Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Harper at the Wilson Center

Harper spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington yesterday following the meeting with Obama and Calderon. The C-Span video at the first link is just under an hour and gives you a bit of insight into Harper's thinking on a range of issues facing Canada.

Some of the moments of note. At around the 25 minute mark, Harper mentions that the Keystone pipeline will be responsible for about 30,000 jobs. That is a remarkable figure that seems to be quite off in terms of the research that's been done on the question. You do hear those kinds of numbers on Fox News though. Here is a concise video that debunks the numbers that Harper touted yesterday:

The U.S. State Department, doing the environmental review, cites a matter of possibly 5-6,000 jobs, at the high range, for construction jobs. Even Trans Canada's representative, at the end of the video above, puts the permanent job numbers in the hundreds, not thousands. Yet Harper casually threw the number out there, nevertheless. Given how he is obviously knowledgeable and steeped in the file and all energy matters he speaks of, it's curious that he is so far off with this number. He did so in front of a venerable audience as well.

There are the comments he makes about Canada needing to diversify away from reliance on the U.S. as an energy market. The Canadian Press report linked to above covers the responses there:
"We cannot be, as a country, where really our one and in many cases almost only partner could say no to our energy products. We just cannot be in that kind of position."
That got some play yesterday but it didn't seem to be particularly new. What was a little different was the tone in which he said it. He came off as a little irritated. For some of our tastes, he also seemed to be a little too much in the shoes of the oil industry for a Prime Minister. At times while watching, you might have found yourself wondering, if you didn't know he was a national leader, what energy company he ran.

Following that thought, there's an interesting answer he gives at the 15:45 mark and following, as well. It's a question about clean energy and how it fits into the mix for Canada as an energy supplier. It's clear that Harper views the question of clean energy not as an environmental issue. It seems to be purely an economic question for him. The truth of the matter, he says, is that it is purely a supply and demand issue. The demand for hydrocarbons is enormous and will continue to be, he says, even with the advent of clean energy sources. The only nod he gives to clean energy sources is as a supplement to hydrocarbons because as a supply and demand matter, he is not sure oil production will be able to keep up with demand. Then, clean energy will come in. Again, this little bit of thinking is rarely on display for Canadians.

He admits at the 18 minute mark, or so, that nuclear has to be part of the the energy mix. You wouldn't quite know that given the Harper government's track record there. The sell off of AECL's commercial reactor division to SNC Lavalin was a risky move (perhaps all the more risky given recent events). Canada did not get much of a return on the sale and whether SNC Lavalin has the ability to support the business remains unknown. Yet, Harper says confidently and cheerfully that nuclear has to be part of the mix. Just not with government resources behind it to ensure that it remains in the mix, as governments happen to be in many countries around the world.

Harper doesn't do these kinds of events in Canada. Domestically, Harper's appearances are all very tightly controlled. There are no wide ranging question and answer sessions to canvass the topics raised here, from Keystone, to Canada's role as an energy supplier, to clean energy, to the Arctic, to immigration, to border crossing, to the Windsor-Detroit bridge, etc. We may see Harper from time to time being interviewed by, say, Peter Mansbridge one-on-one, but it's usually a more tense interaction. Not at the Wilson Center yesterday. Harper is clearly comfortable doing these things in front of an American audience and was relatively candid. It really is a striking thing that Canadians aren't given the same respect.