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Unity threatens Tories' tar sands

John Bell

February 6, 2013

The concept of divide and rule has been around a long time, no doubt as long as human society has been divided into classes. Stephen Harper and his crew deserve no credit for thinking up the strategy, but they sure know how important it is to wield it.
Tom Flanagan is Stephen Harper’s ideological guru, a charter member of the “Calgary School” of deeply conservative academics that formed the brain trust of the Reform Party and today’s Tories. He advised Harper through many campaigns. He is consulted all too frequently as a media pundit, and it should be recalled that in 2010 he used a CBC TV interview to call for the assassination of WikiLeaks figurehead Julian Assange.
In 2009 Flanagan published a document called “Resource Industries and Security Issues in Northern Alberta” for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, a Calgary based “think tank.” It is worth reprinting the “executive summary” of this remarkable essay in whole:
“The rapid expansion of natural-resource industries in northern Alberta, accompanied by growing environmentalist and aboriginal-rights movements, raises issues of possible extra-legal and even violent resistance to industrial development. Five potential sources of opposition can be identified: individual saboteurs, eco-terrorists, mainstream environmentalists, First Nations, and the Métis people. All except the Métis have at various times used some combination of litigation, blockades, occupations, boycotts, sabotage, and violence against economic development projects which they saw as a threat to environmental values or aboriginal rights. Such incidents will probably continue in the future, as they have in the past. However, extra-legal obstruction is unlikely to become large-scale and widespread unless these various groups make common cause and cooperate with each other. Such cooperation has not happened in the past and seems unlikely in the future because the groups have different social characteristics and conflicting political interests.”
For Flanagan and the petro-interests he unceasingly serves the “rapid expansion” of the Tar Sands and other northern mining projects is imperative. They honestly believe that their divine mission is to wring every penny (rounded up to a nickel) of Tar Sands profit before global warming forces the rest of the world to quit burning fossil fuels.
The document is a threat assessment. It clearly states that the real threat to unbridled Tar Sands development is unity between environmentalists and First Nations: “If two or more of the five categories of people described above … came together in a single movement, they could become a serious obstacle to development….”
Flanagan wrote that the chances of such unity are low for two reasons. First he argues that mainstream environmentalists simply want to stop developments like the Tar Sands while First Nations want to control and benefit from any development on their lands. Second he points out that First Nations responses vary, that there are divisions between and within the Nations.
Flanagan and his disciples are anything but stupid–these are real sources of tension within our movements and we need clarity, discussion and mutual respect to build real unity. But we need to know that while we work toward solidarity, the other side will try to take advantage of these differences to divide, weaken and conquer us.
Given all this, the wonderful unity between First Nations in BC and people far beyond the usual environmental groups, in opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, is the stuff of nightmares for Flanagan, Harper and the Tar Sands profiteers.
Environmental defence and indigenous sovereignty become completely intertwined and mutually beneficial. New layers of people are exploring a history of colonialism and what it means to be an ally. Small wonder that when Idle No More arose, general support for it was higher in BC than anywhere else.
The rapid rise of solidarity in BC must have caught the Tories napping. Their first efforts to break the unity were almost laughable.
Environmentalists were called traitors and compared to terrorists. Then they trotted out the old “ethical oil” arguments, now so thoroughly discredited they exist only as the punchline of a joke. Then Enbridge proudly announced the support of the Gitxsan First Nation, only to see the people of that nation rise en masse and throw the few bureaucrats who had signed the deal out of office. Then they released a map of the proposed tanker port with all the pesky islands that make navigation so dangerous miraculously erased. Can you say PR disaster?
Idle No More poses even greater challenges to the Tories, and to the very concept of the Canadian state. The move from a particular campaign to more general and sometimes deliberately vague aims makes it easier to employ divide and rule tactics.
So Harper’s team released an old report on problems in Attawapiskat, one that predated the election of Chief Theresa Spence, in order to discredit her. Newspapers ran stories about corruption and mismanagement in First Nations. The grain of truth was magnified to absurd proportions.
Troublingly, First Nations leaders like Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, and current leader of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo made high profile visits to Harper while Chief Spence’s fast was going on. Here the Tories took advantage of the divisions within the indigenous community to weaken the growing grass-roots movement.
And then comes Tory Senator Patrick Brazeau, whose claims to speak for indigenous peoples are met with almost universal laughter and insult, to make insulting jokes about Chief Spence at a Tory fundraiser. The real face of Reform Party/Tory racism is revealed.
Idle No More is not going away. Anti-pipeline solidarity continues to grow. Short of declaring martial law, divide and conquer is Harper’s only hope. So far they haven’t been very good at it, but rest assured the lights burn late in the PMO while they try to come up with an effective wedge. Forewarned is forearmed.

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