It is hardly news by now that export pipelines are crucial as far as the long-term health of Canada’s oil & gas sector is concerned. Opposition remains at fever pitch, and multi-billion dollar projects are in limbo, held hostage to political and bureaucratic wrangling.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau blames Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the impasse, arguing that the government failed to build support in the United States and among concerned stakeholders in Canada.
“[F]or all Mr. Harper’s talk about the economy and natural resources, he’s been all hat and no cattle on pipelines… We are no closer to getting the two main pipelines that he’s been pushing — Keystone XL and Northern Gateway — passed than we were on the very first day he was in office. Indeed, we’re further [away],” Mr. Trudeau said.
Mr. Trudeau further alleges that Prime Minister Harper’s failure to build consensus is to blame for the oil sands’ public relations problem.
“[Prime Minister Harper] talks about being the best friend that Calgary has ever had, that Alberta has ever had, but he hasn’t gotten pipelines built. He has made the oil sands an international pariah, and with friends like Stephen Harper, Alberta doesn’t need enemies.”
Mr. Trudeau paints an eminently attractive picture here. It would be a boon to the industry and to the millions of Albertans who rely on it if a change in leadership at the top could suddenly overcome opposition and, at the modest cost of greater regulatory oversight and carbon taxation, usher in a Canadian oil & gas pipeline boom.
The view has its merits, but questions as to execution remain.
Pipeline construction is a politically charged business for the moment, and there is little reason to think that a change in government will do away with the noisiest and most disruptive opposition.
Indeed, in the era of “professional” activists who freely engage in criminal activities and abuse of regulatory process to win in adjudication what could never be won at the ballot box, Mr. Trudeau’s conciliatory approach is unlikely to work. Odds are it would backfire, as he learned to his chagrin when he discussed his views with celebrity activist Dr. David Suzuki.
And this is just the problem. Even the most casual observer should by now be acquainted with the hyperbole and paranoia that characterizes anti-industry discourse. A survey of any online media site will yield a vitriolic tapestry of obfuscation, misleading facts, and outright lies in its commentary boards. Already many of these commentators attack Mr. Trudeau and even Mr. Mulcair as pro-industry stooges. The short of it is that the fanatical street corner blowhard of yesteryear is the hate-spewing internet demagogue of today.
Mr. Trudeau may well believe that his approach can counter this destructive opposition. Mr. Mulcair apparently does as well, having evinced an intent to champion Canada’s resource sector while “[making] sure that… development continues responsibly and sustainably.”
But given the uncompromising stance of modern-day anti-pipeline radicals who willfully disregard laws and condemn unfavourable electoral results as “anti-democratic,” to adopt a seemingly innocuous “balancing” approach where “consultation” is the order of the day risks playing into the hands of activists.
It is precisely this increase in red tape and incessant “consultation” that will turn a by-the-numbers regulatory approval process into a virtual veto for any holdout or fringe malcontent. The end result will be a tiny minority holding hostage developments affecting millions, contrary to the spirit of governmental regulation.
It should not be a surprise that detractors are not interested in winning their battle in the marketplace of ideas, because it is much simpler to heckle, posture, mislead, and hope that ostentatious displays of self-righteousness will suffice to silence opponents. In this light, detractors’ vaunted commitment to “science” is mere demagogy. Consider that opposition to fracing remains strong, despite a finding by President Obama’s EPA – hardly a bastion of pro-industry bias – that there is no evidence linking fracing activities to groundwater contamination. Similar unreasoning obstinance greets both pipelines and natural gas, ignoring that the alternatives, rail and coal, are far more impactful on the environment. In contradistinction, they tout the potential of so-called green technology, seemingly unaware of its shortcomings and impracticalities. And of course they oppose nuclear power, a safe, emissions-free, and fatally unfashionable alternative to fossil fuels.
This intentional ignorance of facts is what should be expected from an agenda that routinely treats as “science” discredited propaganda like the film Gasland and that makes saints out of celebrity activists who attack Alberta’s source of livelihood, do a brief photo-op, and fly back to their California mansions in their private jets. In short, the critics are not fighting an environmental war, they are fighting a culture war, where perceptions matter more than truth and where environmental activism resembles more a lifestyle choice than a firmly-held conviction.
To get an understanding of the sanctimony, hypocrisy, and lack of good faith they will encounter among these traveling “professional” activists, any politician looking to compromise would do well to recall the character Squealer in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
When asked why the ostensibly egalitarian pigs had requisitioned the farm’s precious apples and milk for their exclusive consumption, the crafty porcine propagandist responded thus:
“Comrades!…You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.”
If Mr. Trudeau is indeed sincere about taking industry detractors to task, and if Monday’s election results are in his favour, he deserves the best of luck.