Anyone strolling near the main gate of the Public Gardens at noon on Monday would have witnessed a strange scene. There, in the bright sunshine, stood George W. Bush and his buddy, Steve Harper. "We need a secure supply of oil and gas, and we'd like your water," Bush bellowed. "Well, I think it's a great idea," Harper replied, "but I don't know if the Canadian people would stand for this, allowing their resources to be shipped out of the country." As passers-by stopped to watch (and, as a few laughed and jeered) Bush added, "We're running out of water and we have to get it somewhere. What's yours is ours!" True, the actors portraying Bush and Harper didn't look much like the US president and the Canadian prime minister, but they sure sounded like them. And the Halifax mini-drama was playing out just a few hours before the real Bush and Harper were to meet Mexico's president Felipe Calderon at a heavily-guarded resort in Montebello, Quebec. Busloads of protesters were converging on the Quebec town as activists across the country staged their own demonstrations. The one in Halifax, organized by the Council of Canadians, was called the "SPP Cake Event." Activists handed out slices carved from two huge cakes with red icing which spelled out "SPP. Whose Security? Whose Prosperity? What Partnership?"
The cake lettering referred to the "Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America," an agreement signed by the leaders of Canada, the US and Mexico in 2005. The news media dubbed the leaders "the three amigos," portraying them as working hard to make cross-border trade more secure and efficient. But it soon became clear there was much more at stake as the "three amigos" invited the CEOs of North America's biggest corporations to advise them behind closed doors. The business execs have since become formal partners in the SPP, which is actually aimed at integrating the three economies. Canada's main role will be to continue supplying the Americans with vital resources including fossil fuels, three-quarters of the oil from the Alberta tar sands—the single biggest contributor to our rising greenhouse gases—and, if the US gets its way, water from Canada's north.
According to an energy expert from the University of Alberta, the SPP is a major step in the wrong direction for Canadians—especially for those of us who live in Atlantic Canada, Quebec or Ontario. Gordon Laxer points out that while Canada exports nearly two-thirds of its oil and more than half of its natural gas to the US, it still depends heavily on foreign oil imports—850,000 barrels a day to meet 90 percent of Atlantic Canada's and Quebec's needs and 40 percent of Ontario's. Canada has enough oil and gas to supply the whole country, but under the North American Free Trade Agreement, we must maintain our current level of exports to the US. That means 63 percent of our oil and 56 percent of our natural gas must continue to flow south no matter what. Laxer says five new export pipelines are in the works, yet we don't have enough east-west lines to meet Canadian needs. What happens, Laxer asks, if something disrupts international supplies. (Nearly half of the imported oil we depend on comes from unstable countries such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.) Will eastern Canadians freeze in the dark, while Canada continues shipping oil and gas to the States? Instead of pushing ahead with the SPP, Laxer says, and confirming our role as a prime American energy supplier, we should look after our own energy needs first. And that would mean a new SPP—a "Secure Petroleum Plan" for Canadians. At the very least, he says, Canada's participation in any new partnership with the US and Mexico should be debated in Parliament, not hammered out in secret among our national leaders and a bunch of unelected CEOs.
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