Harper and the oil patch: Honesty is the only policy - Macleans.ca

Harper and the oil patch: Honesty is the only policy

The prime minister explains crazy policy to us

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Compare and contrast.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, today in the House of Commons:

“Frankly, Mr. Speaker, under the current circumstances of the oil and gas sector, it would be crazy, it would be crazy economic policy to do unilateral penalties on that sector. We’re clearly not going to do that,” Harper told the House as Conservative MPs roared their approval.
“In fact, nobody in the world is regulating their oil and gas sector. I’d be delighted if they did. Canada will be there with them.”

Jim Prentice, then federal minister of the environment, not quite five years ago:

“For those of you who doubt that the government of Canada lacks either the willingness or the authority to protect our national interests as a ‘clean energy superpower,’ think again,” he warned darkly. “We do and we will. And, in our efforts, we will expect and we will secure the co-operation of those private interests which are developing the oil sands. Consider it a responsibility that accompanies the right to develop these valuable Canadian resources.”

Back then, it was possible to believe the federal government would impose regulations on the oil and gas industries. The government certainly said it would, often enough. (Peter Kent in February, 2013: “We are now well into, and very close to finalizing, regulations for the oil and gas sector.”) But, as Chris Turner reminds us in his book The War on Science, Prentice quit as environment minister in November 2010, and the Harper government’s periodic attempts to demonstrate environmental virtue, even at some hypothetical cost to the resource sector, pretty much came to an end. 

Of course, it can be hard to tell where the notion of oil and gas regulations ended. Prentice himself has been sounding much like Harper since he became premier of Alberta:

“Environmental performance is important, but so, too, is our industrial competitiveness . . . I think this low-price environment is a reminder . . . that we have to be careful laying on costs, including regulatory costs, on our industry, because we need to remain competitive.”

But is even that new? From my 2010 article, linked above:

“We will only adopt a cap-and-trade regime if the United States signals that it wants to do the same. Our position on harmonization applies equally to regulation. Canada can go down either road—cap and trade or regulation—but we will go down neither road alone.”

So the paper trail on the government’s oil and gas policy is a bit of a mess. The feds will only impose regulations in concert with the Americans? Well, there are two problems with that story. First, as Bruce Cheadle points out:

An Environment Canada briefing memo revealed last month by the Globe and Mail shows that the United States, in fact, placed what were called “significant” limits on its oil and gas sector in 2012.

“For oil and gas, recent air pollution regulations are expected to result in significant greenhouse-gas reduction co-benefits, comparable to the reductions that would result from the approach being developed for this sector in Canada,” states the June 2013 memo obtained by Greenpeace under an Access to Information request.

Second, there is simply no record of a concerted Canadian effort to work with the Americans on joint regulations. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird mentions the Keystone pipeline to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in every meeting and at every phone call. There is literally no record of any public proposal from Harper to U.S. President Barack Obama to work on the joint regulations that are now, the PM says, the necessary condition of any Canadian regulations.

In this light, I note with genuine surprise that the “U.S.-Canada clean energy dialogue” that was created when Obama visited Ottawa in 2009 is actually still a thing. I also note with no surprise at all that the latest joint report, barely a month old, does not mention joint regulations on oil and gas industries anywhere in its 10 pages.

So. The feds have been promising oil and gas regulations for seven years, while periodically insisting they could produce no such regulations without U.S. co-operation. They have also refused to seek such co-operation, while refusing to follow up on helpful U.S. unilateral action. (By “helpful,” of course, I mean “action that would seem helpful if anyone felt like constraining the carbon emissions of the oil and gas sector. Like, hypothetically.”)

One more thing. If the price of oil is too low for regulations, this would be a big change from the last seven years, when the Harper government’s argument was that the price of oil was too high for regulations. There is, in the consistent messaging of this government, no time when government action to constrain the carbon emissions of the oil sands is appropriate. When the price is high, it’s too high. When it’s low, it’s too low. One can assume governments in potential export markets have noted this message, and will act accordingly.


Harper and the oil patch: Honesty is the only policy

  1. Re the last paragraph: Harper is clearly waiting for the “Goldilocks era” when all will be jusssst right!!!

  2. “In fact, nobody in the world is regulating their oil and gas sector. ”

    an international syndicate, combine, or trust formed especially to regulate prices and output in some field of business.

