America’s annoying neighbour

America’s annoying neighbour
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Though I don’t put a lot of stock in these sorts of polls, the evidence is pretty undeniable that Canadians wanted John Kerry in White House rather than George W. Bush, and were equally solid in preferring Barack Obama over Mitt Romney or John McCain.

Presumably, the lopsided nature of this affection had much to do with Canada’s ostentatious self-identification with liberalism: our country has universal health care and tight gun laws and anything-goes abortion and so on, ergo the logical “Canadian” choice in American politics is whichever candidate comes closest to the Canadian mean.

From a realist foreign policy perspective, this logic makes absolutely no sense, however. Realism posits that we dirty foreigners are supposed to favor presidents who promise to give us things we want, not merely those whose domestic agenda — which we will never experience — gives us warm fuzzies.

Now the Pakistanis, they were good realists. In 2012 they favoured Mitt Romney because he was the candidate who hadn’t drone-bombed their country into a hellish moonscape, not because he shared their draconian religious views on gay marriage or whatever. The Soviets were good realists too; in 1980 they preferred a weak, dottering Democrat to a fierce and warmongery Republican, a flattering analysis the GOP has used as a national security talking point in every election since. In both cases, interests came before optics.

There was really only one Canadian “interest” involved in 2012. The Harper administration wants to build a continental pipeline (the “Keystone” project) to ship crude Albertan oil to refineries in Texas, but since said pipeline will have to snake through significant portions of American territory, the idea requires (get this) the assent of the US federal government.

Mitt Romney was hot on this plan. “Independence from foreign oil” has been a GOP cause célèbre for quite a while now, and Team Romney was the first to cleverly decide that Canada counts as a “domestic” source of petroleum. If the Canadians want our approval for this pipe, said the Governor, I’ll give it to them on day one.

It’s now day 10 of the second Obama term and no approval has been given. The current president had the ability to endorse Keystone several years ago, but back in 2011 cautiously put off making a decision in what was assumed to be a crass pander to the green vote in the lead-up to 2012. Blinded by Obama-love, the Canadian press repeatedly insisted that the delay was nothing to worry about, and that everyone could go on endorsing the Democratic ticket without feeling guilty. Wink wink, right Obama?

But now folks are starting to get desperate. The Premier of Saskatchewan, accompanied by several US governors, wrote an open letter to Obama last week asking him to get cracking already. The Premier of Alberta has been lobbying up a storm in Washington. Just give us a sign or something, Barack.

So he did, but it wasn’t a good one. In his powerfully progressive inaugural speech, President Obama gave a full-throated defence of the need to fight what he called “the threat of climate change.”

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” he said, but “America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”

A few days later, Canada’s favorite president America never had — now secretary of state designee — appeared stonefaced before the Senate foreign relations committee and announced he wasn’t going to share his opinions on Keystone either, but would give “appropriate judgments” to the President once the spring deadline arrives.

If approved, the Keystone project is expected to create a multitude of jobs in Canada and generate billions of dollars in trade — considerably more, in fact, than a proposed free trade deal with the entire European Union or an alternative pipeline to China. It also represents one of the only major economic initiatives this country has left to pursue.

Though the status is controversial, in recent years it’s become increasingly apparent that Canada is, at its core, a nation with little sustaining its national economy beyond the ongoing barter of its natural resources. The manufacturing sector is finished, the tech sector is struggling, the cultural sector is an over-subsidized mess, and the real estate sector is a bubble straining to burst. In such a context, the rapid expansion of the so-called tar sands of northern Alberta has occurred at precisely the right moment — so long as we can find new markets to sell the sludge, that is.

With no more elections left to lose, vetoing Keystone could be an easy way for President Obama to leave something of a green legacy, especially if he truly cares as much about moving America to a diet of sustainable energy — which Canadian oil decidedly is not — as he claims. Considering that it’s a decision to be made entirely without Congress, the temptation for an easy win for the progressive cause must be high indeed. Heaven knows there won’t be a lot of ’em.

