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What would Obama do?
One can only guess what Obama would be saying about these extraordinary deposits were they on American territory. I bet he’d be shelving his difficult and costly arctic ambitions in favour of something so accessible.
Instead, he wags his finger at Canada for producing its own oil, resulting in a bizarre energy policy that makes eastern Canada reliant for oil on the savage oligarchs of Saudi Arabia. Increasingly, unless Canada gets its act together and builds pipelines, we will also see the U.S. turn us into customers for its fuels.
We do have elected leaders at the provincial and territorial level—premiers Christie Clark, Rachel Notley, Brad Wall, Darrell Pasloski and Bob McLeod come to mind—who grasp the significance of energy security, environmental protection and economic progress. Our prime minister has articulated good intentions, but the country is still waiting for decisions that will stabilize national prosperity and challenge our dependence on Saudi blood oil, while also assuring Canadians that progress is being made on greening the economy.
Here’s a suggestion. Let’s create a National Energy Council for Canada that is external to government and can provide trusted advice on energy security. Such a body would need to ensure that the various interest groups were consulted, in particular First Nations.
An aboriginal-led vision for the future of energy
Recently I spoke to Matt Vickers, an entrepreneur with Tsimshian/Heiltsuk and Haida roots. His concept for an all-commodity rail line from Fort MacMurray to tidewater in Alaska may provide the breakthrough concept that puts Canada back on the map as a nation with a long-term energy vision.
The Generating for Seven Generations project aims to secure the support of First Nations, building an alliance that will unlock the resource bottleneck and enhance Canada’s environmental reputation.
Like Obama, Vickers takes a multi-decade approach and no doubt such an ambitious project will require many years of development.
For the time being, however, Canadians do need to ensure that landlocked Canadian oil and gas is able to reach markets. I’ve calculated that what some lobbyists are demanding Canada do by shuttering its petroleum industries is equal to vaporizing the entire economy of Vietnam.
One thing we should be reminding ourselves is that Canada already stands apart as both an environmental and an economic leader. Recently I examined data showing the performance of the world’s top 20 nations on these fundamental metrics. It turned out that no other country outranked Canada for a combination of economic and environmental performance.
Yes, it’s true that there will always be the motivated interests who insist that Canada is a bad actor on the environment. In fact, Canada deserves kudos, not condemnation, for its environmental record. More Canadians need to be saying this. Money being spent today to denigrate Canadian workers and industries would be much more productively employed in places like Saudi Arabia where human rights are not respected, and the truly committed might be able to save some lives.
Ottawa’s recent decision to approve B.C.’s Woodfibre LNG project is a glimmer of hope. Although the project is relatively small in scale, it’s still an important bellwether to indicate where the federal government will land on bigger decisions. At Resource Works, we were quick to congratulate the environment minister for doing the right thing.
In the face of climate change, we know that investing in improved technology is the key to reducing the harmful side effects of our fossil-fuel reliant society. Recent stricter rules for methane emissions, for example, should be understood as a challenge to be inventive—not an anchor being tied around the neck of the energy economy. At the recent ProtoHack event in Burnaby B.C., I met with a group of young innovators working on a plan to monitor methane escape from above. This is the kind of thinking we need more of.
A cri de coeur from working families
We also need to respect the views of northern residents, including aboriginal residents.
Last week, across rural and urban northern B.C., many hundreds came out to show their support for liquefied natural gas exports. Their voices, supported by federal scientists who weighed in favourably about the Pacific NorthWest LNG project after examining all the evidence, will likely be important ones over coming weeks as cabinet prepares to make a decision on what is said to be the largest capital investment in Canadian history. We have also seen the coastal Lax Kw’alaams First Nation throw its support behind the project.
Politicians following the polls might calculate they can ignore rural interests and pander to the urban voter. Ignoring the root creators of national wealth—that is to say, our resource toilers—would be a disastrous move, since about one-third of the economy depends on their foundational work.
The choice is clear.
We can lavish our hard-earned money on the Saudi princes who killed Joselito Lidasan Zapanta (little known fact: the Saudis behead people like others take vitamins, once a day).
Or we can sustain a homegrown industry that builds aboriginal self-reliance and dignity for tens of thousands of Canadian families, while respecting the environment.
Sending the wrong signal to global investors at this delicate time for the world economy would be devastating for a generation of Canadian economic hopes.
Many countries try to treat their own products preferentially over imported ones; for Canada today, all we need to do in the case of Pacific NorthWest LNG and other energy projects is to ensure that we don’t treat homegrown energy products more harshly than identical goods we import from abroad.
I’d be seriously astonished if our federal cabinet really prefers to buy Saudi blood oil over Canadian oil. The new leaders we have in Ottawa may not have chosen these conditions, but they do have the power to make change.
The solution is simple: a blood tax to eliminate Canada’s unacceptable $100-billion Saudi oil habit, combined with a level playing field for our own goods.
Stewart Muir is an environmental historian, journalist and founder of Resource Works, a non-profit society that encourages “respectful, fact-based dialogue on responsible resource development in British Columbia.”
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