Power and Politics in the Tar Sands

I’m no political scientist, but I have been following provincial/federal politics in this country for decades. Just for fun, I’m rereading Larry Pratt’s 1976 book The Tar Sands. Pratt died in 2012 but during his lifetime in academia at the University of Alberta and later as a writer and researcher with the Parkland Institute he wrote reams and reams of analysis of the oil industry and politics. His 1976 book, The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil traces the process by which Syncrude was bailed out by the Canadian government with help from some provinces.


You’ll notice that the drawing on the cover of Pratt’s book includes a brilliant caricature of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Fascinating how after 42 years, father and son (Justin) have been captured by the oil industry. In 1974 the government bailed out Syncrude to the tune of $2 billion. That would be a lot more now, probably akin to the $4.5 billion the government is paying Kinder Morgan for its pipeline to nowhere.

This book will make interesting bedtime reading, but, after reading a few pages, I reckon I just have to watch the CBC news to get the story. The players may have changed, but the politics haven’t. Of course, the stakes are higher now and the dynamics are somewhat different but Pratt’s 1976 conclusions hold today. Canada is being held hostage by the oil companies and the federal government doesn’t have the guts to stand up to them and deal with the attacks on sovereignty they represent.

More later.


What is a historical fart?

This is too funny. I used to use a book called What Is History by E.H. Carr when I was teaching sociology decades ago. He wrote the book in 1961 or so and I have a paper copy of it somewhere but for convenience, I just opened a pdf copy of it online. Well, in a way that is quite common, the scanner they used to create the pdf wasn’t perfect and it interpreted a few words in a highly questionable manner. The following text appears on pages 12 and 13 of Carr’s book and it speaks for itself:

Let us take a look at the process by which a mere fact about the past is transformed into a fact of history. At Stalybridge Wakes in 1850, a vendor of gingerbread, as the result of some petty dispute, was deliberately kicked to death by an angry mob. Is this a fact of history ? A year ago I should unhesitatingly have said’ no \ It was recorded by an eye-witness in some little- known memoirs2; but I had never seen it judged worthy of mention by any historian. A year ago Dr. Kitson Clark cited it in his Ford lectures in Oxford. Does this make it into a historical fart? Not, I think, yet. Its present status, I suggest, is that it has been proposed for membership of the select club of historical farts. It now awaits a seconder and sponsors. It may be that in the course of the next few years we shall see this fart appearing first in footnotes, then in the text, of articles and books about nineteenth-century England, and that in twenty or thirty years’ time it may be a well-established historical fart. Alternatively, nobody may take it up, in which case it will relapse into the limbo of unhistorical farts about the past from which Dr. Kitson Clark has gallantly attempted to rescue it. What will decide which of these two things will happen? It will depend, I think, on whether the thesis or interpretation in support of which Dr. Kitson Clark cited this incident is accepted by other historians as valid and significant. Its status as a historical fart will turn on a question of interpretation. This element of interpretation enters into every fart of history.