Susan Riley has become a fierce critic of Justin Trudeau's climate policy. She writes:
Well, that didn’t take long. Mere weeks after the federal budget offered a generous tax credit to help oil and gas companies create carbon sequestration projects—aimed at redirecting greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands projects underground, or into storage—industry pooh-bahs are moaning that the government proposal isn’t generous enough.
As Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix complained recently, carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) projects are costly and complicated and the industry isn’t sure they will pay off in the long term, due to oil’s uncertain future. Despite the dizzying profits of recent months, this is one gamble Big Oil isn’t willing to take. Instead, it wants taxpayers—federal and provincial—to pick up the tab for cleaning up the industry’s growing emissions.
Instead of the 50 to 60 per cent tax credit Ottawa offered—worth a notional $8.6-billion by 2030—the industry wants governments to cover at least 75 per cent of the cost of CCS, a technology that has existed for decades, but has yet to be successfully adopted for large-scale use. The so-called Oil Sands Pathway Alliance, representing the six largest companies in the patch, points to Norway, where government has taken on much of the direct cost of building CCS.
By now, we should know who the oil barons are. Former environment minister Catherine McKenna's eyes are wide open:
“When you see companies issue large dividends, fail to invest in technology, and make large profits, then ask government to step up—but say there is no way they’d do it themselves—it actually makes you wonder about the business model.”
In fact, Trudeau wants to have it both ways -- big oil profits and low emissions. That circle can't be squared. And that impossibility may affect national unity:
The constant appeasement of Alberta’s powerful fossil fuel industry and its political spear-carriers—federal cash to clean up abandoned wells, reduce methane emissions, buy a pipeline to the coast!—has done anything to fortify national unity, much less lower emissions. If anything, it has exacerbated divisions.
When it comes to climate change, for instance, Quebec may as well be a separate country. It recently became the world’s first jurisdiction to ban further oil and gas exploration. This wasn’t a federal initiative, of course, nor is it entirely a mark of the province’s superior virtue. But it does point to the wisdom of previous provincial governments, that prudently developed Quebec’s abundant hydro power. Those investments, mostly in James Bay, are now paying dividends in both international exports of green power and the emerging electrification of transportation.
Ontario’s important auto industry, unlike oil and gas, has embraced the future and is embarked on a transition to electric vehicles, with the applause—and significant financial support—of both federal and Ontario governments. A campaigning Doug Ford is showing up with federal counterparts, grinning broadly, as billions in federal-provincial funding is directed at retooling assembly lines, setting up battery manufacturing facilities, and establishing EV research centres at car plants across southern Ontario. (Last week, some $3.6-billion federal-provincial-private money was announced to upgrade assembly lines in Windsor and Brampton, thereby securing well-paying jobs.)
While Central Canada moves, albeit belatedly, towards a zero-carbon future, federal Conservative leadership candidates are back-pedalling furiously on climate, joining western premiers, like Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, in denouncing a carbon tax and endorsing an expansion of the fossil fuel industry. Even former champion of cap-and-trade, Jean Charest, has rejected the federal carbon tax. Patrick Brown, who included a carbon tax in his provincial platform when he was an Ontario PC leader, is calling for “consultation” with party members before he reveals his climate plans. The front-runner, Pierre Poilievre, wants to revive the Energy East pipeline, the Northern Gateway, and, basically, every LNG project anywhere.
This leaves federal climate debate, literally, all over the map. There is incoherence and mixed signals from the Trudeau government, hostility and denial from the Conservatives and no unity among premiers. As the climate crisis becomes more immediate for voters—with India baking under record heat, severe tornadoes in Oklahoma and another summer of climate threats looming at home—you wonder when, and how, the political fault lines will occur.
But make no mistake: They will occur.
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