Pipelines are a major political issue in Canada. Getting oil to market is seen as critical to Alberta’s economy. They are a high priority for Stephen Harper’s government, so why has there been so little progress on pipelines?
Unfortunately, many of Ottawa’s actions have only damaged the oilsands’ image, and weakened public support for pipelines. Former Cabinet minister Jim Prentice and government Aboriginal envoy Doug Eyford both blamed Ottawa’s failure to address the concerns of the Aboriginal peoples whose lands the pipelines will cross. They cite it as the main reason for the Aboriginals’ opposition to pipelines.
When Joe Oliver said that the review of the Northern Gateway pipeline risked being hijacked by “radical environmentalists”, Kinder Morgan oil company president Ian Anderson criticized him for making the opposition worse than necessary. Worse, a study of pipeline opponents in B.C. showed that most of the critics were ordinary, hardworking British Columbians, not foreign radicals.
On the policy front, Ottawa has reduced environmental funding for cleaning up oil spills, rushed through major environmental regulation changes in omnibus bills without giving politicians or the public time to really review them, given Cabinet final say over pipelines rather than the National Energy Board, passed new anti-terror legislation that could easily be seen as applying to critics of pipelines, and launched a major audit blitz against a bunch of charities who all, curiously enough, are all publicly criticizing the government. Why are these charities the only ones being audited, and all at once? These actions only make it look like Harper doesn’t care about anyone’s concerns, and will demonize anyone who disagrees.
Also, more and more of our international customers are expecting that oil-producing countries act to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, the government’s main commitment is to a reduction that Enbridge-supported University of Alberta energy professor Andrew Leach says is sure to fail. Business writer Chris Sorensen noted Ottawa’s refusal to pursue tougher emissions regulations that would have shown that it took peoples’ concerns seriously. Journalist Paul Wells has also mentioned how inconsistent the government’s statements on emissions are.
Even if you don’t believe in man-made climate change, our customers are demanding that we do something to reduce emissions. And if the Harper government doesn’t know what it plans to do, then how is the oil and gas industry supposed to know? Business thrives on predictability, and Harper is not providing it.
All of this has caused what former Canadian Gas Association CEO Michael Cleland calls a “crippling” loss of support for pipelines in Canada. Cleland, Leach, Sorensen and others are not radical environmentalists, but they’ve all criticized the damage Harper’s actions have done. Why else would the Canada West Foundation need to produce reports detailing how the oil and gas industry can regain public support?
Stephen Harper has not only failed to strengthen Canada’s oil and gas exports, he has become an active liability for them. At this point, could anyone else possibly do a worse job in getting support for pipelines?
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on September 23, 2015.
Jared Milne is a graduate of the Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta with a Master’s Degree in Canadian Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Canadian History, minoring in Poltiical Science. He has worked as a public servant, a municipal intern and a historical researcher, and his commentaries on Canadian politics have been published in many different newspapers and web forums.