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The Collaborative Model Takes Root in Alberta’s Tar Sands

Pictured above (May, 2015) is Tzeporah Berman (first row, third from right). Berman is one of many who contributed to the text of the “Leap Manifesto”, an initiative founded by Naomi Klein‘s “This Changes Everything” project. It is critical to note the almost non-existence of non-anglos in positions of power and decision making (with the exception being photo ops) within the foundation financed “movements”. This institutionalized racism has become so normalized that it goes almost unnoticed unless it is pointed out (as in this instance). The one exception is the only group of people that the state still fears – that of Indigenous peoples. The undermining of Indigenous people by the non-profit industrial complex (350.org, etc.) is well documented. The 2009 COP15 and the 2010 People’s Agreement in Cochabamba, Bolivia, are just two examples of Indigenous undermining, so egregious, that they could easily be considered crimes against humanity.

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A friend sent me an email note two days ago, with the intro line “The NGO’s finally did it!” which caused a moment of terrorized confusion. I didn’t realize it would relate to this, but for the first time ever last November, the province of Alberta has instituted a potential cap on tar sands development. However, this is not the achievement my colleague was referencing. It was more a statement of alarm than laudatory glee.

The cap was alongside several other notable achievements, such as a fairly rapid phasing out of coal (that currently supplies the bulk of the electrical grid across the province) and several economic measures, such as a carbon tax that scares the Ezras right out of your average Levant. All of these things and more were rushed and cobbled together in the short time since Notley took office. Timing was clearly a factor in order to take these proposals to Paris as a triumphal delegation to the UN Climate talks. In the short term, many of these things may seem very hopeful. But it has also been leaked that there was another part of how the tar sands portions of the plan were drawn up.

There were secret talks that involved some of the perhaps expected Big Green players (ForestEthics, Environmental Defense, Equiterre and the Pembina Institute) meeting with Big Oil. The reason it was leaked? Some oil companies are upset that the other oil companies negotiated without them. Small world, I guess.

Wait a minute, everybody.

Are we not noticing something far more troubling than previous backroom negotiated deals? This time around the deal was not to be public at all. Ever. It stands to good reason that since this one was not to be released specifically, perhaps there are others as well.

The corporations involved are among the biggest players in all of the tar sands: Suncor, Cenovus, CNRL and Shell Canada. Suncor is the largest Canadian energy company and has been a major backer of (among other green groups) the Pembina Institute for many years. Shell, always trying to play the greenwash game, has been targeted by Greenpeace direct actions in the past, yet collaborates with the WWF elsewhere, and hired James Hoggan as a consultant, despite (or rather, because of) his leading role with the David Suzuki Foundation.

As far as those groups and individuals who were previously embarrassed by leaks over potential tar sands “fireside chats” and politically eviscerated over concerns about the now-defunct Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement announcement, rather than learn a lesson to not engage in backroom talks they have instead learned to not tell the public at all.

The Alberta NDP, in a slight twist to the usual narrative, claimed the bulk of the credit (“the win”) at the presser– but the Orange Crush still had no fizzle and were a non-entity on the margins of Alberta’s political landscape when the bulk of these discussions took place.

The head of Shell Canada, president Lorraine Mitchelmore, sheds some serious light on how these talks happened, both in what she says and in what she clearly does not: Interviewed in Macleans (Canada) Magazine, she was asked by Jason Markusoff:

Q: It’s been reported that this work started quite a while ago, with dinners between environmentalists and energy executives. Who was there?

A: I don’t want to say who was there. I want to say that it was some members of industry, and it was some members of the environmental groups, and it was really progressive members in both camps […]

Even after the public realization that the “change in narrative” has been a backroom exercise, she dutifully plays well with others in the corporate sandbox and maintains the Greens anonymity (as best she can), but she does let us realize Big Oil and Big Green began these talks multiple years ago, as “[t]his was happening long before Keystone, so [she] wouldn’t put Keystone as the catalyst for this,” but it has the effect of reducing grassroots activist visibility– and that, too, is the point. When asked what would have happened without this deal?

“Continued conflict. It was going nowhere. What was it going to achieve for Canada, continued conflict? I think that us being on the stage was something that was symbolic for Canadians. I believe that collaboration is something that Canadians do well.”

Leaving aside how “Canadian” it is, collaboration agreements are an expanding, growing industry that is learning from past mistakes. Without collaborative models, there would indeed be far more resistance (“conflict”), more visible community led actions, and a primacy placed on grassroots organizing.

So we now know the lessons learned for energy corporations and for Big Green are essentially the same when it comes to pointed questions about said discussions, fireside beer chats and long table dinners between well-paid foundation-directed environmentalists and oil company executives.

