Lasting success will require a complicated balancing of values and tackling of challenges through a broad and open process that reflects the interests of all Canadians, not just those of the oil and gas industry.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government seems intent on locking Canada into a one-dimensional strategy aimed primarily at increasing raw oil exports at the expense of both the environment and other economic opportunities. In turning a blind eye to the changing realities of the global energy economy, they are squandering Canada's ability to cash in on a clean technology market that reached $1-trillion last year and is expected to grow to $3-trillion by 2020.
The Conservative government's unbridled support for massive new pipelines exporting raw bitumen shows their willingness to put multinational oil company profits ahead of the interests of Canadians. Cabinet ministers continue to promote the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in spite of dramatic and growing opposition from Canadians.
Never mind the fact that the pipeline would cross more than 600 salmon-bearing rivers and streams, or that it would introduce upwards of 200 super tankers per year to one of the most active earthquake zones in Canada, and an area with a reputation for unpredictable weather and punishing winter storms. A major spill would have disastrous impacts on the environment and ecosystems and could jeopardize more than 45,000 jobs in the fisheries and tourism sectors.
The federal Conservatives seem likewise unconcerned that the project would ship out more than half a million barrels of raw bitumen each dayakin to shipping out tens of thousands of good processing jobs.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Cabinet is so committed to fast tracking raw oil exports that it used a Trojan Horse budget bill to completely rewrite the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act. With no prior consultation and no willingness to consider amendments, the Conservatives forced through dramatic changes that will limit public participation in regulatory processes and replace independent panel decisions with ministerial decrees.
At the same time, they have ridiculed and attacked anyone who dared to raise concerns about the real risks presented by oil pipelines branding Canadians as "radicals," suggesting foreign influence, and using the Canada Revenue Agency to intimidate environmental organizations.
But Canadians refuse to be intimidated, and opposition to the Northern Gateway proposal continues to gather momentum, fuelled in part by recent high profile spills on Enbridge operated pipeline networks.
A review by the U.S. National Transport Safety Board of Enbridge's tragic 2010 spill at Kalamazoo, Michigan, revealed damning failures in the company's safety operations which allowed oil to spill for more than 17 hours after alarms had been triggered. Crews are still working to clean up the three million litres that spilled into the river system and damages have already surpassed $800-million. In presenting her scathing report, the NTSB chairman urged stronger regulatory oversight of pipelines to avoid such tragedies in the future. Regrettably, the Conservatives are moving in the opposite direction by gutting environmental protections and fast-tracking approvals.
Canadians have watched repeated Enbridge spills the latest pouring 190,000 litres from a modern pipeline in Wisconsin and they are not willing to put our environment and the jobs that depend on it at risk to pad oil company profits.
Even B.C. Premier Christy Clark has become convinced that the risks outweigh the benefits, sparking a war of words with her Alberta counterpart. This inter-provincial dispute is a clear indication of a lack of federal leadership on energy issues.
This lack of leadership is costing Canadians today and in the future. As other governments invest in positioning their countries to reap the windfalls of the global market for low-carbon goods and services, the Conservatives are actually reducing federal support for clean technology. The elimination of the ecoENERGY for Renewable Power Program is already driving companies to set up shop in other jurisdictions and leaves Canada at risk of being left behind in one of the fastest growing sectors in the world.
The Conservatives have also cancelled the hugely popular and highly effective ecoENERGY home retrofit program. As a northern, energy-intensive country, it should be a no-brainer to invest in energy retrofits that save consumers money, reduce environmental impacts and relieve pressure on electricity demand. The program more than paid for itself in economic spin-offs and tax revenues generated.
While cutting federal support for the promising clean-tech sector, Harper continues to hand out more than a billion dollars each year in tax breaks to oil and gas companies breaking a G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. These perverse subsidies not only consume significant government revenues, but also distort the market by discouraging investments in cleaner energy alternatives.
There are already thousands of Canadians employed in the clean technology sector and with a willing and engaged federal government as partner, we could add thousands more both in serving Canada's energy needs and tapping lucrative export markets.
The costs of Conservative mismanagement will only increase as future generations are left to pay for the liabilities created by the Government's failure to enforce existing environmental laws and their weakening of regulatory review processes.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are encouraging raw bitumen exports that send value-added jobs overseas, deny sustainable long-term employment to Canadians, and ensure that we don't capture the full value of our resources
Their incoherent approach to energy will saddle future generations with environmental and economic costs for years to come.
Instead, New Democrats believe we must engage Canadians in a conversation about our energy future and together build a strategy that takes advantage of our existing strengths, including both fossil fuels and renewable power resources, and the huge potential to tap new and emerging markets in a green energy economy.
NDP Energy and Natural Resources Critic Peter Julian represents Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.
The Hill Times