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Terasen Sale Must Be Snuffed

Control of our energy should be BC's top priority.

By Murray Dobbin 19 Sep 2005 |

Murray Dobbin is an author, commentator and journalist. He is the author of five books and is a former columnist with Financial Post and Winnipeg Free Press. He is a board member of Canadians for Tax Fairness and on the advisory council of the Rideau Institute. He lives in Powell River, BC.

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No other developed country in the world has squandered control of its energy resources the way Canadian governments -- federal and provincial -- have done and continue to do.

The first major betrayal was the signing of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in which Canada agreed to guarantee the US an ever increasing proportion of our oil and gas, a proportion that can never be decreased even if Canada starts running short for its own needs.

The latest example is the breathtakingly stupid decision regarding Terasen Gas now being considered by the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC). If things go as Gordon Campbell's Liberals hope, the seventh largest corporation in BC will be sold off to Kinder Morgan, a US company with a terrible environmental record. And with it will go any influence over the company's investment priorities -- priorities which will inevitably conform to the American government's obsession with energy security.

Campbell signaled his betrayal of BC interests in 2003 when he changed the legislation governing the privatization of BC Gas, a crown corporation. When it was first privatized by Bill Vander Zalm's Social Credit government, the legislation limited the number of non-BC directors, and the percentage of shares that could be owned by one shareholder (10 percent). Perhaps, most importantly, in a world marked by fierce competition for energy resources, the old legislation stated that foreigners could own no more than 20 percent and that the company headquarters had to be in BC.

All those provisions were wiped out by Campbell after intensive lobbying by Terasen executives and some $50,000 in political donations to the provincial Liberals. Even the pro-business Vander Zalm was moved to ask the obvious question: "Where's the whole concept of BC first...?"

Arrogant 'partner'

The answer is to be found in the profoundly anti-government ideology embraced by the Campbell Liberals and their counterparts in Ottawa. It is a combination of contempt for government and the hare-brained notion that what is good for business is automatically good for all of us. Corporate globalization's core belief is that nations are quaint institutions of the past. The principal flaw in this notion is that the United States, the creator of this ideology, neither practices it nor believes in it. While Canada naively dismantles its capacity as a viable nation, the US aggressively carries out is plan to remain the dominant nation on the planet, with Canada's help.

Of course there is no end of corporate Quislings on Bay Street willing to sell the country out. Tom d'Aquino of the Canadian Council of Corporate Executives was in the US last March begging US forgiveness for Canada's decision to reject ballistic missile defence, telling American audiences that "Canada has to get its act together." He was also the principal lobbyist behind the North American Energy Initiative signed by the three NAFTA countries. Its transparent purpose is to ensure that the US has unlimited access to Canadian energy by adding electricity to oil and gas.

But surely we can expect our elected governments to act in the interest of the country and the province. This has been brought dramatically into the spotlight by the imperial attitude of our trade "partner" to the south. By its arrogant dismissal of the final NAFTA ruling on the softwood dispute, the US has demonstrated that as far as it is concerned globalization is over and we are firmly back in the mode of narrow national interests. (The US never actually left that mode but now even the pretense is gone.)

Play the energy card

The BC government must direct the BC Utilities Commission to reject the Terasen deal in Canada's national interest and the interests of BC citizens. If we want the Americans to take NAFTA seriously, we have to get their attention by playing the energy card. The most effective way to do this would be to invoke article 1905 which would allow Canada to withdraw NAFTA benefits (such as the energy proportionality clause mentioned above) from the US. But a clear decision by BC to reject the Terasen sale could be an effective first shot across the US bow. This should be done explicitly as a move to defend Canada's energy interests and not just a response to US bullying on softwood lumber.

The Bush administration has made it clear that we cannot trust the US to do anything other than ruthlessly pursue its own interests. And that applies most clearly of all to energy security. Terasen does not own gas supplies, but it owns pipelines and once these are in the hands of Kinder Morgan, BC will have no control whatsoever over its new investments. But the White House certainly could. Energy in the US is not just a business. It is the most important strategic issue there is. (Too bad Canada doesn't see our energy that way.) If the Terasen sale goes ahead, we can be virtually certain the White House will be talking to Kinder Morgan about US gas needs.

The citizens of BC could well end up subsidizing the export of our own precious natural gas resource. Using profits made from BC customers, Kinder Morgan will build gas pipelines to the US, increasing dramatically the percentage of natural gas we send south and contributing to higher gas prices here. And unless we abrogate NAFTA, we will continue to export that increased percentage until the gas is gone.

Where to email

Time is running out to stop this outrageous betrayal of BC and Canada by the Campbell government. But it is not too late.

Write to and tell the commissioners to just say no.

Ottawa could stop it, too. Write to the Investment Review Division - Industry Canada and demand they act in Canadian interests.

Murray Dobbin's 'State of the Nation' column appears twice monthly on The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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