November 2021 was a month of some tense and dramatic headlines.
From unprecedented flooding in the lower mainland of B.C. causing widespread damage to the shut-down of both the Trans Mountain pipeline and Parkland’s Burnaby refinery with gasoline rationing to the emergence of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant renewing travel and supply disruptions, the second half of November has been a roller coaster ride of headlines bringing renewed tensions.
Oil prices declined more than 12% last week as oil demand recovery was hit by Europe’s rising COVID cases just as the United States prepared to dip into its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to try to lower global prices. U.S. nat gas futures slumped by 10% as producers contemplated a return to profitable pricing in 2022. In addition, anti-fossil fuel messaging took a dangerous turn with David Suzuki’s comment that “There are going to be pipelines blowing up if our leaders don’t pay attention to what’s going on.”
Since the last half of November also brought the House of Commons back in session in Ottawa, it seemed a good time to check in with newly minted Shadow Minister for Natural Resources, the Honorable Michelle Rempel Garner to take the temperature and check the pulse of the health of national discussions in the House, especially those concerning energy.
According to Rempel Garner, issues in the House of Commons are being addressed with a silo mentality – with an unwillingness to share information between parties and with the public. She identifies three main silos in the discussions of natural resources – the first surrounding the issue of inflationary pressures and the second around supply chain issues. She says both these issues are powerful enough that they have the potential to dominate parliamentary discussion.
“The energy sector is a large component of the Canadian economy which means that it impacts the jobs and livelihoods of many people across the country. But it’s also a key part of ‘getting things to people’ and we’re seeing a lot of inflationary pressures as well as supply chain issues across the country.”
She sees a third silo around the intersection of natural resources and the environment. Certainly, there is an emerging sense that there will be pressure from the two ministers involved to address issues of natural resource development from a viewpoint that excludes a rigorous understanding of the mechanisms of Canada’s resource economy.
With a degree in economics and many years of experience working with the University of Calgary in their research portfolio examining initiatives like CCS, Rempel Garner has a rigorous understanding of energy and the Canadian economy.
“It’s been frustrating for me to watch the liberal side’s very simplistic political narrative that divides our country and reduces our capacity to address any of these issues as opposed to working together to meet climate change targets as well as to keep our country employed and warm and keep the cost of living down. Many people want to talk about a low carbon economy in the context of Canada first before talking in the context of something that the global community is striving for.”
Rempel Garner does think there is a big opportunity for Canada’s natural resources to address many of the environmental concerns that are being put forward by the global community. She examines how we’re going to be assessing and addressing issues – from how we should be addressing energy security in Canada with our domestic sources of energy to how we can address energy security in the context of climate action.
As Canadians watch news coverage of the devastation in B.C. due to extreme weather, we hear a call to action to help and to address climate action. It’s encouraging to see in the background of all the videos of the cleanup activities in B.C., a massive deployment of diesel-powered equipment, and powerboats, with helicopters flying equipment into inaccessible areas.
We see how hydrocarbons have a role to play in rescuing people, bringing supplies, and powering the cleanup. One can’t help but think that we wouldn’t want to risk energy scarcity by abandoning hydrocarbons too quickly and limiting our abilities to respond to emergencies while we wait for renewable supply and infrastructure to be scaled up.
At the PTAC’s 2021 Net Zero/Methane conference earlier this month, University of Ottawa professor Monica Gattinger pointed out that the biggest issue facing net zero initiatives is that there is a lack of consensus about it. Michelle Rempel Garner thinks that leaders need to disclose more detail about their approach to net zero.
“I don’t think the government has been specific about its approach to net zero. Their opaqueness and their arbitrariness around the target as well as their lack of ability to bring the different levels of government as well as industry and workers together in the conversation actually harms the environment.”
She says the work that has been done in both voluntary and provincial jurisdictions – like the cap on carbon emissions that Alberta put in place some time ago – should be fully acknowledged by the federal government. In addition, Rempel says there are arbitrary targets that are put forward by the government and there’s no meaningful route to achieve them.
She points to a Parliamentary Budget Officer report which came out just last week which questions the government’s ability to even measure carbon emissions. Rempel Garner says moving towards net zero has to be done with a robust plan. She says a defined role of government has to be in lockstep with workers, with industry, and with provincial governments. She proposes this approach as a path to prosperity and security for people – rather than the current exercise that is limited because of the lack of a plan.
“Young Canadians – particularly those that want to see climate action and also want to see jobs and have some security- prefer an approach with a robust plan for net zero. In addition, I think that you’re going to see opposition parties work together on a plan for net zero in this parliament to showcase the government’s lack of competency at a time when we need firm leadership,”
At the same PTAC conference mentioned earlier in this article, Assistant Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Drew Leyburne made the comment that since the Government of Canada is going to move to net zero by 2050 “We have the luxury of a thirty-year goal post.” However, in the same session, he also stated that “Net Zero 2025 is becoming the goal” a disconcerting mixed message on timelines for the industry which needs clear timelines to obtain financial resources from the market as well as government.
Rempel Garner is calling for clear timelines that industry can use. She points to the need to create market-based solutions that are also regional which create affordable, readily available alternatives to carbon-intensive consumer products and practices.
“To date, this has not occurred under this government because right now carbon for the most part in Canada is relatively price inelastic- both carbon energy as well as other carbon consumer-based practices. We have to make alternatives readily available. Unless those alternatives exist, we are going to be getting our carbon energy from very high carbon sources like Saudi Arabia. As we are purposefully moving to a low carbon economy, we should be using carbon energy that has been decarbonized in its production to the highest extent possible.”
Since Canada is a leader in CCS and CCUS and companies are making it part of their carbon solutions, it seemed important to address a rumor that perhaps CCS and CCUS were being perceived unfavorably-as enabling increased hydrocarbon production.
Rempel Garner sees this position as a false dichotomy. She points out we should be incentivizing the decarbonization of energy within our own country so that we can be securing energy availability for Canadians both from a price perspective and a jobs perspective while also displacing any high carbon energy that we are importing.
Her view is that we are currently actually incentivizing increased high carbon energy production in OPEC countries, many of which do not have anything near the level of restrictions on carbon emissions as Canada does.
She says, “We should be dis-incenting Canadians from being reliant on those sources as a signal to the world that we value the utilization of decarbonized energy as we are moving forward towards a low carbon economy that is developing alternatives.”
Our conversation turned to recent comments made by geneticist and broadcaster David Suzuki that have surprised many people across the country. The David Suzuki Foundation quickly distanced themselves from his comments and although Suzuki apologized, the comments raised concerns that climate activism was being encouraged to cross a line into extremism.
Rempel Garner’s stance was clear as she stated, “I strongly condemn his comments because they may go towards normalizing incitement of violence against critical infrastructure and that’s deeply irresponsible.”
Ultimately, Michelle Rempel Garner has a great deal of optimism in Canada’s ability to face the challenge of decarbonization while incentivizing our natural resource industries. She believes that government doesn’t have to ask Canadians to go without energy security and that climate action doesn’t mean loss of jobs or high gasoline prices.
“I think it’s right for Canadians to expect their government to take clear action on climate. I think it’s also right for Canadians to expect jobs, economic growth, energy security, and a predictable and affordable cost of living. Canada has the innovation capacity and the talent to do all of these things.”
Maureen McCall is an energy professional who writes on issues affecting the energy industry