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The statist impulse : the case of Petro-Canada Lawson, Brian J. (Brian John)


The Statist Impulse: The Case of Petro-Canada seeks to find cause for the establishment and phenomenal growth of Canada's National Petroleum Corporation. The study argues that Petro-Canada is part and parcel of an historically constituted statist dynamic common to all advanced capitalist countries. Utilizing Marxist theory, the thesis contends that statism serves to resolve the problems or failures of capitalist economies, and is an essential prerequisite for the growth of capital. Such was the case with Petro-Canada. The international oil crisis of the early seventies, which resulted in so much economic disorder and concern about future energy security, caused governments to increasingly turn to state enterprise, in the hope of filling their national petroleum needs. The statist impulse was furthered by the fact that the private oil companies, particularly in the eyes of .the majority of governments, failed to respond to the crisis adequately or satisfactorily. After an examination of the western industrialized nations growing reliance on state capitalist forms for obtaining energy security, the thesis investigates Petro-Canada in more detail. The study develops the point that Canada's vigorous public enterprise tradition played no small role in the crown corporation's creation and success. It is then argued that although the NDP and nationalist wave of the late 1960's spawned the concept of a Petro-Canada, the Liberals and Federal state singlehandedly implemented the proposal. The Government wholeheartedly embraced Petro-Canada, not for the sake of the NDP, but for reasons having to do with state capitalism. Through Petro-Canada's subsequent participation in numerous joint ventures, the state has socialized part of the private oil industry's exploration and development risk so as to prod the petroleum corporations into greater activity. But the crown corporation has also acted as a substitute for the petroleum giants in certain areas, such as crude importation, so as to protect energy dependent general capital. The study contends that from a position of outright hostility toward Petro-Canada, the private sector gradually accepted state intervention into petroleum because of the lucrative joint ventures. Accordingly, it is argued that the state acted autonomously in setting-up Petro-Canada, without the support of the Canadian bourgeoisie. Finally, the study looks at the Tory effort to dismantle Petro-Canada and concludes that statism, in the form of the National Petroleum Corporation, proved too potent a force for the Conservatives to tackle. The issue of 'privatization' politically isolated the Tories from the majority of Canadians and became such a contentious internal issue that it divided and paralyzed the Conservative Government. In the end, Petro-Canada helped defeat the Tories and symbolizes the victory of state-capitalism over anti-statism.

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