Friday, September 6, 2013

Today in Conceptual Stretching: Petrostate

An old post of mine has been resurrected today.  I was responding to a fairly strident post about whether Canada is a petro-state.  I am beginning to think that Petro-state is the new imperialist--a label that used to have some meaning but now is losing much of its flava.

Why?  Because the arguments about petro-states tended to be about what happens when a country develops oil and what it does to its institutions.  Well, what it does to places that have weak political and social institutions.  Canada has come to oil late in its political development--it has had parties, elections, associations, laws, and all that sort of stuff for generations.  So, oil will certainly impact Canada, and may distort its politics and economics, but not in the ways we conventionally conceive of petro-states. 

We tend to think of petro-states as those countries where the economy turns on the single commodity of oil, where the development of oil preceded institutions, and so on.  Using the label to describe Canada might be a fun and useful ideological tactic, but I tend to think it does not inform but confuse and distract.  This blog is evidence of that--I would not be calling foul on conceptual stretching if the argument itself made sense.  Indeed, in the twitter conversation, I raised questions of causality--are the policies that the folks find to be problematic ones that preceded the discovery of oil?  Like how land claims of the indigeous folks are treated.  Because the point is that if they preceded the development of oil, then oil cannot be a cause of such policies.

The fun hypothetical question for all of this is this: if the Liberals or NDP win the next election, will their policies be any different than Harper's?  If so, then Canada is not so much a petro-state than a democracy with competing interest groups, with the oil patch in ascendancy right now.

Oh, and regarding Harper's foreign policy, some of it is due to oil stuff--climate change, but his stances on Israel, Iran and Syria are probably not due to the economic interests of oil folks but the ideological interests of particular groups (evangelicals... and other big fans of Israel).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you should reread Arnott's article. You seem to have missed the entire point.

Also, on the point of colonization: just because Canada was less of a petrostate at the time of first contact, does not mean that oil resources are not now contributing to colonial policies. You have a simplistic understanding of colonization.