Tired of the backlash from anti-democratic deals being announced? Stop announcing them, but simply cut them in a way that makes the funders happy and let someone else announce an entirely separate result.

Then, allies from other eNGO’s (often people who have worked for ostensibly conflicting organizations) can celebrate what was negotiated secretly without even truly allowing the public to know that negotiations happened in the first place. Big Oil is very good already at guarding market secrets, discussions with Big Green can simply fall under the trade secrets mentality.

There is a history to this new approach, a minor victory of sorts in fact. In April of 2010, Dru Oja Jay was the first to report on attempts to hold private talks with tar sands producers in the Dominion:

Ten representatives each from tar sands operators and high-profile environmental groups were invited to the “informal, beer in hand” gathering. The David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence Canada, Forest Ethics, Pollution Probe and Tides Canada were among the invited environmental groups.

Merran Smith of ForestEthics was listed without affiliation, as was Tzeporah Berman, who worked to privatize BC’s rivers as director of PowerUp Canada, and who is slated to start work this month as Greenpeace International’s Climate Campaigner. Among invited oil companies were Shell, ConocoPhilips, Total and Statoil. Leading tar sands investor Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) was also on the guestlist.

The event would be, the invitation explained, “an opportunity for a few ENGOs and a few companies to share their thoughts on the current state of relations and explore ideas on how a deeper dialogue might occur.”

Three days later, Raynolds sent a second email, cancelling the gathering, owing to “the level of tension” between “a subset of companies and a subset of ENGOs.” The follow-up email specified a legal dispute. Sources in Albertan environmental circles suggested pressure to cancel came from threats to expose the meeting publicly. (emphasis added–MS)

“I personally believe we all need to find a way to create the space and conditions necessary for deeper and meaningful conversations to find some solutions,” wrote Raynolds, explaining the cancellation. “I do hope that in the coming months, we can work to create those conditions.”

…and create those conditions they did. In light of that prior result of such talks, it goes to further reason that these discussions have shown in part the expanding of the relationship in 2015 that began in 2010. Faced with the rejection and unpopularity of anti-democratic secret negotiations when announced, further secrecy was layered upon secret talks by these organizations. Sources from environmental struggles today allege a role played directly by Greenpeace in assessing these deals, to get a “victory” in Alberta.

We essentially now have reason to believe that modern capital-driven organizations will make concessions on issues as large as pipelines and caps and more without even telling the public that there was a process they were not involved in. ENGO’s acting with a distrust of the public that rivals the Harper administration.

ForestEthics itself began almost entirely as a vehicle to carve out such a collaborative agreement and lay the framework for this model in the Great Bear Rainforest of BC (accepting far less protection than grassroots groups and independent scientists wanted, shunting aside indigenous nations in the process and eliminating democratic oversight all in one fell swoop). One of the other signatories to the GBR deal and also apparently a non-signatory observer to the new tar sands deal was Greenpeace. The organization still has an official position calling for the “phasing out” of the tar sands and as such cannot publicly be seen to pledge no resistance to export (or any) pipelines, but in the days following the Alberta climate plan?

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace was talking up the plan thusly:

This announcement is a major victory for people and communities that have long raised concerns about growing tar sands emissions. With the announced cap the government has finally set a limit on tar sands extraction. The days of the infinite growth of the tar sands are over and investors should take note.

So what part of the deal are investors told to take note of, exactly? Well, we do know some of the points. Total tar sands development can add more than another one million barrels per day of tar sands gunk to the grid. Put in perspective, tar sands were pumping at around 1.2 million barrels a day before Greenpeace parachuted into Alberta in mid 2007.

Slightly less than 2 million barrels are extracted from the various deposits of bitumen in Alberta today, meaning that in the last 8 years– 8 years of development with:

*Massive economic backing, some of the largest investments in human history all pulled together

*Federal and Provincial governments that facilitated every single project that came forward

*Record high global prices of crude, alongside one of the strongest Canadian dollars in history

*The global attention of nearly every major energy company from China to the Middle East to the UK

*In these 8 years Tar sands projects– mining and in-situ– added some 3/4 of a million barrels (roughly the equivalent of three of the giant mines at full operating capacity) to the global grid.

Since that time of the tar sands gold rush we have seen:

Peak in oil prices brought down by financial collapse spreading around the globe and Saudi Arabian oil reserve dumps

Massive development of other technologies such as fracking to take alternative investment dollars,

The removal of the most outwardly pro-oil governments at all major levels in North America,

The gutting of the loonie.

