Trudeau faces tough task balancing economic and environmental priorities

By: John Ibbitson

Article originally published on November 9, 2015 by the Globe and Mail and can be found here:!-363189572/?ts=151117115628&ord=1 

When Justin Trudeau and the premiers travel to Paris at the end of the month – Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is already there, preparing the way – they will seek a new national consensus on combatting global warming. But they risk damaging the economy and getting little in return.
This is the new Prime Minister’s first big challenge. There may be none greater.
The inability of the Conservative government, over a full decade, either to expand oil exports through new pipelines or to meet Canada’s international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions stands as Stephen Harper’s biggest policy failure. Now it’s Mr. Trudeau’s turn to try.
He has repeatedly declared that a Liberal government will take meaningful action on climate change. But with Keystone XL now officially vetoed by President Barack Obama, the need for a pipeline from the oil sands to tidewater grows more urgent. How to reconcile the two?
Dylan Jones is president of the Canada West Foundation, a Calgary-based think tank. Before that, he was Saskatchewan’s deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs.
For him, the Paris trip offers a welcome opportunity for Mr. Trudeau and the premiers to take each other’s measure and to forge the personal bonds that are essential for deal-making.
While they chat, the first ministers will also ponder an inconvenient truth: Seriously reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada requires penalizing energy consumption.
“Trudeau has to convince the first ministers to have some kind of hearts-and-minds campaign to get Canadians to the point where they are willing to accept more burdens themselves,” Mr. Jones said in an interview.
Mr. Harper wasn’t willing to impose carbon taxes or other measures to reduce consumption. Will Mr. Trudeau go there, and can he take the premiers with him?
“There are any number of ways of doing it if you can get past the political problem of yes, there are going to be burdens on citizens,” Mr. Jones maintains.
But the Canadian economy depends on exports, and fighting climate change also means getting export-oriented industries – including manufacturers in Ontario and Quebec – to generate less CO2.
And at the same time, economic growth in the West hinges on expanding oil sands production, and that means a pipeline to either the Atlantic or Pacific coast – preferably both.
One challenge for Canada at Paris will be to make sure whatever sacrifices this country is prepared to make are matched by other countries as well.
“There is no benefit to global climate-change reduction if we move all the manufacturing to China and all the oil production to the U.S.,” Mr. Jones observes. The danger for those who depend on the oil industry for a living is that Mr. Trudeau will agree with environmentalists, who maintain that the only way for Canada to meet its climate-reduction obligations is to leave the oil sands bitumen in the ground.
But that would be the equivalent of a new National Energy Policy, and Mr. Trudeau appears quite determined not to repeat his father’s mistakes. It has taken almost 50 years, but the Liberals finally have a presence in the West – they dominate in British Columbia and Manitoba, and have toeholds in Alberta and Saskatchewan. This prime minister is unlikely to risk any action that exiles the party west of Ontario for another half century.
A more likely outcome is that the Liberals will waste years rewriting the rules for environmental reviews and then more years subjecting pipeline proposals to those new rules, while also negotiating with First Nations, premiers, environmental groups and industry associations. Another decade will slip by in which nothing gets done.
It comes to this: To succeed where the Conservatives failed, this government must set and meet meaningful goals for combatting global warming, while working with the premiers to impose new costs for consumers – that means us – on energy consumption, while also building new pipelines and increasing oil exports.
It’s a circle not easily squared. But success or failure could define the Trudeau government.


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