Komorowski’s Korner – Ezra Levant and the Ethics & Politics of Oil – December 23, 2011
CFN - Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with his government, owe sophist (someone who argues with shrewd but intentionally fallacious reasoning) Ezra Levant a star columnist for Sun Media and the Glenn Beck Fox News North) big time, and are starting to repay the debt.
Levant’s whole career has been tied to or sponsored by the extreme right. As a law student at the University of Alberta, he was called before the Dean for going beyond the boundaries of free speech in criticising the University’s hiring policy towards, among others, women and native people. During this period, he was deeply involved with getting Rahim Jaffer (later discredited for alleged drunk driving and coke possession) nominated as the Reform candidate in the University riding of Edmonton-Strathcona. He also took part in a summer internship program (1994) at the Charles G Koch Foundation (which would later be instrumental in founding the Tea Party). In 1995 he joined the Canadian extreme right Fraser Institute, where he advocated against trade unions, universal health care, minimum wages, and the Canada Pension Plan.
In 2002, Levant became the official Canadian Alliance (i.e. the rebranded version of the Reform Party) Candidate for Calgary Southwest, reportedly spending $15,000 to win the nomination. When Stephen Harper became the new leader of the party, he was “persuaded” to step aside in Harper’s favour so that Harper could run, causing Harper and the party to become beholden to him. In ceding the seat to Harper, he gave up, among other things, a solid $150,000+ salary and a gold-plated pension scheme, as well as immunity to libel laws when speaking in the Commons. What was the price for giving up all this in favour of an as yet untried political leader?
Master of Propaganda
Levant is probably the world’s best propagandist since Joseph Goebbels, having mastered the basic rules of propaganda like no other. Some of the primary rules for a successful propaganda campaign state that:
Propaganda must aim at the broad masses of the people, be in a popular form and at the lowest possible intellectual level.
Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively or present the other side, but only present half the truth. Because the broad masses take in little and understand less, effective propaganda must confine itself to a very few stereotyped formulas and ideas.
One of the latest jingles to appear in the House of Commons and in the oil industry is the term “Ethical Oil”, taken from the title of Levant’s latest book. This is a neat title, and a catchphrase no one can disagree with. What can be better than obtaining oil from an “ethical source”, i.e. Alberta, when one considers the many “unethical” sources of oil?
The book received extensive critical acclaim from the right wing press. For example, Libertas Post, which claims to be “an official ‘socialist free zone’ where economic, political and individual freedoms are discussed, debated and celebrated”, highly recommends the book. (For the record, this site also includes what looks like a permanent link to Ezra Levant’s own site).
“The oil sands are not perfect, and criticizing them is fair game. But why has criticism of the oil sands been so disproportionately loud compared to criticism of other, larger, more disturbing sources of oil? Sources such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuala, the Sudan, China… the list of oil-producing nations, in large part, reads like a list of target countries for Amnesty International. Human rights abuses, crackdowns on citizens and journalists, environmental abuses – this is what, for the large part, Western countries like the United States have to do business with on a regular basis, just to keep up their fuel supply. Wouldn’t it be better to buy from a country without the laundry list of crimes to its name?
All this is true, and to give even the devil its due, Levant deserves credit for bringing the abuses committed in these countries to light. The Libertas Post review concludes with a snippet from the last chapter of Levant’s book:
“There can be no doubt: Canada does its best. We’re an energy superpower. And we’re an ethical superpower too, setting international standards for how we treat the environment and how we treat each other. And if our goal as moral citizens is to make the world a better place, then there is only one choice: to pump as much oil as we possibly can out of Fort McMurray.”
One point about which Levant seems unclear, however, is the reason the Harper Government ordered the Commons Environment Committee to destroy its draft report about water utilisation and pollution in the Tar Sands.
China is one of the countries that comes under justifiable criticism. Despite its importance in the global capitalist economy, it remains a communist country, portraits of Chairman Mao are on all the banknotes, and its human rights record is well known. In spite of major investments in green energy, it is the world’s largest source of greenhouse gasses and air pollution in general. Its annual growth in energy use is one of the major causes for continually rising oil prices, which were the trigger for the worldwide depression, which began in 2008. As the demand for oil overtakes supply, prices will continue to rise, until a deepening of the recession again drops the demand.