At the current rate of expansion, and the current level of resistance to further sprawl based on tar sands, the idea of getting to 3 million barrels a day would need major subsidization to make it even partially practical. It is not, and in a reminiscence of the Protected Areas Strategy in the Arctic North, what is announced to be a limit is actually a promise to investors to make things economical and operate business as usual for possibly another pair of decades.

While it is certainly of the best news that the Notley plan also includes the removal of coal fired electrical generation across Alberta, this combined with further de facto unbridled expansion of the tar sands themselves will mean two giant changes to the physical landscape are set to come about:

One: There will now be a massive introduction planned of nuclear energy. Even with the reports of the ongoing melting of Japan into the sea (Fukushima is still destroying the largest ocean on earth, we just stopped paying attention to it as it is happening) multiple nuclear reactors discussed during the first tar sands boom times of 2002-2008 will be revisited and pushed. Just ask James Hansen, a brilliant scientist who is being asked to be a sociologist when it comes to solving the climate crisis. His take is the same as Big Green: Never mention powering down or reducing consumption, that is a non-starter for “modern” capitalist Canada.

Two: this is a spectacular means to allow BC to expand the growing fracking footprint that is in the Northeast of the province, for shipment to Alberta as a “cleaner” source of the power needed to build up tar sands operations. And to produce the fracking gas means that the giant Site C dam on BC’s Peace River will provide the energy to frack to provide the energy to mine for tar sands.

Perhaps the key point is that this will mean a better situation for the investors than exists currently. Their DNA is still made up of seeing any regulation as a restriction on profit, but they have been granted at least another decade of developments at the rate of acceleration we have been accustomed to over the last several years. The Athabasca river and the forested areas of all four major tar sands regions in Alberta will continue to get poisoned or disappeared outright.

The tar sands free for all will continue but with the caveat that many will think it is now regulated. But the earth knows no law but natural law and climate markers know no future endeavour announcements. There is no savings account for the climate.

The collaborative model of developers (corporations), “stakeholders” (in particular First Nations governments subject to the Indian Act), “environmentalists” (NGO’s who receive foundation-directed money to achieve funder-driven objectives) and governments (provincial and federal) has been in place in Canada for a couple of decades now. In point of historical fact the birth of ForestEthics essentially took place to create a situation that has since become almost a template for social control and political license given to developments that prior to the agreements were unpalatable and unpopular in the extreme.

While sidelining indigenous representation either in whole or in part, such collaborative models gain little and surrender the kitchen sink. More importantly than their horrible ecological impacts, however, are the wholesale anti-democratic means of coming into being, and their quite conscious role in subverting, blunting and silencing resistance that exists. The President of Shell just announced that was why she was involved– like a linesman at a hockey game, just trying to contain conflict.

There have been many watershed moments on the advancement of the collaborative model in the past, starting in the 1980’s in the US (heavily funded by the Pew Foundation and later, Pew Charitable Trusts, et al) and advancing to cover not only BC, Alberta and many Canadian provinces, but the Arctic as well setting up similar collaborative models to effectively give away the mostly undeveloped giant lands of what get called the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon.

Perhaps most disastrously, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement was celebrated by 9 pro-development eNGO’s alongside multiple forestry companies, but was denounced as anti-democratic and an attack on sovereignty by most indigenous voices. It ultimately failed under its own weight.

At this late day when environmental discourse should be prominently louder and more uncompromising than ever, now collaboration is moving in to save capitalism from itself. And using silence to do so.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta.

“I’m hopeful that these policies, taken overall, will lead to a new collaborative conversation about Canada’s energy infrastructure on its merits, and to a significant de-escalation of conflict worldwide about the Alberta oilsands…”

Various tar sands pipelines, from Line 9 in Ontario to Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion in greater Vancouver, have seen large grassroots opposition. With either fly-by-night, media grabbing appearances from Big Green with little to no support provided or the most deafening silence possible, people have gone to prison in many cases without seeing any help emerge from Big Green.

The NDP, once elected in Alberta, made achieving their climate deal one of the most important immediate goals. In order to go to Paris for UN COP discussions happening now– standing alongside the Federal Liberals saying “Canada is no longer obstructionist,” having a deal between greens and government as well as energy corporations in international venues is extremely important. For that, even with no tangible difference on the ground, Environmental Defence executive director Tim Gray (based in Toronto) explained their willingness to help: “We were more than happy to help them track toward something that could get support from elements of the environmental community as well as the business community, and that is what happened.”

But what else has happened? Tar sands operations elsewhere around the world must still be prevented from ever getting off of (or out of) the ground as well.