Keystone is not universally popular in Canada, of course, and doubtless many of the Canucks who oppose the pipeline’s construction were among the President’s most ferocious backers last November — and the November four years before.

It does not reflect well on Canada’s status as a rational, self-interested, sovereign country, however, that Canadians’ love for Obama never had much do with any specific promise he made to better the existence of Canada itself.

It will reflect even worse if the love continues after he promises to do the exact opposite.


  1. Scotty McPherceson

    Its unfortunate these big oil companies have already laid a rut that is far more entrenched than most would like to display. If president Obama was so centered on the green hot button,then why has the trends followed and insued in the manner it has? They may offer up as evidence that dependence and the jobs created will out weigh any measures put in to place with the new line,but where does all progress in to the future of modern technology come in to play? For the presidents opponents have long battled him over his approach to such things, this past elections was nothing to toss to the side. The canidates were very viable to Americas future and how this great nation is going move ahead with the green environment. How much more we could toil over this,but for now the chief is relating as best as he can.

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  3. Dan

    And, in the meantime, all of that oil that would be inside the Keystone XL pipeline is packed onto 120-car oil trains that travel over rivers and through major cities.

    However, as a Californian, I'm hoping the Northern Gateway pipeline is approved. Whoever thinks that oil will pass by the U.S. west coast and travel all the way to China is diluted.

  4. Dan

    And anyone who spells it as "diluted" is clearly deluded.

  5. Colin Minich

    Sick burn.

  6. Dan

    My best burns are when I burn myself.

  7. Colin Minich

    I've always heard that he who can burn himself burns others the hottest.

  8. Beppo

    Why doesn't Canada just build some refineries in Alberta?

  9. Jake_Ackers

    Right. I always thought that. Problem is there isn't enough oil I guess to make it viable. Cheaper to build a pipeline I think. One thing though. A new pipeline can in the future be used for other fuel sources like algae. So it might be part of a longer term solution.

    I know also that for example that Venezuelan oil is low quality (lost of dirt and the sort in it) so only the US has the right refineries or enough of them to process it. Again, I could be wrong on this. So I think similarly the problem could be that the start up cost to process Canadian oil shale and the sort might make it too expensive. As a result its cheaper to just use US refineries.

  10. Virgil

    I heard that about Venezuala too…and that the only refinery that could process it was in Texas. This was word of mouth…from a guy in the energy business.

  11. @Cristiona

    Refineries take a long time to build and are hellishly expensive (both to build and maintain). While fine for a long term plan (ie: 10+ years down the road), it's not especially useful right now. A pipeline could be built and operational far quicker than refineries could be.

  12. Ann Apolis

    You're doing it wrong, Canada! shouts JJ. Everyone has to act in their own narrow self-interest or the system doesn't work! You're not allowed to think "I realise it doesn't affect me directly, but I think it'd be nice if American gays were allowed to get married"; you can only think "well, though my political philosophy says the election of Romney would make the American people worse off, all those people aren't me, so fuck 'em".

  13. Patrick_K

    Self-interest is the foundation of our society, of course it's ingrained =P

  14. Connor

    Well I think the mistake that often gets made here is defining "self-interest" in an incredibly prescriptive way that ignores any preferences humans might have. If you support gay marriage (for example, since it's been brought up) how is it not in your self-interest to have that be a more universal right. Even if you're not gay yourself, don't want to get married, and it's currently legal where you live.

    You can have ideas about the way you think the world ought to work, so how is it not in your self-interest to see those ideas realized? It's selfish for me to want gay marriage to be legal, even though I'm straight, for all ethnicities to be afforded the same rights and protections under the law, even though I'm white, for women to be treated with the same respect as men, even though I'm a man, and that's still true if I want those things for countries I don't live in. Because those are my preferences for how the world should work, and I'd like to see them realized.

