Alberta will stop buying B.C. wine. Alberta will stop shipping oil to B.C. Is there any hyperbolic policy that has not been explored by the Premier Rachel Notley on the Trans Mountain pipeline?
Alberta has even demanded that Ottawa intervene in the province's resource sector. Strange times indeed.
Politics have been described as the art of the possible and in fairness, Notley is in a bind. Is it possible that a woman could be re-elected as NDP premier in a province whose national emblem might be truck nuts? Recall the mob gathered on the legislature lawn chanting, "lock her up" in an embarrassing display of endemic dumbass.
In spite of steady leadership on many issues, a December poll showed only one-third of voters approved of her performance as premier.
What to do? Picking a fight with B.C. over pipelines is an easy win, supported by 82 per cent of Albertans. However, this gratuitous gambit may not carry the day. United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney leads by 14 per cent in the polls and offers Albertans a more authentic version of the same oil industry policies that squandered a vast resource bounty with virtually nothing to show for it other than a $45 billion debt.
And what about our prime minister? Where does he stand? In spite of his aggressive eco-branding, Justin Trudeau has been unabashedly pro-pipeline. Look no further than this remarkably fawning speech he delivered to the energy industry in Houston, Texas last year, beginning with a pointed mea culpa about his father's National Energy Program. "It was a failure… The NEP introduced a level of state control over energy that hurt growth and jobs."
Trudeau went on to brag about delivering three new pipeline approvals for unrefined bitumen from Alberta. "I make no bones about it. We're very proud of this… No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there."
Extracting, transporting, refining and burning those 173 billion barrels of bitumen will dump some 122 billion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere, yet Trudeau maintains even to Bill Nye that this is the best way to fight climate change.
Interestingly, there is a missing video portion of his speech at the 11:35 mark. A written transcript reveals the omitted words: "And let me be very clear. We could not have moved forward on pipelines had we not acted on climate."
Trudeau seems to be intimating to his Texan hosts that the proposed federal carbon-pricing scheme was the required policy fig leaf to push through contentious pipeline approvals. "Our immediate predecessors tried a different route for 10 years - to ignore the environment. It didn't work any more than the NEP of the 1980s worked. They couldn't move forward on big energy projects." If oil-friendly former prime minister Stephen Harper couldn't deliver pipelines, perhaps the influential power brokers within the petroleum sector merely switched horses.
Trudeau certainly has some high-level fossil fuel friends of his own. Canadians might recall that days before the last election, the Liberals were forced to jettison their campaign co-chair Daniel Gagnier when it was revealed he was advising TransCanada Corp. on how best to lobby a new Liberal government on pipeline approvals.
In a leaked email, Gagnier told TransCanada, "If there were ever a time for energy companies to act with clarity and uniformity, it would be in a change-of-government scenario. An energy strategy for Canada is on the radar and we need a spear carrier for those in the industry who are part of the solution going forward rather than refusing to grasp the implications of a changing global reality."
Gagnier had also served as the president of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC), a petroleum industry-funded think tank whose "sole purpose is to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian approach to energy." EPIC later folded after its former co-chair Bruce Carson was convicted on charges of illegal lobbying on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.
It seems the oil industry "spear carriers" have hit the mark with the current government. On the campaign trail, Trudeau specifically pledged on page five of the Liberals' environment platform that "we will fulfill Canada's G-20 commitment to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry."
In 2017, Auditor General Michael Ferguson tried to investigate what progress, if any, was being made in phasing out such public gifts to the oil and gas sector but was stonewalled by the finance department, which refused to provide the required documents. However, Ferguson was able to conclude that the Trudeau government had failed to even define how it interpreted this commitment.
Efforts to obscure Trudeau's inaction on this file seem to have reached absurd levels. A scheduled public parliamentary committee hearing on energy subsidies last October was abruptly declared in camera by Liberal co-chair Alexandra Mendès, ostensibly to put witnesses "at ease." The cryptic minutes from this suddenly secret meeting state, "It was agreed… that consideration of Report 7, Fossil Fuel Subsidies, of the Spring 2017 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada be postponed until further notice." Problem solved.
Instead of eliminating the many federal petroleum subsidies, totalling almost $1.3 billion annually, the Trudeau government has locked some in until 2025. Direct government gifts to the fossil fuel sector top $3.3 billion when provincial subsidies are included - an amount that works out to about $19 per tonne of CO2 emissions or $237 per Canadian household.
In fact, Trudeau's much ballyhooed federal carbon tax will actually collect less money than the flow of public funds going the other direction towards the carbon production sector between now and 2020.
Another form of perverse government support for the petroleum sector is unreasonably low resource rents - something Canada sadly excels at. A recent investigation by The Guardian shows Canada collects billions less from oil companies doing business here than developing countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia and Ivory Coast. According to University of British Columbia geography professor Phillipe Le Billon, quoted in the article, "The numbers reveal a poor tradeoff: high emissions for not much revenue. It's long-past time for Canada to follow a model like Norway's, which captures far more revenue from oil production."
Realistically, would that ever happen here? It certainly hasn't yet. It is telling that Justin Trudeau made a pilgrimage to Houston to publicly wash his hands of any such ambitions toward resource nationalism - an ideal that was at least aspired to by his father.
Notley's position on the Trans Mountain project may be expedient but at least it's understandable given the imperatives of public opinion in her province.
British Columbians need to remember they hold the same power over the Trudeau government whose renewed majority in 2019 hinges on the 18 seats they hold here - 16 of which are close to the coast. As has been ably demonstrated by Alberta, all politics are local (and expedient).
This article was supported by those who generously contributed to the Rafe Mair Memorial Fund for Environmental Reporting on The Tyee. To find out more or contribute, click here.
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