In Andrew Coyne’s world, prime ministers talk, but premiers “squawk.”
Coyne is the epitome of centralist smug. As a political pundit for Maclean’s magazine — and a CBC-TV panellist — he exudes contempt for the petty, insular demands of provincial leaders.
Like his cousin, Deborah, and her ex-boyfriend Pierre Trudeau, he believes strong provincial powers to be backward and destructive; a nuisance, a hindrance to the almighty Canadian Republic, which aspires to loftier sophistication amid whitewashed conformity.
Moreover, Coyne dearly worships free-market principles, untethered by the parochial desires of unwashed livyers who dare to covet more say in and benefit from their own resources.
On CBC’s “At Issue” panel last week, Coyne furiously railed against the all-party campaign in Sask-atchewan to prevent the province’s potash industry from falling into foreign hands. His indignance was palpable; he could barely force a smile as the other panellists bantered back and forth. Chantal Hébert and Allan Gregg — both insightful minds themselves — did not seem impressed with Coyne’s tirade.
Saskatchewan, Coyne sneered, is asking Ottawa to do its dirty work by blocking a takeover bid.
Because it’s federal legislation, Gregg tried to interject.
And so it continued, with Coyne stubbornly blind to any suggestion that Saskatchewan’s plight was unique.
Such condescension, of course, is not new.
In August 2007, after Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams signed a deal for the development of the Hebron oilfield, Coyne unleashed a vicious piece of mockery in the National Post.
To say his column, “Danny Williams, you’re the Man!” was dripping in sarcasm would be like saying a tsunami is dripping with water. It was a childish attempt to save face after having slammed the premier’s tough stance on oil companies the year before.
“You sure showed them, all those big oil companies and their white-shoe lawyers, those homegrown naysayers and the pundits in the national media,” Coyne wrote, referring to Williams.
Then he offered a cursory interpretation of the Hebron royalty regime, no doubt taking his cues from those same “homegrown naysayers” he refers to. Some of his numbers were wrong, and what wasn’t wrong posited only the worst possible combination of factors.
He also took aim at the province’s 4.9 per cent equity stake.
“I know: it’s to give the province ‘a window’ on the industry. But at 4.9 per cent, the province would have precious little say in the operation. … Indeed, there’s something bizarre about the government paying for the right to participate in the extraction of a resource it already owns.”
First, the province doesn’t own the resource; it jointly manages it and reaps the lion’s share of benefits. And in any case, what is “bizarre” about a government taking a piece of a resource development project? Hundreds of countries all over the world do it, and rarely at the expense of scaring off private investment.
The equity stake provides a seat at the table, to look at the books and at the operations, as well as to enjoy a share in profits.
In Coyne’s world, provinces should stand back, let the developers have their way, take their royalties and shut their gobs. The benevolent forces of free-market competition will make sure everything turns out hunky-dory.
(God bless those kind-hearted multinational corporations. If you’re good to them, they may even obey cleanup orders when they’re done.)
Coyne’s corporatist zealotry is disturbing. But it’s his patronizing attitude towards provinces that takes the cake. His description last week of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall “raising a squawk” really drove home where he’s coming from.
In that pantheon of belittling national media personalities — those rife with prejudice and misconceptions, who snicker about the narrow-minded antics of premiers — Coyne is one of the worst offenders.
It’s comforting — but only in a misery-loves-company sort of way — to see him pummel another province for a change. It emphasizes that he doesn’t save his dogmatic dressings down for Newfoundland alone.
Atta boy, Andy! You sure showed those uppity premiers a thing or two.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.