Operations of other tar sands projects around the planet will once again have the great example of “responsible tar sands developments” apparently requested by Notley. Some of the international projects have stalled and been shelved but nowhere have they yet been killed.

The shroud of secrecy around Ottawa has changed, even if that is mostly a public relations exercise that will lose the shine very quickly. Falsely or not, people hold a belief that far less secrecy is the order of the day. But in terms of the unaccountable results of foundation-directed eNGO’s, they have moved into new territory of deception, no longer telling after what used to only be hidden before.

And in this, a perfect refinement of the current administrations of progressiveness, done in time for Paris with Suncor hanging out with Environmental Defense to forge forward a brave new path—in France now are the signs of just what kind of administrations people living north of the 49th parallel on Turtle Island can expect: Of social control through farce, and democratic participation as a mass marketed phenomenon. With all the bells and whistles, but please turn off the lights on your way out.

[Macdonald Stainsby is an anti-tar sands and social justice activist, freelance writer and professional hitchhiker looking for a ride to the better world, currently based in Vancouver, Canada. He can be reached at mstainsby@resist.ca]

The Political Fraud of the Canadian Peoples’ Social Forum

World Socialist Web Site

August 20, 2014

By Carl Bronski

psf

Thousands of people are preparing to travel to Ottawa this week to attend a pan-Canadian Peoples’ Social Forum (PSF) that is billed “as a space for social movements to meet and converge, for the free expression of alternative ideas and grassroots exchanges and for artistic reflections on a diversity of demands and aspirations.”

According to PSF campaign material, those demands revolve around opposition to “neo-liberal and neo-conservative policies in Canada based on the guiding principles of social justice, Original Peoples’ rights, sustainable development, international solidarity and participatory democracy.” One of the main slogans for the gathering is “Fighting Harper and Beyond.”

The Forum is a political fraud. It is aimed not at fighting for the independent political mobilization of the working class, but rather at its subordination to the ostensible “left” wing of the bourgeois political establishment. In the name of fighting Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and the “neo-liberal” agenda, the trade unions, with the middle class left and pseudo-Marxist organizations in tow, are seeking to harness the growing opposition of the working class to the offensive of the ruling elite behind a campaign to defeat the Conservatives at the polls in 2015 and install a “progressive” government. That would mean a Liberal or New Democratic Party (NDP) government, or more likely a Liberal-NDP coalition.

A model for the political operation being prepared by these so-called progressive forces was provided by their near-unanimous support in December 2008 for a would-be Liberal-NDP coalition government committed to a continuation of Canada’s neocolonial war in Afghanistan and further massive tax cuts benefiting the wealthy. More recently, in this year’s Ontario election, under the pretext of preventing a Conservative victory, the unions and their middle-class hangers-on lined up behind the right-wing Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne, which after its reelection announced an escalation of its policy of draconian social spending cuts and brutal attacks on workers’ rights.

This is no aberration. Since the 1980s, the unions have been engaged in negotiating the lowering of wages and benefits, the elimination of jobs, the curtailment of pensions, and the intensification of the exploitation of their members. A generation of workers has spent its entire work-life without experiencing a strike—or only losing strikes.

The unions have bowed with barely a peep to Harper’s strikebreaking legislation in a series of national disputes at Air Canada, Canadian Pacific Railways, and Canada Post. When the massive 2012 Quebec student strike threatened to provoke an eruption of working class opposition to the austerity agenda of big business, the unions moved to shut it down. The Quebec Federation of Labour wrote to the Canadian Labour Congress demanding that they provide no support to the students and the CLC gladly obliged.

Beginning in the latter half of the 1990s, when the Chretien-Martin Liberal government was implementing the greatest social spending cuts in Canadian history, many unions adopted a policy of “strategic voting” in national and provincial elections, i.e., a vote for the Liberals in most constituencies. Those still plumping for the New Democratic Party have supported the social democrats as they have lurched ever further to the right, imposing austerity wherever they hold office, electing a former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister (Tom Mulcair) as national leader, and emerging as enthusiastic cheerleaders for Canada’s participation in imperialist interventions and wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Haiti and Libya

So much for “fighting” the policies of the ruling class.

The PSF event is one of the many off-shoots of the World Social Forum, founded in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001 and dedicated to championing “counter-hegemonic globalization.” Opposing “neo-liberalism” but not capitalism, the Forum promotes the illusion that the ruling class can be pressured into returning to Keynesian policies and that the nation-state can be a progressive constraint on rapacious global capital.

