Flashbacks: March 2013

March is the grossest month. The snow is either half-melted into nasty brown sludge or the snow keeps coming and winter threatens to indefinitely renew your subscription to Seasonal Affective Disorder. There is a really good reason why they put St. Binge Drinking’s Day in the middle of this horrible month. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

St. John’s band Trimmed Navel Beef tested an early prototype of the Keystone XL pipeline back in 2001

But while we’re on the topic of nasty brown sludge and bitterness, let’s get into it about the Keystone XL pipeline, yes? Keystone XL names a proposed extension to an already-existing pipeline from northern Alberta running south into the States that would allow for even more heavy crude to be pumped out of the oil sands (or ‘tar sands’, as everyone used to call them a few years ago before a massive PR makeover) down to the Gulf Coast for processing and export. It’s been in the works since roughly 2010, but the pressure is mounting on the Obama administration to soon give a Yay or Nay on whether or not to see the thing built. Proponents fear that without some sort of pipeline expansion, oil sands production will sputter and stagnate and, along with them, the Canadian (read: Albertan) economy itself. Those opposed to the developments highlight the fact that the last thing the planet probably needs right now is an expansion of tar sands production and the incredible amount of pollution that would come with it. Obama giving Keystone the thumbs-down would signal that the US is serious about tackling climate change, and that maybe your grandchildren aren’t doomed to inherit a totally broken planet after all.

I’m philosopher René Descartes and I approved this Keystone XL ad

So the stakes for either side are pretty high. So high, in fact, that Canadian politicians have spent the last couple months putting serious pressure on Washington to do the right thing. Alberta Premier Alison Redford has been the most vocal in her enthusiasm for the project, and the Harper Government™ has also signalled that they believe whatever is good for Chinese oil conglomerates is good for the country. Redford made a few trips to the US Capitol do some personal lobbying, and her government recently took out a full page ad in the New York Times to declare that approving Keystone XL is the “Choice of Reason” (which is a really polite way of calling your opponents stupid). Not to be outdone, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a US trip of his own this month to allegedly talk some smack about the Keystone project (although he seems less motivated by environmentalism than by the idea that oil and jobs might leave Canada). In a very reasonable and well-measured response, Ms. Redford accused him of “treason”, while the federal government and much of the national media were quick to label him a saboteur of all that is good and decent. We won’t know for sure if Mulcair’s loose lips really did sink the Keystone ship until Obama makes his call, but if nothing else it at least kept his name in the headlines as Justin Trudeau virtually locked down the Liberals’ virtual leadership race.

Sure, I’ll run again. What the hell.

Speaking of sinking ships, this is a great segue for riffing on the latest adventures of Peter Penashue, “the best MP Labrador has ever had” (according to Stephen Harper). I’ll be honest, I had totally forgotten Penashue even existed until he recently resigned over some tens of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign contributions to his 2011 election—a credit to the muzzling skills of the PMO, I guess. I’ll commend him for running for re-election, though, as it takes an awful lot of gumption to run on a platform of brown-nosing when your record is deafening silence and either incompetence or corruption (pick one). Penashue is the perfect poster boy for the CPC’s ‘what are ethics, even’ school of politics, which would probably explain why Harper is backing him so enthusiastically.

The most interesting part of the race in Labrador won’t be whether or not Penashue gets re-elected (he probably won’t unless the NDP and Liberals split the vote), but that former provincial Liberal leader Yvonne Jones has vacated her seat to challenge him. This is interesting precisely because now we get a provincial by-election that will end up deciding the fate of the province’s opposition. A single Liberal seat separates the NDP from Official Opposition status, and if you trust the polls that Paul Lane can’t stack, it seems orange is a very fashionable colour these days — at least relative to the alternatives. The provincial Liberals have yet to get their act together, and the provincial government right now is about as endearing as your St. Paddy’s hangover.

Draft cover of this year’s provincial budget

And what a headache it is: the same Tory PR wizards who would have you give them all the credit for billions of dollars of oil surpluses are now swearing they have absolutely no hand in the fact that we’re going to run up a roughly $4 billion deficit in the next couple years. No wait, sorry, that number’s out of date: when they dropped the budget on March 26th, they had somehow managed to find an extra billion dollars to make up for the anticipated shortfall. Hooray?

An optimist might read this ever-changing numbers game coming from government as the natural outcome of working with a volatile commodity like oil. A cynic might read this as shrewdly low-balling revenues in order to soften the blow of what is otherwise an austerity budget. A pessimist might go so far as to figure this is government gaslighting labour unions with scary numbers ahead of contract negotiations. However you read it, a couple things aren’t up to interpretation: 1200 jobs are were cut from the public service in one fell swoop (which will no doubt ripple outwards), and the province has consolidated every school board in the province into a French one administering about 300 students and an English one administering literally everyone else. Because nothing says ‘efficiency’ like an overloaded bureaucratic monster centred in St. John’s. Hey, it worked for Eastern Health, right?

To cap off this March madness, I’m pouring out my proverbial 40 oz. to mark the passing of national treasure Stompin’ Tom Connors, who is no doubt at this very moment stomping the heck out of some clouds and/or angels. Oh, and happy 64th birthday, Confederation. Will Canada still need us, and will they still feed us, now that we’re 64? More like we feed them, am I right folks? Haha, just a little April Fools joke for you guys there… much like this joke of a federation! Wakka wakka. Okay, I’m done.