    The problem with the idea of the rational self-interested agent is that "rational" bit seems to assume a thing that isn't really a human. That ignores any preferences or predilections or differing interests a person might have, and assumes they are players of a game with an arbitrary rule set, determined to win by any means possible. It rather paradoxically undermines what self-interest is supposed to mean.

    I mean, hell, look at JJ. He's a smart guy, well-read, hard working, why is he wasting his time with this little political cartoon when if he set his mind to it he could instead be devoting himself to far more lucrative endevours. Now, I like Filibuster, but it probably doesn't make a whole ton of money in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to other sectors. Clearly JJ is ignoring his own self-interests by doing the thing he wants to do, because smart money is almost never on a career in the arts.

    Any case, rant about too narrowly defined "self-interest" over.

  15. Colin Minich

    Ah yes the Keystone again…because if it's not oil lobbyists hemming and hawing over God knows what in Congress it's the environmentalist lobby that goes ballistic over this claiming harm to land that I just scratch my head wondering how catastrophic it's actually going to be.

    But truthfully I'd LOVE for the POTUS to get in on this. Considering how China never stops hoarding its minerals and oils, the last thing North America needs is their beady eyes into this project. Call it silly, but I can't let it past them to try.

    And JJ, seriously, I've been always getting the impression that Canadian liberals, especially ex-pats from America who gained citizenship, were always the loudest and despite those ears, that's all Barry seems to be picking up fault or no fault.

  16. Jake_Ackers

    Yah, doesn't China control 95% or so of the rare materials on earth. This should be part of a boarder discussion. We need start explorer not only new energy like Helium 3 and Algae. But also (I know to some people it's crazy) but start building space elevators and space bases.

    The moon, Mars, asteroids, etc. Before the steam engine humanity was locked in it's growth and cast iron before it. We in much the same way are locked in respects to oil. We need more nuclear energy but that too is limited as it is only a fuel. We need more materials to grow and not only a new fuel source.

  17. Colin Minich

    Yes and no. China controls a considerable amount because of its connection with North Korea (but that's fading FAST and South Korea will grab hold when and if reunification comes) along with its subtle infiltration (and bribing) into African and South-Central Asian countries along with importing its own workers.

    I'm all for Algae and nuclear fusion. Speaking of which…has there been ANY progress with fusion?

  18. Jake_Ackers

    I think its mostly down to He-3. Without it, fusion would be so much harder. The moon is believed to have a good supply of it. And even there it's still low.

  19. drs

    The easiest form of fusion is D-T. He-3 is much harder. If you could fuse it then it has some advantages in extracting the energy, but that's putting the cart before the horse. And I've heard lunar He3 is so diffuse it would cost more energy to extract than you'd get from fusing it, anyway.

  20. drs

    There's probably been stuff researchers would call progress. But not, say, reaching breakeven (producing more energy than needed to drive the fusion, never mind extracting more useful power than needed to drive the fusion.)

  21. drs

    "Keystone is not universally popular in Canada, of course, and doubtless many of the Canucks who oppose the pipeline’s construction were among the President’s most ferocious backers last November — and the November four years before.

    It does not reflect well on Canada’s status as a rational, self-interested, sovereign country, however, that Canadians’ love for Obama never had much do with any specific promise he made to better the existence of Canada itself."

    You undermine yourself, by acknowledging that not everyone in Canada will even agree that building a pipeline to pump out oil ever faster is in Canada's rational self-interest. What the PM and oil-province premiers want isn't necessarily what Canada wants, or even what's good for Canada. As for the fall of manufacturing, there's a good argument that's at least partly *because* of oil exports driving up the Canadian dollar and making other exports uncompetitive.

    And is it most rational to sell oil now, or later, when it's more expensive?

    And one could say it reflects well on Canada's status as a moral and compassionate country to favor foreign leaders who are best for the people of those countries, rather than being good for Canadian special interests. Or on Canada's enlightened self-interest. "Realism" gave us the Iranian Revolution and America's status as "Great Satan".

