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Canada should stop catering to Big Oil

Photo of Tzeporah Berman by Kris Krug

Big Oil must love Canada. Our Prime Minister has become an unapologetic hustler for multinational oil companies (as if the most profitable corporations in history really needed the help). Now the two westernmost premiers are going all High Noon to maximize their cut from oil-sands pipelines.

This year’s premiers’ summit turned into such a bitumen babblefest that it was shockingly refreshing to hear Quebec’s Jean Charest make the obvious point that “you cannot disassociate the issues of energy with issues that touch climate change.”

It’s not the only obvious point missing from the premiers’ meeting. Strangely for poll-obsessed politicians, they also seem to have missed the fact that so many of their constituents don’t care who gets what cut of the action – we are overwhelmingly opposed to pipelines slicing and spilling through the Great Bear Rainforest. Canadian voters want a transition to cleaner energy and want Canada to reduce the kind of pollution that contributes to global warming.

And it is no secret why Canadians are so strongly opposed to the Big Oil agenda: This past month saw widespread drought, crop failures and the promise of rising food prices. Let’s not even talk about news from Greenland and Antarctica – just too depressing. When the hidebound International Energy Agency warns that we face catastrophic climate change and desperately need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, anyone not under the spell of Big Oil would wake up. (Just Google the IEA and you’ll see that these folks are the gold standard for conservative energy geeks. They know what they’re talking about and they are not talking like premiers from Western Canada.)

To the contrary, poor Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter (a clean-energy advocate) has been reduced to keeping B.C.’s Christy Clark and Alberta’s Alison Redford from each other’s throats as they fight over the oily spoils given to those who foist global warming on the rest of us.

If there is an upside to the clash over the Gateway pipeline, it’s that it has crystallized the choice Canadians face between the risks of doubling down on fossil fuels and an alternative that might actually have a future but is quickly passing Canada by.

Our federal government has given up even the pretense of looking to clean energy. It’s been doing everything in its power to give Big Oil everything it could possibly want. Canada has withdrawn its Kyoto protocol commitments, gutted its Fisheries Act, cut research programs and muzzled scientists, demonized oil and gas opponents, killed marine planning in the Pacific and politicized the approval of major resource projects by giving this power to cabinet.

Stephen Harper would not be the first prime minister to lose an election by ignoring the will of Canadians on energy and pipeline questions. A poll released last week found that most Canadians support the development of clean energy, want carbon emissions reduced and don’t believe in expanding oil and gas exports. And polls consistently show that the majority of British Columbians don’t want pipelines like the Northern Gateway project expanding the oil sands to fuel new tanker ports on the Pacific Coast.

Those of us not in thrall to Big Oil are asking just how bad all this crazy weather has to get before policymakers start making sensible decisions. Canadians are starting to ask common-sense questions, such as “Who benefits?” when asked to bear the costs of millions of litres of oil spilling into rivers and the ocean every year. It is a very small and ever-shrinking contingent that is willing to accept more than 300 more oil tankers off B.C.’s rocky coast annually. Given that Canada is blessed with such good options, why would Mr. Harper, Ms. Redford and Ms. Clark aim to quadruple the size of the oil sands instead of growing the less damaging energy systems of the future? Renewable energy systems will provide more long-term jobs and security for our kids and, unlike oil, won’t run out. Is the current crop of elected leaders simply so blinded by the money that Big Oil can throw around that they cannot see the potential for economic growth from clean energy and other sectors of the economy?

For that matter, if the Canadian people really mattered to them, why wouldn’t those politicians do more with what we’ve got, refining more at home to create more jobs with less oil? Why aren’t we saving any non-renewable resource revenues for the obvious transition beyond them, as Norway is doing?

Critically, why is Canada such an incredible laggard when it comes to energy efficiency, the cheapest form of “energy,” as well as falling behind other countries in the development of renewables, electric-vehicle infrastructure and transit?

And most importantly, if we have literally billions of dollars to spend on fighter jets and on subsidizing Big Oil, why is it that our government is spending almost nothing to spark innovation in clean technology or to support the development of renewable energy? It’s time for policy to be designed in Ottawa to benefit all Canadians, not just the oil patch.

Tzeporah Berman is the author of This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge.

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