OTTAWA – Of all the specific Conservative government promises and priorities cited in this week’s speech from the throne, there was only one — building pipelines — that merited an urgent call to “seize the moment.”
“A lack of key infrastructure threatens to strand these resources at a time when global demand for Canadian energy is soaring,” Gov. Gen. David Johnston recited as he laid out the Harper government’s mid-mandate policy blueprint.
“We must seize this moment. The window for gaining access to new markets will not remain open indefinitely. Now more than ever, our future prosperity depends on responsible development of these resources.”
In a speech that ran over 7,000 words, this was no accident.
Proposed balanced budget legislation didn’t get a “seize the moment” boost in the document. Nor did promised consumer protections, new tough-on-crime measures, immigration reforms, a federal spending freeze, or even free trade negotiations — notwithstanding an imminent deal with the European Union.
But “Seizing Canada’s Moment” just happens to be the title of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing blueprint for the second half of his majority mandate.
And as Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has been trumpeting since mid-summer, getting Alberta bitumen to market is the matter that must be seized.
“If we are going to seize the opportunities we need to act now — develop our resources, build the infrastructure, diversify our markets and lay the foundations for the future,” Oliver said in a Aug. 26 speech in Yellowknife.
“Because make no mistake, this moment — this opportunity — is perishable. It will not last forever.”
Just last week, Oliver repeated his message that the clock is running out on Canada finding a way to get its resources to Asia’s energy hungry market.
“The resources are in the ground but they don’t necessarily have the same demand if you wait,” he told The Canadian Press.
Placing resource development infrastructure at the rhetorical heart of the Conservative throne speech won’t do much to placate environmentalists already convinced Ottawa is in the pocket of the oil and gas industry.
Six years after the 2007 Conservative throne speech stated that “climate change is a global issue and requires a global solution,” the 2013 version doesn’t mention “climate change” once.
Clare Demerse of the Pembina Institute called the throne speech language “disappointing.”
The speech provided no timeline for long-overdue regulations on the oil and gas sector, nor did it even mention Canada’s 2020 target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Greenhouse gas emissions are going up again,” Demerse said in an interview.
“And in the absence of much stronger federal or other policies in Canada, they’re projected to grow even more to 2020.”
Environment Canada currently predicts Canada will miss its 2020 emissions target by more than 100 million tonnes — “more than the total emissions from passenger transportation in Canada, every bus, plane, train, SUV and car devoted to moving passengers,” said Demerse.
The long-promised oil and gas regulations are “really make or break,” said Demerse, with the sector accounting for almost a quarter of national emissions. The oilsands are the fastest growing segment.
The government did promise in the throne speech to work “with the provinces to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sectors while ensuring Canadian companies remain competitive.”
It also said it will “enshrine the polluter-pay system into law,” without providing details.
Demerse fears that the Conservatives are narrowing the notion of “polluter pays” to simply increasing liability insurance and fines for spills.
“Unfortunately the government has taken carbon pricing options of all kinds off the table,” she said. “You’re missing one of the best tools to actually start dealing with Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.”