  3. Stephen Joseph Harper is incapable of “honesty”.

    As Preston Manning said, “Words don’t mean anything to Stephen”.

  4. If the feds decided to impose useless regulations on the oil and gas industry while it is struggling to survive the attack by OPEC, it would be pitchfork and torches time.

  5. Cap & trade, carbon taxes, production regs..etc..etc…

    If people could trust a Government to actually use any revenues raised to fight against “climate change” (for those who believe in this false threat) it would be more acceptable. However, if people believe a carbon tax is simply a means to take more money away from people for redistribuiton for pet causes (or downright corruption) you won’t find much fight against a politician who opposes such measures.

    One simply has to look at the Liberal government of Ontario. Wynne is simply carrying on the incompetent and damaging policies of McGintry. The auditor general’s report has made it quite obvious that when a bunch of really stupid people control your money….problems will follow.

    Wynne is a complete failure, but since she is unaware of how truly incompetenet and ignorant she is about anything economic…..the auditor general’s report about her incompetence will be just one of many until that party is finally turfed.

    I just wish Harper and the Conservatives would come out and state what they truly believe. Climate change is not man-made, and it is not a threat, and they will refuse to do anything that will hurt the economy just so Liberals can feel good.

    Besides, the people he would offend, don’t vote conservative in any event.

  6. Glo-Bull Warming is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated in human history.
    CO2 is not a pollutant.
    Without CO2 there would be no photosynthesis, no plants, no oxygen, no life.
    Water vapour is the most abundant greenhouse gas.
    The climate is always in a state of change.
    The suns solar radiation has more effect on earths climate than any other factor.
    One large volcanic eruption puts more gases and particulates into the atmosphere than human kind has since walking upright.
    For those who are convinced that CO2 is bad, just stop exhaling.

    • You really love copying and pasting that crap all over this site, don’t you?

      • You obviously didn’t make it past grade four.

        • At least he made it to grade four…

  7. They have also refused to seek such co-operation, while refusing to follow up on helpful U.S. unilateral action.

    Like Obama’s empty deal with China Mr. Wells?

    You know damn well nothing will ever come of that without cooperation from the Senate and the House.

  8. Crude at less than $60 is enough of a regulation, I’d say.

    The real issue is whether the economic stupidity of subsidizing the oil industry to dig this crap out of the ground for less than free will continue, instead of following the market decision that it is dead industry.

    The utter idiocy of the CPC (actually, anyone) to rely on oil as a basis for an economy, knowing full well that at any time OPEC nations could flood the market at will…

    • Actually, Austin,

      Oil is the basis for the economy. You can’t transport, create, or manufacture anything without some type of input from oil.

      • Actually….there are alternatives.

        • Ok, emily….

          Tell us about it the next time you hop on the solar powered jet you use to fly back and forth to china on your world changing missions.

          Or better yet, tell us about the latest model of solar power ships, trains, or transport trucks used to import the anti-psychotic drugs into Canada straight to the pharmacy that supports your habit.

          Or perhaps you can describe the different types of plastic, fabrics, or computer components currently being produced from soy beans?

          Oh yeah…forget it. they don’t exist. (and never will)

      • Eh? Are you purposely trying to be obtuse…? Who said anything about its use? How much Albertan oil is even consumed by the rest of Canada? What fraction of the crude oil output even is involved in the transport and manufacturing of finished goods in Canada? Close to zilch. Nada.

        Canada shouldn’t rely on oil (and commodities) as the basis for driving its economy and its source of revenue (is that better?)…that’s third world banana republic thinking…and certainly shouldn’t be following the bend-over revenue model followed by Alberta.

        The CPC. “Economic masters”. What a freaking joke.

        • @Austin ..well said! King Harper is his own worst ennemy. He will contradict himself in all the lies at any moment if it serves his need to retain power. I just wish the other parties were as nasty as the reform cons in attack ads…a nice string of those flip flop comments would have an impact :)

  9. The premise is analagous to many CMA & AMA doctors who smoked and considered it a benefit to human health in the 1940s as many of the climate change scientists “+2500″et al are dead wrong in 2014a.d.about Climate change.The truth is vindicate by Time.You all would be helpful if your concern re:carbon emmissions was for the well being of all us human’s lung damage today rather than false premise climate change tomorrow.