Rex Murphy: Tar Sands Booster, Dead To Me

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Rex Murphy, never a critical element in how I discern the world, is now officially dead to me. He’s a blustering tar sands cheerleader and disparager of all things otherwise.

On Saturday in his above the fold cover piece in the National Post, Rex Murphy: Danny Williams and Ed Stelmach desperately need a dose of each other, he had some valid insight into how the Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador premiers could learn from each other. Along the way he let us all know what he thinks of tar sands critics [my emphasis]:

Ed Stelmach is neither the voice nor the face to make the case for Alberta’s number one industry, at a time when that industry is the black-circled target du jour of every Gaia-stoked enviro in the world — along with the more hysterical of the global warming brigade that are blazoning Alberta and the oil sands as the No.1 Horror of the Cosmos.
This is a time at which his province and its industry needs a champion, someone who can talk the track off a D-12 dozer, and has the courage and skill to take on everyone from Hollywood satraps to the NGO militias that are at work day and night to brand Alberta as the environmental bad boy of the entire planet.
Alberta is being trashed continuously from continent to continent by bands of the most savvy publicists and propagandists — from Al Gore to Greenpeace to the IPCC itself — that play the game of cause politics.

And through his flourishing rhetoric, Murphy does land on three salient points. The first is about how Canada’s economy benefits from the oil sands. That’s true, but sadly the ecological price will be bourne by everyone, the poor of the world disproportionately so.

In describing the value of the east coast oil development as a replacement for the flattened cod fishery, Murphy reminds us that for those of us wishing to leave the tar in the ground and shut down the tar sands, the responsible thing to do is find an economic replacement for those people already exploited horribly with boomtown rental rates in Fort McMurray. I would suggest taking all the scientific and technical talent involved in the tar sands and applying it to greening our grid.

The second point is that the federal government would not have been so able to bail out the floundering automakers if not for Canada’s oil position. That presumes the correct move was to bail out the capitalist extortionists who held jobs hostage for solvency. Reframing our industrial policy could have turned carbon-based auto makers into manufacturers of green energy and transportation infrastructure. We missed that boat, though.

The final point, though, relates to the necessity of finding work for those we displace through a policy opposing the tar sands:

Why aren’t we proud of the oil sands?  … Properly understood, the work of investigating, mining, processing and building the infrastructure to extract the oil — the whole complex of engineering and techological achievement represented by the oil sands — should be a story of  Canadian triumph. It’s as singular an achievement in its way as a genuine masterwork of literature or art. This is some of the most sophisticated, pioneering work of its kind in the entire world

While he lauds the innovation required to tackle the tar sands problem, it’s like he’s talking about a moonshot. The problem is that all this human energy is being directed to a cause that will exacerbate climate breakdown. Again, let’s harness this mass of human skill, insight and creativity for solving our energy, climate, food, transportation and economic crises instead of building an industry that will speed out or self-destruction.

What is clear here, is that Murphy has some insight into the issues surrounding the tar sands. What he lacks in abundance is vision for what the new world ought to look like, coupled with his rejection of the IPCC as a biased special interest group. And for that, I have no time for his bluster.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website,

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6 thoughts on “Rex Murphy: Tar Sands Booster, Dead To Me”

  1. Great post. As you say, if all of the public funds and scientific resources being devoted to “cleaning up” the Tar Sands were to be applied to the development of renewables, Canada would be on the right track to economic prosperity without environmental destruction. Unfortunately, Rex (and Iggy and Harper) don’t get it.

  2. Perhaps, but he is totally ignoring our lack of ingenuity when it comes to dealing with the consequences of the development of the Tar Sands. The Athabasca watershed is being poisoned, the boreal forest is being destroyed, and CO2 is being pumped into the atmosphere. How can Canadians be proud of our technological innovation when it is destroying the environment? The Tar Sands make me ashamed to be a Canadian.

  3. Murphy has been on my shit list ever since he publicly sneered at critics of the Iraq invasion on his CC Checkup soapbox. He’s a neanderthal in every respect.

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