  22. Jake_Ackers

    "And one could say it reflects well on Canada's status as a moral and compassionate country to favor foreign leaders who are best for the people of those countries"

    Yah I don't think most people at large are that nuanced. Even if it is true that that is their sentiment. Doesn't make it correct. Forget the USA for a second. How many people would support a dictatorial or very centralized regime, period? Akin to the Saudis and the sort. Most people would be against that kind of government because they feel it is bad for the country. When in reality we know that countries like Saudi Arabia would go to heck in a hand basket if the Royal family stopped ruling.

    I just think most people support a candidate because 1) they think it will benefit their own country or 2) supports their ideology. Both which can be viewed as good for the country in question but doesn't really make it so.

    In response to your selling oil point. I think it is better to sell the oil now and use the money to grow. Otherwise if oil gets too high, countries will just move to another fuel source. I guess my point is, sell right before the high or right before the bubble bursts, not at the peak or when it is about to burst.

  23. spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan

    I far prefer the idea of a West-to-East pipeline which can ship oil overseas from the east coast, removing our dependence on the much more expensive Brent Crude out here in Ontario. Skip the US entirely.

  24. Patrick_K

    It would be dramatically more inefficient to do it this way. We're talking a pipeline across all of Canada, then transfer to boat to cross the atlantic to England. before being transfered again to the refineries there. That's literally half the globe and 3 transfers (into pipe, onto boat, off of boat). A pipeline to Texas would be consistent and there would be no transfers, the pipeline can flow directly into the refineries. China is a bit farther as it would need to far northwest tip (probably through alaska) before coming back down through Russia into China. It would be less profitable between Canada and China, but it would still be more profitable than Europe. I think it's not only in America's economic interest to change from a dependance on Opec and Russian oil and switch primarily to imports from western hemisphere sources (which is largely the case as is), but it's also in America's strategic interest keep that oil out of China due to their potential to destabilize certain parts of the world. Seriously, who props up North Korea? Are they trying to get everyone killed?

  25. spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan

    That depends. A lot of the oil wouldn't be shipped overseas, but simply replace a portion of the huge amount of overseas Brent Crude that North America already consumes. As it stands, the US still imports more oil from OPEC than Canada ( We could simply offset a lot of that supply. And oil has already in the past been piped from West to East in the past (the Suncor Montreal refinery used to pump in oil from the west in the past until the mid 90's), so it's possible that some of the infrastructure may already exist.

    Piping oil down to Texas (where oil is super cheap compared to both Brent and Dubai Crude prices) would only further flood that market and drive those prices down more. Unless they open up a pipeline to ship to the West Coast to ship lots to China, I'd have a hard time seeing that it would be worth it.

  26. Taylor

    Actually, no, the mass support for Kerry had little if anything to do with liberalism. It had to do with the epic, predictable humanitarian disaster that was the Iraq War.

  27. Jake_Ackers

    Regardless. Iraq War or not. Successful or not. Canadians I think would of supported Kerry regardless. I suppose if nukes were found then Bush would of become what Reagan was to the world.

  28. Taylor

    They wouldn't have supported him to the degree JJ describes.

    Nukes were never going to be found, btw.

  29. Jake_Ackers

    The funny thing is with all the tax credits for green energy and the money spent on make building energy efficient and what not. Which in the long run is always needed regardless of the fuel source. If we took all that money and put it toward a Green Manhattan Project we would of found an alternative to oil by now. Well there is, algae. Only problem is its not as cheap as oil, yet. It can be made into gasoline or diesel. Carbon neutral and doesn't need a new engine or fuel pumps. Just need to keep doing research to make it more efficient (more energy return on energy invested) thus cheaper.

    I just wish we could get all the oil of these places out once and for all and move toward another fuel source. Preferably the latter before the former happens first. So we could stop having these arguments. We all need oil and we all want something cleaner. Just need to get our ducks in a row and do it. I know… easier said than done.

