Clearing the Plains 2.0


A painting by a First Nations’ artist illustrates a point that at first glance looks like a mistake. Imagine a serene wilderness scene. And atop that pristine image of nature, a superimposed Canadian flag rides on top— a flag peeling away from the canvas — paint that will completely flake off over time.

Canada is a work in progress. And it’s the very idea of progress (as we shall discuss in this series of posts) which has put the country in the crosshairs of activists, advocacy groups, and especially our current prime minister.

We believe that if unchecked, ill-defined ambitions for the prairie and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains will echo a history (and a dreadful one at that) in the name of progress.


51abq7sIilL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_James Daschuk is an accomplished scholar at the University of Regina. In this time of Truth & Reconciliation, we recommend his horrifying history  Clearing The Plains (2013). Daschuk describes how the prairies were cleansed with government approval — a sickening policy of disease and starvation — because the Blackfoot and Cree stood in the way of ‘progress’: the building of a transcontinental railway and a settler economy.

From the perspective of the federal government in the late 19th century, the plains Indians, as they were referred to back then, were nomads on a bountiful land that was otherwise going to waste (a sentiment echoed in Australia, for instance, and its concept of terra nulliuswhereby, the vast territory was legally nobody’s per se (because natives never owned land), therefore, the government could do as it pleased. And it did).

There are eerie parallels today.

The petroleum economy that once flourished in Alberta & Saskatchewan—the Canadian prairies, the same place previously cleared of indigenous peoples— has been heavily constrained, methodically held back by state-sanctioned climate change goals in the name of progress.


The prime minister and his cabinet have created the conditions to once more empty the prairie to make way for a progressive agenda.

The iconic pump-jacks, oil sands development, pretty much anything having to do with the petroleum economy are now an endangered species.

We don’t think Justin Trudeau hates Alberta. Nor is he being spiteful as he strangles the province, and its petroleum twin Saskatchewan. He just imagines a greater good for us in confederation and the world.


Our prairie home is to be transformed into a pristine state of endless parkland and protected spaces. And where once there was thriving industry and an economy that kept people on the land, well… you’re getting in the way of progress.

We’re not making this up.

By his words and deeds (as we’ve outlined in prior posts), the prime minister is intent on saving the planet from man-made climate change. Western Canada will be renovated. Our land will be purified. And a thriving petroleum industry on the Canadian plains is not part of the plan.

He’s not alone.

Democrats in the United States speak incessantly about the climate crisis. And New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt insists the big story of 2018 was climate change:

“[N]othing else measures up to the rising toll and enormous dangers of climate change. I worry that our children and grandchildren will one day ask us, bitterly, why we spent so much time distracted by lesser matters.”

And yet, clearing the prairies (this time of an oil-based economy) and creating the conditions for our home & native land to be preserved as a safe place, a safe haven, a safe harbour in the event of global catastrophe isn’t a new idea.

And neither is it a progressive one.

The history of this scheme is an eye-opener. There’s the Cold War and the very real threat of nuclear armageddon. And when that didn’t happen, another existential crisis was proclaimed by The Club of Rome; a doomsday scenario inspired by 18th century philosopher Thomas Malthus (bad things happen when humans fight over limited resources) championed by Petro-Canada’s first president Maurice Strong. And when that didn’t happen as prophesied, yet another doomsday scenario was hatched. And failing that, yet another and another… it almost reads like a conspiracy theory if it wasn’t all true! And it’s a history we will unpack in our next post in the series.

This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill.

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16 thoughts on “Clearing the Plains 2.0

    1. We’re trying to move beyond polarity (either/or ways of thinking about energy & climate)…and beyond complacency!

  1. What I find so intensely interesting is that if the Social Neoliberal “left” is so very concerned about the catastrophic potential effects of climate change, catastrophic effects that will only kick-in if a series of natural feedbacks are triggered, not by CO2 concentrations, but by global temperature that they say (and I tend to believe) is influenced by greenhouse gases, including CO2…

    Why are they shifting us to frack gas from coal?

  2. It’s intensely callous of you to compare Canada’s current mess around energy policies and infrastructure with a government program that intentionally caused starvation, disease and genocide.

    This kind of writing (coupled with your Trudeau treason article) makes me really question your judgement and credibility. Alberta does not need more extreme or inflammatory rhetoric, it needs more thoughtful voices. I had previously thought I could count you as one of the latter, but you’re making me doubt that.

    Please do better?

  3. Are you SERIOUSLY equating Oil & Gas companies, those multi billion dollar enterprises, to the First Nations who suffered horrifically at the hands of the government when they were slaughtered and sent to live on reserves and in residential schools??? SERIOUSLY??

    No one, NO ONE, is “clearing the plains” currently, or at any time in the future. If you really, truly care about Alberta, Canada, the World, wouldn’t you want us to have a plan in place for how we can proceed if and when the Oil industry well and truly crashes? Shouldn’t we have some sort of diversification plan in place so we can weather the next big drop in price without having catastrophic job loss like we did in 2014/2015? Shouldn’t we look to alternative ways to find energy?

    Canadians used to be innovators, we used to get things done, we used to see a problem and work to fix it. Now, all we (in Alberta anyway) seem to be is whining because we got the green sippy cup when we wanted the blue sippy cup.

    This article is horribly racist (you know that), horribly offensive (you know that or you wouldn’t have posted it, that was your point), and in terrible taste (you know that too). You should be ashamed of yourself.

