OTTAWA – Two federal cabinet ministers danced around the issue of approving new oil pipelines at this week’s climate conference in Ottawa, but both concede that Liberal policy decisions will upset some Canadians.
“We’re not going to make everybody happy,” Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said Friday to the Canadian Climate Forum, packed with green technology advocates, environmental economists, NGOs and climate scientists.
As if on cue, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later found himself on the receiving end of some energy-policy indignation in Hamilton, Ont., where an anti-pipeline protester showered him with pumpkin seeds, shouting, “Keep your promises!”
The Trudeau government has made climate policy a central motif since taking office last November but is now trying to pivot to resource development amid slumping economic numbers. The Liberals approved controversial permits for a contested hydro electric dam on the Peace River in B.C. this summer and then conditionally approved a massive liquefied natural gas complex last month near Prince Rupert, B.C.
A decision on Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., has been promised by mid-December amid widespread speculation that the Liberals will approve the project.
Carr told the climate forum in Ottawa that some people cannot be convinced that fossil fuel development can continue.
“People say, ‘Leave the oil in the ground,’ they don’t want any development,” said Carr. “Our view is we use the wealth of the old economy to finance the new energy economy.”
A day earlier, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tiptoed her way through a response when the conference moderator asked her directly about “moving hydrocarbons from Alberta elsewhere.”
“People want to know they’re going to have a job,” McKenna replied. “A lot of people are just trying to get by every day, figuring out how they’re going to put food on the table.”
She then described herself “as much an economic minister as I am an environment minister,” before almost pleading with the friendly environmental audience to stay with her.
“I’m going to lose some people on the way,” she acknowledged.
The Liberals have been grappling with the oil pipeline conundrum ever since they took power in part by promising both to cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and get natural resources to international markets.
The policy paradox was personified Friday by Green party Leader Elizabeth May, who delivered a lunchtime address to the climate conference that simultaneously praised the Trudeau Liberals and Rachel Notley’s Alberta New Democrats while excoriating the new fossil-fuel infrastructure both governments advocate.
May said climate scientists have determined that to keep the planet from warming more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, mankind can put only 800 more gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. Currently operating coal and oil and gas supplies add up to more than 900 gigatonnes of carbon, she said.
“So when my friend Jim Carr stands before you and says there’s some people who say we have to leave it in the ground, some of the people are … the International Energy Agency,” said May.
She implored the federal Liberal government and Alberta’s NDP to “not do the stupid things” — including approving “any new fossil fuel infrastructure that’s connected to an increase in production.”
And May cautioned the environmentally friendly audience that, no matter how much it approves of the new government’s climate policy direction, it can’t afford to stand on the sidelines and applaud.