Much commentary around the current federal election has centered on the apparent lack of a focus on policy instead of arguing about who did the most embarrassing thing in their youth (or as a 29 year old school teacher). It makes it seem like this election is about nothing, but nothing is further from the truth for Alberta and for the oil industry.
It’s no secret that we face a somewhat hostile environment in terms of public opinion outside our provincial borders these days. Partly this is due to grassroots concern about climate change, partly it has been manipulation of these fears by well-funded special interest groups to single out Alberta as climate enemy number one, as Vivian Krause has uncovered and reported on in her documentary “Over a Barrel”. But regardless of the source and validity of people’s fears about our effect on global climate it is an issue that we must confront.
This is, therefore, a time when we need leaders who are fearlessly supportive of us.
Leaders who emphasize the futility of fighting production here as a means of reducing global emissions, because emissions are almost entirely determined by the rate of consumption of fossil fuels globally, and it matters relatively little on a wells-to-wheels basis where the oil came from.
Leaders who push back, as Jason Kenney has, against people who collapse measurements of our “Environmental, Social, and Governance” (ESG) metrics to just a portion of the “E”, and ignore other aspects of our environmental performance as well as the social aspects where Alberta is a world leader.
Leaders who don’t shy away from advertising the benefits a strong Alberta offers to Canada as a whole, that many jobs across the country supply services and materials to the oil industry, and that our taxes fund social programs elsewhere in the country to the tune of $20 billion per year.
We have a leader like that provincially in Premier Kenney, but federally Prime Minister Trudeau has vacillated between lukewarm platitudinous support (usually only on the rare occasions he visits Alberta), to talking about his real long term goal of phasing out the oil industry entirely.
President Obama wasn’t scared to promote and enable the unprecedented boom of the American oil industry against the wishes of his own environmentalist base because of the benefits to his own country, all the while blocking Alberta’s exports by stalling the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline and then cancelling it the day after Trudeau was sworn in. Yet despite that betrayal by the former leader of our closest ally, Trudeau was perfectly happy to accept his endorsement yesterday.
Certainly in the industry we all know the Trudeau government’s litany of past sins against Alberta. One of their first acts upon taking power was to announce a tanker ban on the north coast of BC, later formalized in Bill C48, which blocked any hope of the Northern Gateway pipeline being built. Then they introduced a new process for the National Energy Board to review pipeline applications which led to the death of the Energy East project.
Finally, their interference in the pipeline industry, including Bill C69, led to the proponent of the Transmountain Expansion (TMX) being ready to give up on Canada. Then the Liberals were forced to buy the last major project under consideration in this country rather than admit that their decisions had made it completely untenable for private business to finance and construct a major pipeline.
Trudeau shows no signs of being any friendlier to Alberta in a possible second term. He is imposing a carbon tax after a majority of Albertans explicitly rejected one in our provincial election mere months ago, and is likely to increase it well beyond the current plan of $50 per tonne. In the French leaders’ debate he even referred to struggling Albertans in the energy industry, over 100,000 of whom are still out of work, as “oil barons” who must be stood up to.
Worse, in a likely minority parliament, he will be forced to seek support from the NDP and Green parties. Both would transform Trudeau’s callous negligence of the energy sector into a full out assault on our livelihoods. They would both demand a halt to work on TMX and that immense hurdles be put in place of any new oil sands projects. On top of that the Greens are calling for an immediate ban on all fracking which would also eliminate almost all remaining other activity in the resource sector along with countless jobs.
Many say that Alberta may even separate if a Liberal-NDP coalition takes power, and it could well be the least bad option we have in that scenario. It would mean giving up on a future government allowing pipelines to the coast, but at least we would be able to save the wealth we produce now rather than subsidize those who voted to strangle us. We would also have an easier time continuing to develop resources within our borders to fill the capacity we do have, and as long as President Trump is in power we would have a chance at building additional export capacity to the US. But no one should expect that to be an easy road, and there is potential of Elizabeth Warren becoming president next year on an even more anti oil platform than the Canadian left which would cut off the southern export route.
So this election truly is existential for the industry, for Alberta, and for Canada. Anything other than a Conservative majority means a likely halt to development of major projects, increasing costs on producers and consumers, a continuing flow of workers and business relocating to the United States, and possibly even the eventual breakup of Canada.
This election really is about everything.