Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Finance Minister Joe Oliver Is an "Embarrassment to Canada" as Tom Mulcair Suggests

I read a CBC report this evening in which NDP & Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair used some very strong and incredibly divisive language about Canada's new Finance Minister, Joe Oliver (see, "Joe Oliver 'an embarrassment' as finance minister Tom Mulcair says", CBC, March 19, 2014). Mulcair referred to Oliver as "an embarrassing nomination as finance minister for a G7 country", who "has denied global warming as a scientific reality" and suggested that Oliver's "attacks" on First Nations go beyond paternalism and are "tinted by racism".

Whoa. That's not the sort of language that I'm used to seeing parliamentarians use to describe each other, much less the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Look, I'm no Joe Oliver fan, but it seemed to me that Mulcair went over the top. Mulcair even took aim at the "cult"-like secret swearing-in ceremony.

War on Environmentalists

I've known for a while now that Oliver, when he was Natural Resources Minister, waged a propaganda war against environmental proponents, by equating them with terrorists by calling them "foreign-funded radicals". Much of his invective was directed at pipeline opponents in B.C. - activists, organizations and common citizens who oppose the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan bitumen pipelines.

Climate Change Denial

Famously, Minister Oliver, in an interview with Montreal's La Presse, publicly doubted the science of climate change - choosing to cite well-worn climate denier arguments as evidence that global warming has slowed down and won't be much of an issue (see, "Joe Oliver casts doubt on climate science in defence of oil sands", Canada.com, April 12, 2013). When called out by the opposition, environmentalists - just about every rational person who understands the grave and pressing crisis which is climate change - Oliver even stumbled with his clarification, choosing to suggest that it was well-known climate denier journalist who had provided him with phony information about climate change, even though he is the Minister of Natural Resources. It remains unclear to this day whether Oliver believes that climate change is real - he's never to my knowledge stated that he believes in the scientific validity of anthropogenic global warming.

So, Mulcair's suggestion that Oliver's "information on global warming has consistently proven to be fanciful" appears to be pretty accurate. But Oliver likely isn't the only climate change denier in cabinet. Nevertheless, having a denier head the quest to dig up Canada's natural resource wealth as fast as possible and essentially give it away to foreign corporations without the benefit of rents for Canadian shareholders (for more information on how "rents" work, see this excellent article from Laurentian University Professor Dr. David Robinson, "Not paying the rent", Northern Ontario Business, January 29, 2014 - it's a Northern Ontario context, but Robinson explains the economic principle of resource rents in a very easy to understand way) was problematic enough. But now, as Finance Minister, with all of the nation's economic resources at his disposal, Oliver can do some real and serious damage to our future.

Non-Evidence Based Reality

You see, if you don't recognize climate change as the economic issue of the 21st Century because you don't actually believe it exists, you're not going to formulate policies to address it. Indeed, the economic policies which you do formulate are more than likely going to be exactly the wrong ones - and we've seen this from Conservatives already, and we can expect more of it from Oliver. Runaway expansion of the tar sands industrial enterprise with little benefit to present or future Canadians is exactly the sort of wrong-headed economic policy which can expect Oliver to pursue - with renewed vigour.

Being labelled a climate change denier might be egregious to many, but some Conservatives wear that shameful moniker with pride. Oliver may deny his denial, but likely many of those in his corner are proud that he doesn't subscribe to reality. Real conservatives understand that we must take action to avoid an economic catastrophe from a changing climate, and do what we can to hand down to our children a modicum of global economic stability. It's the bizarre fantasy-land conservatives (of which Oliver may be one) whose refusal to acknowledge reality imperils our medium-term economic, social and environmental health. Long-term, if their policies continue to be embraced, we will probably be doomed.

Owning One's Words

So, what about Mulcair's suggestion that Oliver is a racist? Well, what Mulcair actually said was, "And as one of the chiefs in British Columbia who was the object of his invective said, his attacks on First Nations go beyond mere paternalism. They're tinted by racism." Technically, those aren't Mulcair's words. He's simply repeating what has been said of Joe Oliver by somebody else.