  30. Patrick_K

    Sources on Algea (or a more specific name)? I'd like to learn more about it, looks really interesting.

  31. Jake_Ackers

    It covers most of the basics (its sourced). The most interesting is it would only require a land area half the size of Maine to fuel the USA. Plus it can be grown in dirty water.

  32. Scotty McPherceson

    Alternative source's of energy? Is there really such a thing? I've heard rumors and read articles of things saying this and that,but didn't truly have any sustenance. I am no accomplished or renowned globe trotter,but medalling through what are precious planet has to offer and making the best of it without turning out junk that we must digest, is the danger in such a thing. I guess we look forward to the potential of oncoming scientist to find some knack and produce our miracle life source. If this pipeline is so crucial to Americas vitality,then how does one forge ahead knowing he is only a speck to the magnanimity that this problem is offering? If the pipeline and all its critics come together on some unilateral agreement in which all can benefit in the most prestigious manner,then these already solidify what the old big oil companies are already doing into some new fashion that will take the consumer market by storm,and help those environmentally assertive sort feel content with themselves as they protest or agree with their new and refined energy source.The reality is though, we have become a gluttonous nation bent on taking the express way to anywhere and getting things done in the most proficient or dare I say slyest manner possible, and to those who have benefitted immensely from such optimism,well to the future we look ever so lightly looking at the path in which we have came.

  33. Scotty McPherceson

    optimalism, I meant.

  34. Sven

    What does that flag say? "…who let the…"?

  35. J.J. McCullough

    Dogs out.

  36. PTBO

    Obviously there will be alot more jobs if we just process oil at home (in Alberta where they don't care about pollution).

    However, I take issue with the 'manufactering sector is dying" comment. Certianly, it is hurting, a overvalued Canadian dollar (cause have unsustainable oil sand expansion) does not help at all. But I think JJ doesn't know very much about the manufactering sector. Hell he apparently lives in British Columbia. Private companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into modernizing and enhancing lumber processing facilities and pulp and paper mills. Private investors have alot more faith in our province then JJ does.

    Generally, I would agree with the paragraph- shows what a mess the Conservatives have made to the economy. It has been a dark decade for those that believe in civil society, good governence and respect for democracy.

  37. Travis

    Unconventional oil (as in tar sands & gas fracturing) is found all over the world & extremely common. It's conventional oil (where you stick a pipe into an underground reserve & it shoots out with little help) that is becoming scarce.

    In fact the USA will soon be self sufficient in oil of it's own if it continues down it's current path of exploration & exploitation of gas fracking (an environmental disaster of its own). So if they discard the environmental reasoning why would they want to pipe in oil across their entire country when they can find it at home? & keep the the jobs & oil security for themselves?

  38. Zak

    Uh, JJ, your essay is pretty ridiculous for this cartoon. How can you not wrap your head around the fact that Canadians (like myself) want to see the USA improve? To see basic women's rights and gay people's right to marry be moved forward?

    We can carry on just fine without viewing every decision through the lens of "what serves Canada best?" That's an obscene way to view every decision anyways, and one of the biggest problems with politics today. I mean, follow it to it's logical extreme: shouldn't we install pro-Canada puppet states in all the countries that we provide aid to? It's in our best interest to have a country be loyal for all that support we provided, so that we can get something in return.

    Sorry we aren't as mortifyingly Randian as you seem to want?

  39. myjaket

    I dont understand about politics, every body want to be number one.
    In this case , I would agree with the paragraph- shows what a mess the Conservatives have made to the economy. It has been a dark decade for those that believe in civil society, good governence and respect for democracy.

  40. kiosolahraga

    In politics every people want to become as winning country. I hope the democracy will not chaos.

  41. hoodiejaketbola.

    It is not readable, at least it is not readable for me. If you really care about that people should easily understand the code you write, you should not write the code like this