By Doug Nesbitt
Across the country, the right-wingers are outraged once again about the loss of thousands of potential jobs in the Alberta oil sands. Teck Resources, the Vancouver-based energy company, pulled its proposal to develop a new massive oil sands mine north of Fort McMurray. Jason Kenney wasn’t the only politician choking for air after getting the news.
Teck claimed their “Frontier” mine would produce 7,000 short-term construction jobs, 2,500 operating jobs, and generate tens of billions in government revenues. Naturally, these figures are highly suspect coming from an industry known to bury the truth as often as it buries bodies.
Whatever the case, we know a lot of jobs would have been created and we also know the costs to the global environment would have been immensely bad. Teck’s decision to pull the application reflects a trend of oil sands divestment by financial powers and energy corporations. They’re even beginning to invest in renewables.
Meanwhile, over the decades, oil companies have saddled Alberta with 100,000 orphan wells, countless toxic tailings ponds, and a whopping $70 billion clean-up bill for the public. With Teck’s decision to run away from their big Alberta mine, Big Oil and the banks are spelling big trouble for Kenney and the countless politicians who have staked their lucrative careers on the oil sands.
And so Kenney loudly proclaims his incredible concern for jobs – as he axes real jobs. Kenney is overseeing devastating cuts to healthcare and government services, and his party estimates between 6,400 and 7,400 public sector jobs will be eliminated. Ah right, the public sector is the big problem, not the decades of low royalties allowing huge oil wealth to flood out of the province.
From Alberta to Saskatchewan
To Kenney’s dreaded east, the conservative Saskatchewan Party mimics the same line about oil, gas, pipelines and jobs. It’s no surprise the party’s former leader and retired Premier, Brad Wall, left Regina for Calgary’s energy-based corporate board rooms. Under Wall’s reign, the Sask Party killed the Saskatchewan Transportation Company and 224 jobs along with it. STC had no Canadian parallel. It was a gem of a low-cost passenger/freight system with extensive provincial reach. Surely just a coincidence, Greyhound shuttered its Western Canadian bus operations shortly after STC’s death. Another 415 jobs wiped out.
Really giving away their whole game is Wall’s successor Scott Moe and his line on the Regina refinery lockout. Moe has openly sided with the Co-op Refinery’s pension-robbing union-busting management and scabs. All of a sudden real oil jobs are disposable and real oil workers are a public safety threat.
When an unelected judge’s anti-picketing decree was ignored by locked out workers, Moe cried for law and order. The Regina Police were soon busting up picket lines, throwing a lifeline to management’s scab operation. It all happened as Co-op gas shortages started to roll across the prairies. After the arrests, the police chief Evan Bray called a press conference to tell the public, “We are not paid by Co-op, we have not been paid by anyone except the taxpayers of this city.”
Earlier in the dispute, Bray had made dissenting public comments and expressed an obvious reluctance to intervene in the lockout. The priority was four murders in the city between January 5 and 25. Yet, after the picket line arrests, the chief was leaning into his new role, describing union picketing as “borderline terrorist work.”
So much for the hero cops! So much for the oil politicians who love oil workers!
From Regina to Oshawa
You’d be mistaken to think this is just a problem with Western Canadian politicians. Erin O’Toole is the Conservative Party MP for Durham in Ontario. He’s running to replace the disgraced Andrew Scheer as Conservative Party leader. O’Toole’s riding includes suburban Oshawa and neighbours the General Motors assembly plant.
O’Toole predictably went ballistic over Teck’s decision to cancel the Frontier mine project. But he expressed no fury over the lost jobs at GM Oshawa. In his video response to the plant closure, it was just a “sad day”. After this obligatory eulogy to the workers, he praised GM’s achievements before serving up the kool-aid: The real answer to job losses is lower taxes and less regulation for corporations, “so we make Canada a place for capital to invest, not a place where capital is fleeing.”
O’Toole’s recycled rhetoric is pure fantasy. We already have incredibly low federal and provincial corporate taxes, and GM got massive bailouts from the Ontario and Harper governments. His priority is fantasy jobs, not real jobs.
But the guy running for Harper’s old throne isn’t exactly an anomaly. When Oshawa autoworkers got organized and made the clear demand to nationalize and retool the plant for electrical vehicle production, not a single federal or provincial elected representative endorsed the plan. Oshawa’s MPP Jennifer French has expressed some support, as has MP Niki Ashton. Both are New Democrats, but to date there is no explicit support for the plan from an MP or provincial representative.
The “Green Jobs Oshawa” plan is financially sound and has a business strategy far more promising than the endless parade of corporate grifts and hedge fund cannibalism. The $1.9 billion nationalization and retooling would cost substantially less than Trudeau’s $4.5 billion takeover of the TransMountain pipeline.
The most exciting part of the proposal is building the electric vehicles required to green the Canada Post fleet – the single largest logistics fleet in the country. If this idea sounds familiar, recall the Canadian Union of Postal Workers have already campaigned publicly for an electrified vehicle fleet as part of a Canada Post green transition plan.
O’Toole or Retool
When it was boom times, the oil wealth flooded upwards and out of the country. With bust times, we’re expected to pay for their failures with essential service cuts and more people thrown out of work.
Their political project is at a crossroads, and the old consensus is breaking up. The oil politicians use the crisis to tighten the screws on working people – and Indigenous peoples. The political commitments to pushing the Coastal Gaslink pipeline demonstrate the extent to which the oil politicians and corporate interests are willing to go to break popular opposition to their agenda. Meanwhile, Teck Resources and GM Oshawa see the writing on the wall, and are fighting for a green transition on their own profit-seeking, power-hungry terms.
Decisions have to be made. Who will make them? In 1935, Saskatchewan farmers faced depression, drought, and oil monopolies. They built Regina’s historic Co-op Refinery as a means to protect their livelihoods and advance their interests. In 2020, autoworkers and postal workers have already pointed a way out of the colossal failures of the oil politicians and their economic agenda.