But by repeating those words, Mulcair can't help but take ownership of them. I mean, why else state them for public consumption - especially in a very personal and contrived diatribe. There's something to be said for nuance, I suppose - but this isn't the time to say it. Mulcair is clearly suggesting that Oliver is a bit of a racist.

Paternalism and Racism

All of this comes from an episode dating back to March, 2012, when Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver referred to B.C. First Nations as being "socially dysfunctional". Grand Chief Stewart Philip was quoted in the Vancouver Observer as saying, "It goes beyond paternalism – there's definitely a colour of racism in a lot of his remarks towards Indigenous or Aboriginal or First Nations people," (see, "Joe Olivers speech coloured by racism: First Nations Grand Chief", Vancouver Observer, March 21, 2012). Oliver, again lamely trying to clarify his remarks, simply added fuel to the fire when he stated in his defense that First Nations have to take responsibility themselves to "preserve what they believe is truly worth preserving" and that pipeline projects bring "an enhanced opportunity which doesn't have to be inconsistent with some of their core values."

Hmmm...that's certainly clearly paternalistic. I mean, c'mon - telling First Nations that it's up to them to preserve their own cultural values? This guy is a Minister of the Crown and should at least be aware that the Crown as manifested by the Government of Canada has done considerable harm to First Nation's cultural values, in part through an orchestrated attempt to destroy First Nations culture itself. By ignoring the past role of the government in the destruction of First Nations culture and identity, and some would say by continuing to ignore the very real power imbalance which exists between First Nations and the Canadian government, Oliver clearly demonstrated that he fails to understand how the relationship between First Nations and the Crown has been poisoned. Frankly, his attitude was very paternalistic. But were his comments "tinted" or "coloured" by racism as suggested by the Grand Chief and repeated by Mulcair?

Adopting a paternalistic attitude toward an entire culture could be considered a form of racism - should be considered. When one places one's own culture in a position of superiority, particularly a position of moral superiority, above that of another culture, well it stands to reason that every action will be viewed through that lens of superiority. We're not talking about individual people here, remember - we're talking about all aboriginal peoples in Canada, as per Oliver's own remarks.

By suggesting that First Nations will benefit from resource development which they don't want, and which will in his own admission only impact some of the cultural core values of First Nations communities, Oliver's ignorance and paternalism was clearly on display back in 2012. By lumping all First Nations together and refusing to recognize their individual needs, wants, desires, pursuits - and instead calling for them to adopt the goals and objectives of the Conservative Government of Canada in place of their own cultural values - well, that's a pretty racist idea. That's racism.

So is Joe Oliver a racist? Neither the Grand Chief or Mulcair went so far as to outright call Oliver a racist - likely because one could anticipate a slander suit being filed if they did. Instead, they've both suggested that Oliver's remarks are somehow "racist" as if words can take on human traits such as hatred. Whatever the nuance is, the objective was to draw attention to Oliver's remarks and in the process paint the man with the moniker - racist.

Tom Mulcair - On the Mark

Motivated by similar reasons to those I've ascribed to Grand Chief Stewart and Thomas Mulcair, I'll leave it for the reader to decide whether Minister Oliver is a racist. For the purpose of my blog tonight, let me now return to Thomas Mulcair's remarks, which I had initially thought were "over the top".

Upon further examination and reflection, it appears quite clearly that there is an underlying substance to the explosive remarks made this evening by the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Based on Minister Oliver's continued denial of the science of anthropogenic global warming, and his reliance on the views of noted climate change deniers to shape his own opinions on the topic, Oliver is disastrously prepared to head our government's financial portfolio. Further, Oliver's lack of appreciation of the historic relationship between the government and First Nations, his paternalism, his ignorance, and his propensity to make remarks imbued with racist overtones, even while trying to defend earlier derisive comments - when taken all together, it's clear that Oliver is far from being up to this job, or frankly any other job in cabinet. This guy should have been booted from cabinet long ago, but instead, for his ignorance and combativeness, he's been awarded with a tier one portfolio.

Thomas Mulcair is right: Joe Oliver, Finance Minister, is an embarrassment to Canada.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

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