They say history always repeats itself. Certainly Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent aggressive posturing in support of oil supertanker proposals on B.C.’s West Coast harken back to another prime minister’s controversial efforts to impose national energy policies on an unwilling province – Pierre Trudeau’s vilified National Energy Program.

Remember it was Prime Minister Trudeau’s despised National Energy Program that spurred “western alienation,” “The West wants in” and ultimately the creation of Harpers’ Reform party.

The seminal provincial/federal tensions of the 1980s National Energy Program fable are worth noting: An aggressive prime minister responds to perceived (but debatable) national interest by imposing an unwanted national energy program on an unwilling province over the province’s strenuous objection. Political impacts reverberate for decades.

It’s amazing to watch Harper making the same mistakes as his historic antagonist. Over the last few months we’ve seen Harper and his appointed minister bully their way into a supposedly independent process, attack and attempt to demonize any opponents (including the 4,000 concerned Canadians who signed up for the public hearings on Enbridge’s proposal), then undermine the consultation with affected First Nations by asserting his government would “justify infringement.” Just for good measure, then Harper flew off to communist China with Enbridge’s CEO in tow to negotiate energy deals and give press conferences, and he is now vowing to cut the Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings mid-way through the process.

Talk about heavyhanded! What ever happened to Harper, the champion of decentralized federalism? What happened to Harper’s promise that Ottawa would listen to the provinces? What happened to the new way of doing politics that spurred the Reform party? I guess they quickly disappear when one gets hooked on becoming an energy superpower.

The questions now are:

  1. Is Harper willing to try to force an unwanted oil tanker and pipeline project on an unwilling British Columbia?
  2. Will this oil tanker and pipeline project become Harper’s re-enactment of Trudeau’s vilified National Energy Program?

Fortunately for British Columbians, despite Harper’s majority he can’t just snap his fingers and make the pipeline happen. There are many avenues that concerned British Columbians, especially First Nations, can take to kibosh Harper’s plans.

The fight will be tough, and protracted. Harper and his Big Oil buddies will play dirty – they’ve already started – but the collective efforts of British Columbians acting together strategically are a force that can’t be overcome.

British Columbians have beat back unwanted oil tanker and pipeline proposals about every decade since the 1970s. The groundswell in opposition indicates Harper is going to have to relearn the National Energy Program lesson the hard way.