    1. Racist? get a life. What the Canadian Govt did the the First Nations people was barbaric. Not to different from the days of US slavery. Its really hard to imagine that we as society deemed this acceptable back then. I think we have progressed some on these issues. Are we now perfect? Nope. The system is far from fixed. We have now created a feedback loop system that is failing the First Nations people today. The handouts need to stop, and they need to replicate the bands that have become self-sufficient.

      Our grid has been built over decades of development. I welcome renewable s, but not if they require a government subsidy so we can wave the environmental flag. We need renewables to supplement our fossil fuel use, but they have been forced on the market artificially…ie they only work because of the subsidies. If you take a closer look, the grid is really barely keeping up.

      I dont see anyone whining like your sippy cup analogy. In fact I see Albertans that are completely fed up with the pure BS of not only this government, but past governments. Our land locked commodity issue wasn’t created by Justin, but he sure is doing an awesome job of crushing our economy in the futile attempt to save the global environment. If you think C02 is the big global environmental issue, got tell China to quit peeing in the pool.

      Some really good points here about the attacks being made on our industry and economy. All in the vain of some foreign ENGOs that sell a compelling tale of crap. Trudeau is fueling this fire, we need to clean up for the sake of the worlds future…right. Do some research. There is a ton of factual information that blows holes in the climate change scam (historical data being manipulated, clear statistical errors and yes, even outright lies) but its all deemed ‘scientific’ and of course who doesnt want clean drinking water and clean air, but climate change is a scam. Al Gore made millions off lies, but it sure played on everyone’s heart strings.

      Our economy is being crushed by all the enviro BS, and articles like this are good for waking people up. Too bad you didnt like the analogy, but there are similarities.

  4. Yes the cold war was a conspiracy theory, lol… There is another possibility you know – That the threat of climate change is real and you fail to realize that if it is, you and Alberta are in more danger if you work to thwart the efforts of the those who try to avoid the catastrophes associated with it.
    You seem to imagine that Trudeau’s dream is to kill Alberta’s economy and that Alberta is and can only ever be oil and gas. You should give your fellow citizenry more credit than that.

    1. Or climate change is a bogus theory? We are bombarded with climate science ‘facts’, how can you argue science right? Well turns out they have manipulated the data to fit the story. Why? the global warming theory is worth Trillions $

      Trudeau may not blatantly want to kill Albertas economy, but he certainly isn’t doing anything to help. I think he is and was a very poor choice to lead this country. I dont know of anything he has done that would remotely be considered great for Canada.

      1. The reason we are being bombarded is quite simply because it is a looming catastrophe, in fact it is already developing.
        Not doing anything to help? Excuse me but he has so far donated $6.1Bn of Canadian taxpayer monies to Alberta and shows no sign of bleeding us for money until he’s done.
        I don’t like JT anymore than you do and who the hell said has done anything great for the country? Not me.

  5. Donna, I think it is a herculean stretch to liken the Fed’s historic and abhorrent elimination of Plains Indians with its over-reaching control on the oil business. However, it would be a worthy and enlightening study to know how many First Nations people are employed in the oil sands vs. those First Nations people who protest against the industry.

    I think the broader implication of Ottawa’s treatment of Alberta and Saskatchewan is that you just don’t count for much, and you can take your boots and 10-gallon hats to the rodeo and shovel hay.

    As for green house gas and carbon footprints, Ottawa can wrap itself in green as a progressive force, but as the prevailing winds blow across the globe, the CO2 that shrouds Canada came from places many thousands of miles away without a shred of guilt. Meanwhile, watch how your own cost of living grows. The whole climate debate is focused on hobbling the west to the benefit of emerging economies.

  6. I laughed reading through the comments. All the pearl clutching and hand wringing by people completely oblivious to the literal and same policies of John A. MacDonald, still in place to make way for the last remnants of a dying industry intent on squeezing out the last of its billions for the oil barons of the USA. The defensiveness borne of the denial they could be a part of the continuing legacy of their own ancestors. The run from guilt that their comfort and economy could be built on the backs of the marginalized as not only seen by the rest of the world, but by the increasingly louder voices of those bloodied and sickened bodies rising across the nation. The Lubicon Cree, the Treaty 8 Cree, the Wet’suwet’in, the Mi’kmaq; the voices of the past are speaking clearly today, and there’s no more congenial, glossing over allowed.

    The oil and gas industry is as viciously running over the Indigenous with Canadian governments fully in support as it ever was. The ‘rule of law’ only applicable to those protecting their homelands, but not the brutes who ignore the rights of free, prior and informed consent that was confirmed by their own Supreme Court of Canada. They throw women to the ground while their children watch, and then shove them into jail cells without due process. They starve out and threaten Chiefs and Councils who don’t sign on in agreement. Just a few of the lowdown tricks of the modern genocidal policies.

    They rant and dance about as though these were the only options available to their provinces and their Canada even as the rest of the world races to corner the market on alternative energies, including those same American oil barons who sold off their Canadian infrastructure and use that money to fund these new ventures.

    They have choices alright, just as their founding father did. They could support progress in decency or they can turn their eyes from the sheer horrors of their wanton, conscienceless greed. Judging from their statements, we all know exactly what they’ve picked, and that is the only true source of that effort to deny, denounce and ignore the real price of Canadian comfort.

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