Evidence from multiple and very credible sources, including the latest report of the US State Department on Keystone XL, overwhelmingly supports the fact that the extraction and processing of bitumen produces more greenhouse gas emissions than other types of oil.
Conservatives have failed to address greenhouse gas emissions in the oil sands, and that has given our resource a poor reputation internationally. The Keystone XL report also found that oil from the oil sands is more greenhouse-gas intensive than other types of oil-something that the Conservatives should have begun to address years ago with regulations. Instead, they've allowed industry to stall regulations for the oil and gas sector.
Many Canadians support US President Barack Obama's statements recognizing the need for a shift to renewable energy and the urgent need for action on climate change, and to reduce the carbon footprint of fossil fuel extraction. The Conservatives' persistent refusal to act may damage our relationship with our closest trading partner and push Canada further out of step with a developing global consensus.
EU Fuel Quality Directive
Canada's international reputation and our trade interests are also being damaged by the Conservatives' gutting of Canadian environmental standards.
Former Canadian environment commissioner Scott Vaughan warned that trade partners are starting to consider the environmental impacts of how a resource is extracted, treated and transported in international negotiations. This warning has fallen on deaf ears.
The debate over the EU Fuel Quality Directive is a wakeup call for the Harper government. If the federal government had made responsible choices, and had regulated environmental impacts of oil sands projects at the outset, Canada would not be in this position.
Instead, we have seen the government furiously lobbying and bullying our international partners including with threats of trade wars.
Concerned Canadians have been demonized and treated as radicals. Conservative mismanagement of the environment is threatening Canada's economic relationships abroad.
Conservatives are wasting taxpayer dollars on trying to debunk the EU study that recommended the EU Fuel Quality Directive, instead of responding to the initial problem: the fact that our international partners want us to tackle our climate change obligations. The Conservatives would rather lobby against EU fuel standards instead of tackling our own environmental challenges. No matter how much the Conservatives attack the Europeans, it will not change the fact that Canada has an increasingly poor reputation because of the government's actions.
What we would do differently
New Democrats believe energy policy should rest on three key-principles: sustainability including the polluter-payer principle, value-added, and the highest levels of safety and security for the environment and for affected communities.
The NDP recognizes the fundamental importance of developing natural resources in a responsible and sustainable manner using environmentally friendly technology. Unlike the Conservative government, New Democrats do not see a conflict between developing clean energy and responsibly developing fossil resources. Clean-energy technologies are clearly essential, not only to create lasting jobs but also to put Canada back in parallel with our major trading partners.
The late Peter Lougheed, a former Alberta premier, understood the need to think and act like an owner when it came to managing his province's oil wealth. When asked about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would initially ship up to 830,000 barrels of unprocessed crude every day to the US Gulf Coast, Lougheed shared some wisdom that we would be wise to consider: "We should be refining the bitumen in Alberta and we should make it public policy in the province."
Today more than 3.5 million people are employed in the renewable energy sector in Europe, in spite of record-high unemployment rates. Between 1999 and 2008, 180,000 jobs were created per year in Europe's renewable energy sector, according to the European Commission.
Since 2000, German policy has been to become one of the world's most energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly economies, maintaining a high level of economic prosperity. Employment in the renewable energy sector in Germany now exceeds employment in the auto industry. Almost 380,000 people were employed in renewable energy sectors in 2011 and this amount is expected to grow to 500,000 by 2020.
Canada can also pursue a clean-energy transition and benefit from the hundreds of thousands of new jobs that could be created. Unfortunately, under the current Conservative government, we are unlikely to seen any change from the current "rip-and-ship" approach.
Peter Julian is the official Opposition critic on energy and natural resources and the NDP member of Parliament for Burnaby-New Westminster, BC.