The real issue, however, is that capitalism has broken down under the weight of the same contradictions that led in the first half of the last century to two world wars, the Great Depression, and the horrors of fascism. The great progressive potential of a globally integrated economy runs up against its domination by private corporations and the capitalist nation-state system. Only the abolition of this outmoded system by the united political struggle of the international working class can open the way for a harmonious development of the world economy to meet social needs, not the profit interests of a few.

The annual Social Forum meetings have, over the years, received the backing of a whole host of bourgeois governments, union bureaucracies and capitalist foundations including support from former right-wing French President Jacques Chirac, successive pro-austerity governments in Brazil, the European Union, the American AFL-CIO, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The four-day gathering in Ottawa is chiefly sponsored by trade unions and trade union federations from across the country. Other sponsors include aboriginal, feminist and non-governmental organizations, the Council of Canadians, and the Desjardins Caisses populaires, Canada’s sixth largest financial institution.

The organization of a Canadian PSF was initiated by Alternatives, a Montreal based non-governmental organization. Unfortunately, the “alternatives” that animate the organizers and sponsors of the event are squarely lodged within the existing capitalist socio-economic system. This is only underscored by the fact that they immediately sought the patronage of the pro-capitalist trade union apparatus.

There will, no doubt, be many in attendance who agree—and many who do not—that a radical, systemic change is needed in the face of the proliferation of imperialist war, social misery, authoritarianism, and ecological catastrophe. But those genuinely seeking a way out of the world capitalist crisis will be sorely disappointed by the thin political gruel on offer at the gathering.

the shock doctrine_2

“But you won’t find Naomi Klein writing the Libyan chapter of the “shock doctrine” (Gulf News, 26/10/2011)–Naomi Klein was too busy throwing her support behind a Canadian politician, Nathan Cullen, who voted in support of NATO’s intervention in Libya, with little regret.” – MAXIMILIAN FORTE 

The Forum begins on August 21 with a rally addressed by the neo-Keynesian and “anti-globalization” activist Naomi Klein, and a march to Parliament Hill. That the rally and march are scheduled for a Thursday afternoon when most workers are unable to attend speaks volumes about the social forces the organizers are most interested in attracting. Indeed, it is expected that the largest contingents will come from officials from the trade union bureaucracy and the non-governmental organizations.

Over the ensuing weekend there will be almost 500 workshops. Aside from anarchist-minded groups promoting petty-production and portraying science and technology as the problem, and the seemingly obligatory sessions aimed at self-absorbed elements of the middle class—“Alternate Cures Rejuvenation Healing and Tibetan Monk Exercises,” “Urban Gardening,” or “Veganism, Anti-Colonialism and Animal Liberation”—the workshop line-up is peppered with sessions overseen by the various purveyors of identity politics intent on dividing the working class on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation.

Thus, the Niagara Queer People of Colour will advise attendees on their particularly specific perspective, an anti-racist group will discuss Caucasian “Fear of a Black Planet” and a number of sessions on the oppression of aboriginal peoples will seek to determine the extent of “settler” (a term referring to both the entire past and current non-Aboriginal population of Canada) “responsibility” for the genocidal policies of the ruling class. What is rejected outright in all these approaches is the central understanding that the principal “oppressed community” in Canada (and around the world) is the working class—black, white, native, gay, straight, male or female—and that only this class has the social power to break the stranglehold of big business over socio-economic life and to radically reorganize society in the interests of the majority.

The turn by those who want to fight the existing system has to be toward an international socialist program and the great challenge of assembling and educating a revolutionary movement with deep roots in the global working class. This is not a project to be undertaken lightly, but outside of that perspective there is no way to address the social disaster and danger of world war and ever-increasing global misery produced by the present system.

The Socialist Equality Party and the World Socialist Web Site are fighting to overcome the crisis of working-class leadership and build a movement that will politically prepare and lead the working class in fighting for a workers’ government and socialism.

Thirty Years After the U.S. Invasion of Grenada, the First Neoliberal War

Zero Anthropology

October 28, 2013

by Maximilian Forte

grenada_invasion

U.S. forces in Grenada in 1983

This past Friday, October 25, marked the 30th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Grenada. There were many meanings and consequences of that invasion, not just for Grenada itself, or for the wider Caribbean region (including the increased militarization of the region in the aftermath, the importation of U.S. national security doctrine, and the scandalous collaborationism embodied by Dominica’s then Prime Minister, Eugenia Charles, and Barbados’ then Prime Minister, Tom Adams–and the advent of the Caribbean Basin Initiative), but also meanings and consequences for the onset of the “new world order” of the post-Cold War period which was just a few years away. (From a personal perspective, the revolutions in Grenada and Nicaragua, where I spent months in the 1980s, formed an important foundation of my own development and impelled me in certain directions with my own studies.)

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