I come not to praise Rex Murphy, for his evil will live long after him

If there was one “intellectual” who most muddied Canadian thinking about the future of energy, it was Murphy

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden will raise import tariffs on China’s electric vehicles by 400 per cent, according to the Wall Street Journal. My inbox and timelines are now full of Americans pondering what Biden’s move means for the global economy, legacy automakers, climate change, and the fate of human civilization generally. But no Canadians. Why is that? 

US President Joe Biden. AFP/Getty Images photo by Jim Watson.

The easy answer is that Canada is an insular, provincial country content to be an economic and intellectual hinterland to the United States. Our elites, our leaders, are too busy squabbling about the latest petty internal issue to worry about changes in the broader world in which we live.

Not true, you object, what about the current protests over atrocities in Palestine or the escalating angst over climate change? Aren’t they proof that Canadians are plugged in? Well, exceptions abound to any rule. But when it comes to my beat, the global energy transition, the easy answer still holds true.

Why aren’t Canadians pondering what Biden’s need to protect legacy automakers means for Canada’s industry, the world’s 13th largest auto manufacturing sector? Or what it means for the future of petroleum, the feedstock that powers the internal combustion engine, given that Canada is the world’s fourth largest crude oil producer? 

I return time and again to this frightening quote from Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis NV (parent company of Chrysler and Jeep) and a grizzled veteran of the global auto industry:

“If the automotive industry doesn’t move, this industry will disappear under the offensive of the Chinese industry…The magnitude of the Chinese offensive, the competitiveness that they can demonstrate and the massive arrival of all of their best carmakers is a significant change.”

Carlos Tavares, CEO, Stellantis NV. Source: Stellantis.

Disappear under the offensive of the Chinese industry? Can Tavares seriously be arguing that the manufacturing sector at the heart of Western industrialization for the past century is about to be engulfed by the industrial tsunami that is “made in China”?

I read Tavares’ quote to Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, on a recent Energi Talks podcast and asked him to respond. His reply is chilling: “Well, that’s the end of the interview because what else can I add to that? He’s hit the nail on the head.”

Why isn’t the China threat front page news? Why aren’t policymakers debating the issue in legislatures across the country? More importantly, for our purposes today, why aren’t Canadian journalists and news organizations shouting this from the rooftops?

Rex Murphy, that’s why.

The most polarizing writer in modern Canada died on Thursday at the age of 77. Some remembered him fondly as a leading liberal intellectual of the sixties and seventies, a worthy successor to CBC radio icon Peter Gzowski on the Cross Country Check Up show. But most focused on his years as a shill for the Alberta oil and gas industry and his headlong plunge into the murky world of alt-right conspiracy theories that included his hatred of all things Trudeau.

Rex Murphy. Source: Random House.

Murphy in his later years was unreadable, especially on energy topics. 

His Postmedia columns were CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) press releases regurgitated as Trumpian word salads. He had nothing new to say, but if paid by the pound for his polysyllabic verbosity, he died a rich man. He was, however, widely read and roundly praised by the empty-headed “thought leaders” of the Calgary Petroleum Club and other dens of business iniquity across the country. No more damning thing will ever be said of poor Rex.

Allow me to try: if there was one writer, one “intellectual” who most muddied Canadian thinking about the future of energy, it was Rex Murphy.

By the time the Murphy clones in Canada’s news media notice what’s really going on in Washington, or more importantly what’s going on in Beijing, it will be too late. 

Which is only fitting because Murphy missed it entirely.

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