It’s a Matter of Balance
As much as I have criticized from time to time the policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government, I do not envy the position he is in, as he must come head to head with a decision that pits serious environmental issues against economic realities for a major region of our country, if not for all of Canada. In many ways it is a lose-lose situation and it will be a significant test of his leadership, his backbone, and a lasting mark on his legacy.
The Trudeau cabinet has until the end of this month to decide whether or not to accept the recommendation of a joint federal-Alberta expert panel to approve an application by oil giant Teck Resources for a mega-project in northeastern Alberta. The plant would produce about 250,000 barrels of oil every day. As currently planned, it would not eliminate significant carbon emissions until 2050. It would provide 7,000 jobs and bring extensive benefits, royalties and taxes to a struggling Alberta economy. The joint task force has concluded that in spite of the negative environmental risks, it is in the public interest for the project to proceed.
The Trudeau Government has made climate change its mantra. They have politicized it to the point that it transcends every other issue. Whether or not they have made actual definable progress in addressing climate change is debatable but there can be no doubt that they have cloaked themselves in the phenomena. How then do they address an issue where the environment is definitely a problem but where other factors, including the reality that Canada is a resource-based economy, are also a huge and life-changing factor?
Now before someone starts yelling and screaming that I am a climate change denier, let me say as emphatically as I can that I am not. Neither, however, am I a catastrophist. Climate change is real. It has been real since the beginning of time and there is no question that it is now accelerating at an alarming rate. Nor is there any question that this acceleration is due largely because of humankind.
The immediate question facing us, however, is how to effectively address climate change. I confess to serious doubts, for example, as to whether a carbon tax really works or if it is just an excuse for politicians to convince the masses that they are really fighting climate change while they actually sit on their hands and avoid the anger of their corporate friends. Why haven’t we seen hard data related to how much carbon emissions have actually been reduced since the introduction of the carbon tax? And where are the stiff fines and prison sentences to mega corporations that do not use the latest technology to minimize all pollutants including carbon in our atmosphere? Premier Ford reportedly wants to loosen emission rules for industry. I say tighten them. That will force corporate giants who want to stay in business to spend some of their resources to find effective environmental remedies and solutions for the products they manufacture or produce. If push comes to shove, you can bet your booties they will do it.
Having said all of the above, the hard reality is that human beings occupy this earth and as long as we do we will leave a footprint. We can control pollution, but we cannot erase it. I am far more impressed with those scientists and academics who seek effective new technologies to replace harmful pollutants and to control those that cannot be duplicated, and to develop new ways of doing things that vastly reduces pollution, than I am of those of the Chicken Little variety that simply shout that the sky is falling.
As I have said earlier in this commentary, Canada has thrived as a resource-based economy. We cannot change that overnight, if we can change it at all. And there is an honest question to be asked about the degree to which we should change it, especially if we can find new ways to bring these resources to market in a manner that will minimize a negative effect on the environment. What we can do and what we have proven time after time over the centuries is that we have the capacity to develop innovative methods to deal with serious challenges to our economy, our environment, and our standard of living. That is what we do best and that is what we need to do now.
It is in this context that I believe the federal government should accept the recommendation of the federal-provincial task force—that they appointed—to proceed with the Teck oilsands project in northeastern Alberta. There should be conditions, of course. There need to be strict requirements for Teck’s investment in the latest technology for environmental safety as well as a requirement for ongoing innovative research. The Province, as well, should come to the table with hard commitments to reduce pollutants of all types in Alberta.
As someone who was born in Edmonton and whose family has deep Western roots, I know that Albertans are a proud people, proud of their heritage, proud of the contribution they have made to other parts of Canada during the hard times, and determined to seek their own destiny and well-being, utilizing the resources that they have. For the most part, they are also proud Canadians. They do not seek handouts and woe betide any government that thinks they can be bought off with “aid packages”. Albertans are as conscious of the need for a healthy environment as anyone else and they believe they can achieve that and still have a strong economy with resource-based industries creating jobs and prosperity for Western Canadians.
The federal government is well aware that fossil fuels are not going away in the near future. That is one of the reasons they own a pipeline in Western Canada, which given recent court decisions looks closer to a reality. Allowing more oil production to reach their markets, under the proper environmental conditions, is a logical next step.
Even so, it is a tough decision that the Trudeau Government has to make. It is not do or die for the Liberals. If they approve the Teck development, the Tories will support them, if they don’t approve it, the Dippers and possibly the Bloc will come to the rescue.
It could, however, wreck the country. Albertans will view a rejection of what they believe is a major boost to their economy as further proof that the federal government does not give a hoot about much of Western Canada. Ironically, Québec could get their shorts in a knot as well because they are currently lobbying for a liquefied natural gas pipeline (also a fossil fuel) between Alberta and Québec. Can Prime Minister Trudeau say no to Alberta and yes to Québec? And if he does, what a hell of a dust-up that would be! On the other hand, if Mr. Trudeau says yes to the Teck development, he will risk the ire of core supporters who will believe he is abandoning his commitment related to climate change. Will he have the courage to stand up to that?
The prosperity of Canada from both an economic and a cultural perspective depends on a healthy, finely-tuned, and highly strategic balance between two major underpinnings: financial stability and environmental integrity. These can often be at odds with each other. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
It may take a Solomon, but the true test of leadership is not to cop out on one side or the other, but rather to find that balance.
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