A few weeks back, on August 26th, I had the honour of giving a talk in Banff, Alberta to the Canadian Energy Executives Conference. I also had the pleasure of a dinner/discussion with many attending that meeting. What I was asked to consider was, not to put too fine a point on it, the future of the oil and gas industry in Alberta.
The meeting took place very shortly after the calling of the present election, which gave the issues to be raised in that election, and emphatically the fate of the energy industry in Alberta and other provinces, immediate and unchallengeable relevancy.
It is obviously an “Alberta” issue, but the contributions the industry makes to the overall welfare of the entire country and has for decades, makes it equally a priority national issue.
It is at the core of Canada’s industrial success. We are one among those nations, who have within their borders, and therefore within their sovereign competence, the most necessary commodity of modern times: energy. In a highly technological age there is practically nothing – nothing – that does not have as its most basic requirement a supply of reliable power, from the phone in your hand to the MRC machines in our hospitals. Every other industry depends on this one industry. From farming to aerospace. Let me underline this plainest of facts: Modern society, modem Canada cannot function without ready supplies of energy. No facet of our current society can be maintained without energy.
My contribution to the meeting of executives, as I saw it, was to underline and reemphasize this utterly basic fact. Not that any single person attended did not already know it; or that my saying it would somehow make it even more true. But, as the great writer Samuel Johnson once observed, “men more often need to be reminded, than informed.”
The truth about Alberta’s energy is known to all, but for a number of reasons that truth does not seem to move policy. In fact, that truth has been for decades either obscured or outlandishly denied. What we have come to call the environmental movement, and especially in the years of the Trudeau government, has steadily and with intent, sought to deny the full functioning of the oil and gas industry of your province; has signed on to international policies that have as their goal the injury or – in what they would see as ‘ideal’ – the complete elimination of it.
So when the conference met in Banff my thoughts were at first what we might see a change in this election, change that is in policy and attitude towards the West and its cardinal industry. Would we see some recognition that the continuous degradation of the industry from inside the country (enviro and NGO groups), from Ottawa (either stalling or outright denial of any and all pipeline projects) would itself become an issue?
Would the federal government, especially that of Mr. Trudeau, finally recognize that its full-force embrace, almost obsession with the global warming movement, which has made Alberta its chosen target for decades, was more than hurting that province: it was, in effect, a national government setting up as the main opponent of that industry. The Trudeau government’s global warming passion – if you stand aside from it for a moment – is, in this context, an anti-Confederation policy.
Mr. Trudeau himself famously gave utterance to his view of oil and gas when he blurted out at some gathering “we can’t shut down the oil and gas industry tomorrow.” He meant our, the Western oil and gas industry. It was an astonishing statement for the Prime Minister of a country whose possibly greatest resource is oil and gas, to make.
No other government in the whole world would let slip a declaration such as that about what it considered its industrial base. But here in Canada, and this is the other point, also obvious, that I wished to underline at the conference, under the hyped-up, continuous and intense propaganda against oil and gas – very largely supported and disseminated by our main media – running down Alberta, picturing its industry as villainous and potentially “world destroying” has become normalized.
Such an attack on a primary industry could not be maintained for any other province. The federal government would not be mute, and especially not actively supportive, of a campaign against Ontario manufacturing, the auto industry (also, when you think about it, an oil and gas industry itself) and it would be heresy and damnation to campaign against a Quebec industry. Nor would it by policy and preference effectively lock down one province’s main industry, as it has done with pipelines in Alberta. The TMX buyout was the exception that proved the rule.
The conference was at the beginning of the election. We are now in its last week. Laying aside the naked opportunism of calling it in the first place, and in the still-raging pandemic which makes the call shameful, what have we seen? Has the fate of Alberta – and it is the fate of Alberta that has been at stake for the last few years – been the subject of a discussion or debate? We have more news about pebbles tossed by some losers at Justin Trudeau than anything like a central discussion of the future of the oil and gas industry.
On the contrary, we have had every party – every one of them – rabbit on about “reaching net zero emissions” an impossible goal, but one more stupid than impossible. We cannot retire from the 21st century because Justin Trudeau wants to be seen as Captain Planet, and Saviour of our apocalyptically global warming globe? It’s nonsense. Talk of urgent “greening” is a fable and a fantasy, and even if the doomsters were correct – and they are not – what Canada does or does not do for global warming is irrelevant when China, India, American, all the underdeveloped countries of the world are not even in the game.
Net-zero in Canada, as I said at the conference, is an easy code for neglecting or ideally shutting down oil and gas. And as I have said in many places before, the government of Canada has to make a choice: does it wish to work for Paris (as in the Paris agreements) or does it want to support Alberta. Very much the former it seems to me. Which explains the deep disenchantment and the emergence of serious separatist sentiment in Alberta. I fear this election will only deepen that sentiment, even as it ignores it.
Rex Murphy is a Canadian commentator and author, primarily on Canadian political and social matters.