House Call with Carol Hughes

Climate motion undone in less than a day

Recently, a motion was passed in the House of Commons declaring a climate emergency in recognition of the extreme events that are challenging us more every year. For proof of how much things have changed, consider the number of 100-year floods taking place on the same bodies of water in the space of just a few years, the incredible power and duration of recent forest fires across the country, or the fact that Ottawa was hit with two separate tornado events in less than a year. It’s no wonder that the House voted to declare a climate emergency. Unfortunately, any momentum that might have occurred from the proclamation was thrown to the wind the very next day as the government gave the green light to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline project.

But the climate motion was only meant to be window dressing and perhaps to insulate the government against the backlash they knew would be coming for their pipeline decision. The danger is that in trying to find what they call a balance between the environment and development, they are damning any potential progress on reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in favour of the potential for expanded oil production in northern Alberta. It’s only potential because, even with additional capacity to move the oil to market, the bitumen extracted will remain too expensive when compared to a cheaper global supply that also costs less to refine.

That point has been missing from this debate for the most part. Right now, oil exports to Asia amount to a drop in the bucket. The overwhelming majority of it is shipped to the US with Mexico picking up most of the remainder. Whether China and other Asian markets will develop a need for expensive Canadian bitumen is very much a gamble. If improvements in renewable and green energy options present themselves in the time it takes to expand pipeline capacity the project could become a multi-billion-dollar white elephant. Not to mention the fact that the world is awash in cheap oil right now.

Additionally, the notion that expansion will proceed without opposition from First Nations is wishful thinking at best. Immediately following the government’s announcement, leaders from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in British Columbia reacted by stating that consultation on the decision missed the mark. The fact that the decision was made at the same time as the Senate was killing an NDP sponsored bill that would have enshrined the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law is not lost in the debate either.

That bill failed due to delay tactics employed by Conservative Senators on the heels of their attempt to remove the teeth from government legislation intended to improve the Environmental Impact Assessment that big resource projects will be subject to. It’s clear these Senators are taking their marching orders from Canada’s oil producers who have no interest in finding a path for Canada to reduce our GHG production-nor should they. These companies have one job and that is to make money. It’s up to the government to determine the regulatory framework they operate within and that is where the Senators are failing. The fact that they are unelected and unaccountable makes it more difficult, if not impossible, for Canadians to register their dissatisfaction. So how is that democracy?

At the end of the day, the climate motion was smoke and mirrors and Canada is on its way to significantly missing our GHG reduction targets again. If there were no consequences to this it might be worth a laugh, but that’s not the case. It’s easy to wonder what people who chose to further endanger us say to their children or grand children. It’s their future that is being gambled away for another few years of unbridled oil production and that’s a real shame.