I wasn’t going to do this, but I just had to Butts in!


There has never been a clearer and more public demonstration of how much power multinational business corporations exert on national governments than the recently exposed SNC-Lavalin affair. In 2015 SNC-Lavalin (SNCL) realized that they were in serious trouble because of bribery and fraud allegations arising out of its business dealings in Libya so it was time to ramp up the pressure on the Canadian government to go easy on it. Starting in 2016 SNC-Lavalin worked hard at lobbying the federal government to include a Deferred Prosecution Agreement addition to the Canadian Criminal Code in the C-74 Omnibus Budget Bill in the summer of 2018, in anticipation that it would have to go to trial and potentially be barred from bidding on federal government contracts for ten years. With a DPA, SNCL could avoid a lot of nastiness and carry on with business as usual while using some of its eleven billion dollar a year profits to pay a fine instead of facing serious curtailment of its business. 

It’s a sordid affair, but apparently business as usual according to some. Bribery is necessary they say in crazy countries like Libya or it would be impossible to do business there. It happens all over the world, all the time, they say. Don’t come down hard on a poor downtrodden company like SNCL because its only doing what’s best for its shareholders, and its employees. Of course, its employees. Nine thousand jobs in Canada! Why, how could we allow a little bribery and scandal in a country like Libya to jeopardize nine thousand good jobs in Canada? Unthinkable! 

There are thousands of people in Canadian prisons for peddling or using drugs. The Canadian government wasn’t worried about them losing their jobs. Yeah, yeah, you might say, those druggies were doing illegal things so they deserved to go to jail! Well, I’m afraid that logic also applies to SNCL if it gets convicted of the charges its facing in court. 

The jobs argument is so ridiculous in any case. “Well, you can’t do that, there would be huge job losses!” I guess the guards and staff at Nazi death camps could have argued that after the war as their facilities were being shut down.[1]Or, horse breeders and buggy whip manufacturers when they were faced with the arrival of the automobile. 

Like I said, this is all pretty sordid stuff. After all, we live in a democracy don’t we? We are all represented equally by our government are we not? We don’t live in a plutocracy, don’t they say? 

Or this: “What kind of a commie opposes our good, wholesome multinational Canadian businesses?”

And what about this?: There is certainly plenty of evidence that the business of the Canadian government (presumably on our behalf) has historically been orchestrated by corporate interests going back as far as Confederation. (It was going on way before that too but Canada wasn’t officially Canada yet.) 

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) of the post-Confederation 19thand early 20thCenturies was the past equivalent of modern day SNC-Lavalin. Of course, it’s not a perfect equivalence, but SNC-Lavalin has been front and centre in the massive transfer of public tax money into private hands by way of infrastructure projects and public/private partnerships (P3s).[2]That’s just like what happened decades ago with the construction of railroads in Canada. No P3s back then, but, relatively speaking, just as much transfer of tax money into private hands. So it goes.

I don’t know what Jody Wilson-Raybould’s motivation is for doing what she did. I tend to believe what she said to the Justice Committee. Gerald Butts to me is unbelievable but a great flag-waver for big business’ interference in Canadian politics. He’s never been in business himself. He’s a policy wonk. But he sure knows who to bow down to when he leaves a room and it ain’t you and me, nor SNCL workers. 


[1]I know I’m not supposed to mention Hitler or Nazis or what they did. It’s kind of an online rule: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

[2]SNCL is proud of its P3s in Canada: http://www.snclavalin.com/en/market-services/capital.aspx

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.

LarryPratt

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.