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An Open Letter From Canada’s Natural Resources Minister


(This is a long post for my blog, but I hope you’ll still read it!)

Today is the first day of public hearings for the “Gateway Pipeline”, a pipeline that the company Enbridge would like to build in order to carry 500 000 barrels of Tar Sands oil from northern Alberta to the western coast of British Columbia.  And, in an attempt to “set the mood”, Joe Oliver, Canada’s Natural Resources minister wrote an open letter to the Canadian public.  His letter was printed in various newspapers yesterday.  Here is what it said (taken from the Financial Post):

Canada is on the edge of an historic choice: to diversify our energy markets away from our traditional trading partner in the United States or to continue with the status quo.

Virtually all our energy exports go to the US. As a country, we must seek new markets for our products and services and the booming Asia-Pacific economies have shown great interest in our oil, gas, metals and minerals. For our government, the choice is clear: we need to diversify our markets in order to create jobs and economic growth for Canadians across this country. We must expand our trade with the fast growing Asian economies. We know that increasing trade will help ensure the financial security of Canadians and their families.

Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources.

Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work. It works because it helps them to achieve their ultimate objective: delay a project to the point it becomes economically unviable.

Anyone looking at the record of approvals for certain major projects across Canada cannot help but come to the conclusion that many of these projects have been delayed too long. In many cases, these projects would create thousands upon thousands of jobs for Canadians, yet they can take years to get started due to the slow, complex and cumbersome regulatory process.

For example, the Mackenzie Valley Gas Pipeline review took more than nine years to complete. In comparison, the western expansion of the nation-building Canadian Pacific Railway under Sir John A. Macdonald took four years. Under our current system, building a temporary ice arena on a frozen pond in Banff required the approval of the federal government. This delayed a decision by two months. Two valuable months to assess something that thousands of Canadians have been doing for over a century.

Our regulatory system must be fair, independent, consider different viewpoints including those of Aboriginal communities, review the evidence dispassionately and then make an objective determination. It must be based on science and the facts. We believe reviews for major projects can be accomplished in a quicker and more streamlined fashion. We do not want projects that are safe, generate thousands of new jobs and open up new export markets, to die in the approval phase due to unnecessary delays.

Unfortunately, the system seems to have lost sight of this balance over the past years. It is broken. It is time to take a look at it.

It is an urgent matter of Canada’s national interest.

As a Canadian and an environmentalist, I am deeply troubled by this letter. 

First of all, the statement “there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade” is insulting to scientists and environmentalists who oppose this pipeline for valid, science-based reasons.  Why is it “radical” to consider the environmental, health and economic risks that projects such and the Gateway Pipeline and the Alberta Tar Sands pose.  Why is it “radical” to think that those risks outweigh the potential tax revenue?  The “radical” statement (along with the rest of the letter) is also extremely divisive because it attempts to puts the Canadian population in one of two groups: those who support the pipeline and support Canadian economic success VS “radicals” who want “to undermine Canada’s national economic interest”.

Mr. Oliver also seems to have a proverbial bee up his @ss because groups from America are giving funds to our “radical” not-for-profit environmental groups.  That is extremely hypocritical considering the fact that Mr. Oliver has bragged (in various interviews I’ve heard in the past 48 hours) that oil and gas corporations from all over the world (including the US, China and various European countries) are spending billions in various Tar Sands projects.  And, let’s be honest.  These corporations who invest in the Tar Sands do it for one reason and one reason only: profit.  They do not care about Canada’s economic prosperity.  They do not care about the number of Canadian jobs that their projects will create.  And they certainly do not care about the environmental impact that their project will have on our country.  The second the oil runs dry or the Tar Sands are no longer profitable, every single one of those corporations will take their money and leave Alberta.  You can guess who will pay for the clean up.

Mr. Oliver also tries to smear “radical groups” by stating that “if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further”.  I do know of at least one group that plans to sue the government:  The native Canadians who’s lands and shores this pipeline threatens.  They will be fighting this pipeline every step of the way and their leaders have already stated that they plan to take the government to court if the project is approved.

