Gillian Steward, Toronto Star
November 09, 2008
Canada would provide a secure oil supply in exchange for common standards on emissions
Even before Barack Obama won the presidency it was clear the Harper government was rethinking its stance on energy and environmental issues: the traditional Alberta mindset would no longer do.
The first clue was Stephen Harper’s promise, delivered in Calgary during the Canadian election campaign, to ban exports of bitumen — the thick, black, unrefined oil that comes from the Alberta tar sands — to countries with lower carbon emission standards than Canada.
It was a strange promise since at this point not much raw bitumen goes anywhere except the U.S. It peeved Alberta officials who saw it as an intrusion into their territory by the feds.
Nevertheless, Harper signalled that climate change and energy policies are now tied together. This was a big departure for Harper, who a few years ago didn’t even believe in climate change.
The second clue appeared about 10 days later when the Conservative party platform promised to develop and implement a North America-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases by 2012 to 2015.
The third clue was the appointment of Jim Prentice as environment minister.
Prentice is a heavyweight in Harper’s cabinet and much more progressive than some of his colleagues. He is also known for his quiet but effective diplomacy.
He may be from Calgary, headquarters of the Canadian oil industry, but it would be a mistake to think that he is in its pocket.
He certainly knows how the industry works and what it wants. But he also knows how to deal with antagonistic players and arrive at some sort of working compromise.
Final proof of Harper’s new stance was delivered right after Obama became president-elect. He and his key ministers floated the idea of a climate change pact with the U.S. that would see Canada provide a secure supply of oil and gas in exchange for adopting common standards and mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gases.
Since Obama has said that he wants to reduce U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela, Canada is in a great position to become an even more important supplier than it is now. And much of that oil would come from the tar sands.
But Obama has also said that he intends to implement a cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions that would include hard caps.
The Harper plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions has no such hard caps, and neither does the Alberta plan. To harmonize with the U.S. means we would have to substantially rejig our climate change policies.
Harper is often portrayed as an unwavering ideologue. But there’s plenty of evidence that he would rather change his mind than have his minority government lose popular support, especially in Ontario and Quebec.
In 2004 when Alberta premier Ralph Klein wanted to make it easier for private health insurers to operate in Alberta, Harper made it clear that he was not happy with Klein’s plans because they contravened the Canada Health Act. It was obviously more important for him to be seen standing up for public health care than indulging Ralph Klein.
In 2006 Harper reversed his stand on income trusts, a move that infuriated the oil patch. His legislation to recognize Quebec as a nation was a huge turnaround for someone who was once a staunch Reformer.
And yet none of these moves has hurt his party’s standing in Alberta, or the rest of Western Canada. And they undoubtedly helped garner support in other parts of the country.
The energy/environment file is a lot trickier. Harper doesn’t want to do anything that may kill the golden goose of economic development nesting in the tar sands. Several companies have already scaled back or deferred plans due to the current economic climate.
On the other hand, if development of that asset doesn’t adapt to the realities that could be imposed by the Obama administration, projects might be scaled back even further, which would be a blow to the whole country and the federal treasury.
Harper will also have to contend with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach who to this point is less than enthusiastic about his new stance.
Shortly after the federal election he warned Harper that foreign investors won’t want to put money into the oil sands unless Ottawa clarifies its proposed bitumen exporting policy and harmonizes the federal and provincial climate change strategies so they are more in line with Alberta’s.
The second demand seems like a real stretch. In a report issued last month, Alberta’s auditor general said the Alberta government’s $4.7 billion strategy lacks concrete planning and could cost taxpayers billions of dollars without any guarantee of substantial reduction in greenhouse gases.
Stelmach has also demanded a seat at the table if the Harper government enters negotiations with the U.S over a climate change pact. The Alberta premier’s snub of the first ministers meeting tomorrow is yet another indication that he is not happy with the Prime Minister.
Instead of discussing Canada’s economic outlook with his colleagues, Stelmach will be in Europe schmoozing with potential oil-sands investors and assuring them that oil-sands development is greener than a four-leaf clover.
As for Jim Prentice, he will no doubt be logging a lot of air time over the next few months as he shuttles between Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary. Keeping everybody on board is going to be a difficult task.
Source | See Also:Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Harper Govt. to push North American carbon market plan with Obama | UN announces green ‘New Deal’ plan to rescue world economies | UN: financial crisis must not stop climate change action | Mobile phones to track carbon footprint using GPS | Shun meat, says UN climate chief | Climate hysterics v heretics in an age of unreason | Ontario joins continental WCI cap-and-trade scheme | Get set – the future starts now | B.C. carbon tax kicks in on Canada Day | Sarkozy urges climate change action on first day as EU president | Today’s suburbs, tomorrow’s slums? | Oil, oil everywhere? Well, just maybe | Dion begins selling green plan | Road tolls, a bitter pill that works | They call it cap and trade, but it’s just another fuel tax | World has enough oil reserves, says BP boss | House of Commons adopts Layton’s Kyoto Plus bill | Quebec, Ontario sign historic climate pact | Every adult in Britain should be forced to carry ‘carbon ration cards’, say MPs | Dion begins selling carbon plan | Time has come to put ‘price on waste and pollution’: Dion | Is it time for toll roads? | CEOs call for ‘aggressive’ action on climate change | Vancouver to import road tolls from UK | UK proposes national road tolls to cut congestion | Motorists to pay London toll