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Joe Oliver channels famous autocrat with open letter (hint: al-Assad)

Federal natural resources minister Joe Oliver created a media frenzy when he released a letter yesterday -- more like a tantrum, in my opinion -- lambasting critics of Enbridge's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline.

Calling them everything from foreigners to economic saboteurs, hypocritical celebrities and radicals, Oliver's remarks seemed more akin to 1950s Cold War-era red-baiting, in which progressives, sympathizers and - yes - even celebrities were blacklisted (here in Canada too), hauled before panels of politicians eager to investigate their patriotism.

Much can be said - and no doubt will - about the kind of political climate that rhetoric about 'outsider,' 'foreigner,' and 'radicals' rhetoric creates. Indeed, it serves to marginalize dissidents, and alienate them from the public. But it also has the tendency to backfire - especially when public opposition to Enbridge and the tar sands project is so high.

My hunch is that even more people will begin to question the Harper government's belligerent, bullying backing of the world's most environmentally destructive project (the Alberta tar sands) and the associated pipelines.

And if that's not enough to worry you about the direction of our political climate, perhaps this will -- only hours after Minister Oliver's open letter, Syria's embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad gave a rousing two-hour speech accusing protesters of being... you guessed it: foreign-controlled radicals intent on destroying Syria's economy.

Now, no one's suggesting that Harper will send in the troops on the growing opposition to Enbridge. But it reveals a lot about the increasingly authoritarian climate of Ottawa.

Let's break down excerpts from Oliver's letter (in bold) and al-Assad's speech. Is the comparison apt? You decide.

Joe Oliver: Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade.

Bashar al-Assad: Regional and international parties who are trying to destabilize Syria can no longer falsify the facts and events.
O: They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.
A: Regional and international sides have tried to destabilise the country... We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders against the country... The external conspiracy is clear to everybody.
O: They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources.
A: The Arab League is no longer Arab, we should call it a 'Foreign League.' Their situation is like a doctor who smokes and recommends to his patient to give up smoking while he, the doctor, has a cigarette in his mouth.
O: Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further.
A: We do not want an opposition that sits in embassies, that sits with us and blackmails us and that engages in dialogue with us in secret. Let them call it whatever they want.

O: Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

A: A great part of the psychological war is launched now against Syria... They failed in all the issues which have a political aspect. Then they moved to the economic aspect. Of course, the stock market rates and the exchange rates of the Lira do have an effect, and do we know that when the value of the Lira decreases, prices increase.

O: Unfortunately, the system seems to have lost sight of this balance over the past years. It is broken. It is time to take a look at it.
A: If reform is forced, it will fail. Reform for us is the natural path.
O: We believe reviews for major projects can be accomplished in a quicker and more streamlined fashion.
A: Reform cannot be based on the crisis, otherwise we will legitimate foreign interference.
O: Canada is on the edge of an historic choice: to diversify our energy markets away from our traditional trading partner in the United States or to continue with the status quo... For our government, the choice is clear.
A: Those who stand in the middle are traitors... There is no alternative.
O: It is an urgent matter of Canada's national interest.
A: God willing, we are going to be victorious.

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