COLUMN: Canada’s ‘ethics’ on oil disingenuous

Appeal to reason, by Ron Heusen

By Ron Heusen

The recent Canadian assertions that tar sands oil is ‘ethical oil’ and Saudi Arabian oil is ‘blood oil’ has a pasty, disingenuous feel to it.

There is nothing wrong with taking the moral high ground, as long as you live by the code you preach.

Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian theocratic monarchy whose king is both head of state and the head of government. The Qur’an is its constitution and Sharia is law, making it notoriously intolerant of free expression.

I prefer our western secular model that allows us the free thought and intellectual contribution to grow beyond ourselves, so my impulse is to accept any moral position that rejects religious oppression.

However, that acceptance is subject to the caveat that we must in turn walk on moral ground.

If we believe Saudi oil finances insurgency, oppression and death, then we must accept that by extension any country that purchases Saudi oil is unethically complicit.

That places Canada in a moral quagmire because as we exhort moral indignation, we actively import Saudi oil on our east coast and export so-called ‘ethical oil’ from our west coast.

For 65 years, our closest trade partner has had no moral issues with importing Saudi oil or with its tight relationship with the House of Saud.

In 1945, aboard the USS Quincy, President Roosevelt gave King Abdul-Aziz $20 million and promised to protect the royal family in exchange for access to Saudi oil and influence around their oil policy.

This deal secured a future for the House of Saud as one the wealthiest dynasties on earth and true to their word, America has sold Saudi Arabia $100 billion in advanced military weapons and stationed thousands of American troops there.

This long-standing relationship gave the House of Saud the kind of power that ensured any boat-rocking democratic reform was unlikely.

If Saudi oil is what we profess it to be, for us to champion a position of morality we should completely halt its purchase and denounce any nation that imports it.

That is implausible because belying our hollow ethical rhetoric is the pragmatic truth that given our global addiction to oil, our current pipeline and refinery infrastructure and Saudi Arabia being a major American arms purchaser, the U.S. and Canada will continue to buy Saudi oil.

If we are to entertain ethical discussions, why not consider the morality of furthering an argument for expansion of our oil sands by exploiting violent Saudi oppression, when common sense dictates we know we will not stop buying their oil.

What is our ethical responsibility to the environment or future generations as we annually turn 350 million cubic meters of glacial Athabascan river water into toxic sludge, laden with carcinogenic elements?

The attempt to sanitize the oil sands by trying to portray a greater ethical purpose around human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia is, in and of itself, an acknowledgement that the oil sands cannot defend their production on an environmental platform.


Retired Nanaimo resident Ron Heusen writes every second week. He can be reached through the News Bulletin at