Yes, we get it, China is an emerging economic superpower. But why, oh why, are we falling all over ourselves to impress this authoritarian gold digger, who arguably only wants us for our raw materials, and to buy its cheaply-made, sometimes toxic consumer goods?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper landed in the Middle Kingdom yesterday to talk trade, tourism and energy. He may even pay a little lip service to China’s human rights issues. Instead of flowers, the prime minister brought along cabinet ministers and industry representatives for forestry, uranium mining, agriculture and petroleum.
A key item on the prime minister’s agenda will be Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, a contentious project that would transport heavy oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat, from where it would be shipped to Asian markets. Eco “enemies of the state” have been arguing this could result in environmental disaster for lesser-valued Canadian assets such as, er, water. One only has to take a quick look at Enbridge’s history of pipeline spills over the last decade (804 spills between 1999 and 2010, amounting to an estimated 169,000 barrels spewed into farmland, streams and wetlands) to understand why the proposed pipeline might be a concern. Then there’s the poor economics of the project. A Prince George engineering consulting firm that completed an energy return on investment analysis on it has concluded that more energy will be expended than gained or, in short, that it’s not worth the effort. Another blow to the financial benefits argument came in a paper on the project written by prominent economist and former ICBC CEO Robyn Allen. She argues that while a few oil companies will get rich, such as China’s Sinopec Corp., Enbridge’s partner in the Gateway project, Canadians will end up paying a lot more at the pump.
Arguments that the project will create jobs likely aren’t sitting well with employees at Burnaby’s Chevron oil refinery, who won’t have work when crude is shipped overseas.
If there’s one benefit to shipping our oil to China it is that we’ll hopefully continue to have access to all those affordable, unsustainable petrochemical products that enrich our lives so much.