be extracted by men of industry and shipped overseas for the merchant class in far away countries. That was the raison d'etat for Canada in the 1800s and that remains the reason for the state today.
Which shines a light on the deep hypocrisy of it all.
Because if reconciliation is in the national interest Kinder Morgan’s pipeline cannot be. If preventing catastrophic climate change is in the national interest Kinder Morgan’s pipeline cannot be. If a just transition for blue collar workers in the resource sector is in the national interest then Kinder Morgan's pipeline cannot be, and if creating sustainable long-term prosperity through responsible and proactive use of our natural resources is in the national interest then Kinder Morgan’s pipeline cannot be.
The colonial roots of Canada have always been about shipping the wealth of raw resources out of communities by exploiting land and people for a small group of elites. Perhaps Premier Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau are just being perfectly honest with us after all, this is what they believe the national interest truly is. I just happen to believe, along with many others, that nationalizing key resources like oil to help transition to a post-carbon prosperity seems like a more genuine attempt at realizing a national interest that is actually about the needs of Canadian people, and not multinational corporations.
See also: Kinder Morgan and the Myth of National Interest