Let’s Give our Oil to China
However, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who are the major beneficiaries of Levant’s “Ethical Oil” book, are encouraging the construction of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, from the tar sands to Kittimat, BC, in order to export oil to this unethical regime.
First Nations in the area of the proposed pipeline are adamantly against the pipeline, despite the fact that this is “ethical oil.” Terry Teegee, a vice-chief for the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in the Fort St. James, BC, area, has his own views on “ethical oil” and the pipeline:
“Asia Pacific countries should know they are contributing to the destruction of our land and culture by purchasing and trading “blood oil” (as some First Nations of the Tar Sands area call it); they are contributing to the genocide of First Nations culture. Canada is just as easily to blame since they are allowing the continued destruction of First Nations land. The Canadian Government is not living up to the fiduciary duty they promised First Nations so many years ago. This is why we do not want the Northern Gateway Pipeline through our territories, we have seen the legacy of the “Tar Sands” and the many Enbridge spills left behind, polluting lands and water systems. Our people steadfastly said no to this project in 2006 and they are saying it again in 2010: “No to Enbridge Pipeline!”
Geraldine Thomas-Flurer, the Interim Enbridge Coordinator of the [BC] 5 Nation Interior Alliance also makes some very valid points:
“Indigenous peoples have been adamant in bringing to the world the issues of climate change and the role that international trade agreements play within the climate crisis that we are experiencing today…. While Indigenous peoples are fighting for cultural survival, we will continue to oppose international trade agreements that fail to respect Indigenous rights and allow for the expansion of the Tar Sands and Enbridge pipelines through our unceded traditional territories.”
Certainly, Levant makes a strong case for oil from many foreign countries being “unethical”. What he missed, however, or at best glossed over, is the “Blood Oil” coming out of Northern Alberta.
Canada has always had a decent record of trade sanctions against various countries guilty of human rights violations or other threats to peace. In the past, trade embargoes against South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) brought these countries to their knees. Currently, Canada imposes sanctions against Iran and Syria, and the boycotts on trade with Libya have only recently ended. It would make sense, then, according to Levant’s logic, that we should not encourage trade with any of the countries on the “Unethical Oil” list.
Sinopec, the Chinese state-owned oil company, is making major investments throughout the world in order to secure China’s continuing oil supply for its accelerating demand. One of the targets for their investment is the Alberta Tar Sands. Why would “ethical” Canada allow a country with China’s record, both for CO2 emissions and human rights, to access and make a profit from Canadian resources which rightly belong to Canadian?
Levant’s justification, taken from his “ethical oil” website, goes like this:
While some investment in Canada’s oilpatch may come from unethical countries like China and the United Arab Emirates, those investors know that in coming here they must play by Canada’s rules. Our oil resources are publicly owned and any producer, foreign or Canadian, earns the privilege of tapping them only if it lives up to the behaviour our public insists upon. Our second-to-none standards protecting workers’ rights, worker safety, and the environment, are the same for any operator with a license to produce oil in Alberta. The codes of conduct are just as high for Sinopec as they are for Suncor.
This is an intriguing argument, especially from someone who once won a Canadian university national debating prize. Let’s analyze what he claims.
- Workers’ rights: In other words, Sinopec has to pay the going rate for the industry, otherwise no one will work for them;
- Worker safety: They have to follow the rules imposed by the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board, just like any other company operating in the province;
- The environment: Like the other tar sands companies, as long as they don’t make their pollution too obvious, and gather up the bird kills before the federal government gets wind of it, they don’t have too much to worry about. While on the topic of the environment, the bulk of the federal government’s civil service cutbacks seem to have come from the Ministry of the Environment.
So why would a completely unethical oil company from one of the world’s most unethical countries submit itself to these harsh rules? The answer is simple. Profit. China is continually increasing its oil dependence, but must pay world price. If it can extract its own oil in Canada, it effectively pays only the cost of production, somewhat less than world price. As China is one of the countries threatening to cause an energy famine in the rest of the world, the big winners are the communists running China, and the big losers will be Canada and the rest of the world.
Ethical Oil Companies in the Tar Sands
On the subject of foreign “ethical” investment in the tar sands, the top companies are:
- BP – British
BP brought to us, among other things, the Gulf Oil Spill (but that was certainly ethical oil, so probably it got blown out of all proportion by the liberal/socialist press).
- Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL). This is a publically traded company on both the New York and Toronto stock exchanges, so it is somewhat difficult to work out just what its “corporate nationality” is. However, according to a press release, this Calgary based company drills for “ethical oil” in both Canada and the UK, and also in the very unethical (according to Levant) region of West Africa. However, given that this oil is drilled by an ethical Canadian company, the oil must automatically become ethical the moment it leaves Africa.
- Exxon Mobil. US owned Exxon Mobil regularly reports profits in excess of $10bn each quarter. Exxon Mobile, either as presently constituted or as Exxon or Mobil, prior to their merger, have an interesting ethics record.
The Exxon Valdez oil tanker was owned by an ethical oil company, and carried only ethical oil from Alaska. Like the BP spill, it was probably an invention of the liberal/socialist media, designed to disrupt the American economy.
Given that it is unethical to pay taxes, as it holds back business expansion, job creation and profits, former Mobil senior executive J. Bryan Williams withheld taxes on $7m in income, including $2m in kickbacks received in connection to Mobil’s oil business in Kazakhstan (one of the unethical oil producing countries). Unfortunately for Williams’s and Mobil’s job creation plans, he was sentenced to three years, 10 months’ imprisonment, a $50,000 fine, and ordered to pay the IRS $3.5m in back taxes, interest and penalties.
The company scored a ZERO in respect to basic human rights towards their gay or lesbian employees, according to a study conducted by Human Rights Campaign. This is probably top marks on the Republican/Tea Party scale of human rights, making them truly ethical.
- Chevron – US Multinational. According to a Chevron press release, “Chevron is one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies, with subsidiaries that conduct business worldwide. The company is involved in virtually every facet of the energy industry.”
Chevron is currently facing a lawsuit of about $10.7bn from the (presumably ethical) Brazilian Government over an oil spill which lasted four days, and which Chevron claims in its press release is now substantially cleaned up.
The company has major interests in Nigeria, Angola, Kazakhstan and Somalia, all of which are, by any reasonable definition, sources of “conflict oil.”
Chevron, or its predecessors, have been accused or convicted of significant unethical business dealings, including suppressing street cars in order to sell buses, tires and fuel (along with GM and Firestone), tax evasion, in collusion with the Indonesian government, blocking of NiMH battery technology for automobiles, environmental damage in Ecuador, oil spills in Angola and Richmond, California, sponsoring of state terrorism in Cabinda (a province of Angola), and shooting of civilian protestors in the Niger Delta, Nigeria.
Like the Chinese Sinopec company, however, Chevron is also required, in Levant’s words, to uphold “our second-to-none standards protecting workers’ rights, worker safety, and the environment….”
- Shell – Dutch, British Multinational. Shell operates in 90 countries. In Africa these include in Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia, all of which can be considered as producers of “conflict oil.”
In 2004 the UK Financial Services Authority fined Shell £17m for deliberately overstating its reserves. These overstated reserves would have overvalued the company in the eyes of shareholders, making them believe their investment was worth more than the reality. In 2008, the UK Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Shell had misled the public in an advertisement when it claimed that a $10bn tar sands project in Alberta was a “sustainable energy source.”
Nigeria. In 1996, several human rights groups brought cases to hold Shell accountable for alleged human rights violations in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhumane treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention. Nine leaders of the Ogoni tribe of southern Nigeria who were hanged in 1995 by Nigeria’s military rulers. The lawsuits were brought against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the head of its Nigerian operation. In 2009, Shell paid $15.5m in a legal settlement, although they refused to accept liability.
In 2009, Shell was the subject of an Amnesty International report into the deterioration of human rights as a consequence of Shell’s activities in the Niger Delta. In particular, Amnesty criticised the continuation of gas flaring and Shell’s slow response to oil spills.
In 2010, a leaked cable revealed that Shell claims to have inserted staff into all the main ministries of the Nigerian government and know “everything that was being done in those ministries”, according to Shell’s top executive in Nigeria. The same executive also boasted that the Nigerian government had forgotten about the extent of Shell’s infiltration. Documents released in 2009 (but not used in the court case) reveal that Shell regularly made payments to the Nigerian military in order to prevent protests.
This list of ethical oil companies, all involved in the ethical tar sands, could go on, but this should be enough to get the general idea. The question is whether these companies suddenly become ethical as soon as they arrive in Alberta.
Canada – an Energy Superpower
The next article will continue exposing Ezra Levant’s grip on our government.