A new strategy article posted on Infoshop

Perhaps more than at any other time in its history, the Canadian state has invested its future in a single massive industrial project. The Tar Sands (1) is increasingly the driver of Canada’s economy, a symbol of its national identity, and central to how it seeks to position itself globally in the future. As pipeline projects advance across the continent, there is a pressing need for us to understand how, in opposing the transportation of Tar Sands oil, we have an unparalleled opportunity to disrupt the capitalist political system in this country. This is especially important in Ontario, where presently the movement against the pipelines is weakest.

Up to now, the Tar Sands oil has been largely landlocked and its price is suppressed by the glut of supply this has created in the markets that can access it. The elites in Canada see this inability to access broader markets as hurting their profits, which in turn reduces their ability to reinvest in expanding the Tar Sands. From the perspective of the powerful, Tar Sands oil must have access to ports in order for the project to expand. The Canadian government has also been finalizing free-trade deals with China and the European Union, so the buyers are lined up once the oil is available.

Opposition to the extraction and transportation of Tar Sands oil has largely been seen as an environmental issue, with an emphasis on climate change and carbon emissions. Sustained resistance by Indigenous communities has made the issues of Indigenous sovreignty impossible to ignore in the Athabasca basing and in the regions crossed by the pipelines. In the past year, struggles against Tar Sands pipelines have intensified across the Canada and the United States, and more reasons for opposing the Tar Sands have blossomed with each new community in struggle.

The Tar Sands is not just an environmental issue though, and it does not just affect the areas around its pipelines. The Tar Sands is increasingly central to how power exists in the Canadian territory. The current push to build pipelines is a crucial moment for both the financial and political systems, and for the movements that oppose them.

I don’t want to be another voice claiming that one issue is the centre piece of the system of domination. However, this escalation in the movement and production of Tar Sands oil is very real and current, and it has links in almost every part of Canadian society. Here are a few examples:

  • Austerity cuts to social programs are made with the same stroke of the pen that removes environmental oversight from pipeline projects and that sends massive subsidies and incentives to oil and pipeline companies. (2)
  • The government prepares for the fallout of scrapping social programs by expanding the prison system (3). Those most affected by prison will continue to be Indigenous communities and people of colour, and these communities will also continue to bear the brunt of the toxicity associated with oil refining and manufacturing related to Tar Sands production. A company owned by an Enbridge executive has already received a contract to build a new prison in Nova Scotia following the passage of Bill C-10, the crime bill (4).
  • Currently, about ten thousand men from Atlantic Provinces are employed in the Tar Sands (5), being coerced through economic necessity to spend their lives in boom towns like Fort McMurray, in an atmosphere dominated by drug addiction, organized crime, and sexual violence. These social problems then travel back home with them.
  • Currently, there are several pipelines (including the Pacific Trails (6)) being built to supply the insatiable Tar Sands with natural gas. However, some industry estimates still say that even with this added supply, they’ll be out of gas there in less than thirty years. The state intends to respond to this by building as many as twelve nuclear power plants. This waste will likely be stored on the shores of Lake Huron (7), and this escalation of nuclear power will likely fuel a new phase of nuclear armament as powerful countries vie for dwindling resources.
  • The rhetoric of Canadian oil for Canadian consumers is preparing for a global future of ever increasing inequality. Alongside assuring its “have” status, Canada is moving to secure its borders, restricting freedom of movement and cracking down on migrants. The constitution of a national identity around privileged access to to a decisive energy resource is inseperable from xenophobic, racist policies.
  • Other areas in Canada are undergoing a boom in destructive extractive industries, particularly in the north. The Ring of Fire (8) developments in Ontario and le Plan Nord (9) in Quebec are two important examples. Financially and politically, these projects are deeply tied to the Tar Sands. It is only by maintaining privileged access to oil for industry that the Canadian state can envision these projects being at all viable over the long time frames imagined for them.
  • Most of the factors discussed above affect Indigenous people disproportionately, because of the long-standing racist, colonial stratification of Canadian society. Native people who resist the Tar Sands and other incursions on their land and sovreignty are increasingly being treated as terrorists by the state, with huge amounts of intelligence resources dedicated to disrupting and suppressing their movements (10).

So if we recognize that the Tar Sands is a vital chokepoint for the political, economic, and industrial systems in this country, how do we position ourselves against it?

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