Finally, to any Canadians who may read this, do not be tricked into believing that this pipeline and the Alberta Tar Sands are good for our energy security.  That oil is not refined and consumed in Canada.  Right now, it is sent to the US to be refined.  If it were to be built, the Gateway Pipeline would send crude oil to Asia.  I would argue that investing in the Alberta Tar Sands is actually quite detrimental to Canada’s long term energy security.  Every dollar that we invest in the Tar Sands is a dollar that we do not spend in renewable sources of energy which would produce electricity that we could use.  Also, every dollar that we invest in the Tar Sands is a dollar that we do not invest in a 21st century energy infrastructure that would not only make us truly energy-independent but also provide jobs and revenue without the environmental impacts associated with oil and gas.  That includes climate change.

Every government policy that focuses on the extraction of oil and gas and the associated infrastructure is a delay of the inevitable transition we have to make towards renewable energy.  It is a fact that the later we make that transition, the more difficult it will be both economically and socially.  Our government is lining it’s pockets today without any regard for the future.

As always, I would love to read what you folks have to say about this.  Please share your thoughts below.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    2012/01/28 12:09 pm

    Mr. Oliver is right in one thing – Canada truly needs to diversify its portfolio of energy export markets as US could not be the best bet in the future considering its volatile and unstable economic situation and depreciation of US dollar. When nearly as 20% of Canada’s export consists of Canada’s minerals and metals it is undoubtedly essential to have strong and reliable trade partners. And then, when we have strong GDP growth thanks to dependable economic partners we can focus on the inevitable transition towards renewable energy sources.

    • 2012/01/28 7:40 pm

      Not to discourage you from commenting again, but I respectfully disagree with the idea that we have to wait for “strong GDP growth thanks to dependable economic partners”. Projects in the Tar Sands, including the pipelines, require billions of dollars in investment to get going and years, if not decades, to become profitable. The more we encourage those types of development, the longer we lock ourselves into an economy dependent on oil production.
      Just like we’ve used tax rates and subsidies to encourage oil companies to invest in the tar sands, we could use those same tools to encourage the development of renewable energy projects here in Canada. We need jobs, we need energy and we aggressively need to address climate change. The Tar Sands only does one of those three (jobs). Investment in renewable energy can do all three.

  2. Martin Lack permalink
    2012/01/31 9:45 am

    Clearly, Mr Oliver is not a scientist nor a mathematician because, if he was, faced with the weight of scientific opinion and evidence indicating that an extremely adverse outcome is highly likely, it would be very hard to sustain his level of ideological blindness.

    However, even if climate change were not the existential threat to all life on Earth that 97% of relevant scientists agree that it is, when you get so desperate for fossil fuels that you start digging up something that needs five times more energy input (compared to conventional crude oil) to get the energy out of it, it surely must be time to invest in cheaper alternative forms of energy.

    Now add back into the equation the fact that such alternative investment would create thousands of environmentally-friendly jobs, and Mr Oliver’s arguments are all revealed to be ideologically prejudiced and demonstrably false.

    Canada is prostituting itself to god of Growth and reducing itself to the status of a third-world country that exports all its natural resources (treating nature’s capital as a source of income) and manufactures very little (other than planetary destruction). However, all the signs are that the UK will do the same with regard to Shale Gas (although we will probably consume – rather than export – most of it)

    • 2012/01/31 8:44 pm

      Unfortunately, Joe Oliver is an investment banker by trade. And that should tell all you need to know about what’s behind the ideology. The Government sees a relatively easy source of revenue and is able to either justify or downplay any kind of possible environmental “side effects”.

      • Martin Lack permalink
        2012/02/01 6:22 am

        I was tempted to respond by saying, “Please accept my condolences for your loss.” However, as a consequence of growth-fixated insanity like this, we are all going to lose.

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