Braid: The high cost of regional bias in climate change action

Imagine what would happen if the tar sands and oil wells were in Ontario or Quebec, and western Canada was the hub for automobiles, aviation, hydroelectricity, etc.

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The biggest enemy of progress on greenhouse gas emissions could be regional injustice.


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It can make people angry even if they agree with what is being done.

Alberta’s energy industry, for example, expected a tight cap on emissions from the oil and gas industry and is already working towards that future.

This cap is the goal of the liberal election campaign. This week’s COP26 conference in Glasgow was just the flashiest place for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to officially announce the cap.

Oil and gas production emits a lot of greenhouse gases; nearly 200 megatonnes per year – more than any other industry. Almost everyone agrees that these emissions must be drastically reduced.

But transportation, the next biggest emitter, isn’t that far behind at around 190 megatons.

Will there be a federal cap for this sector? No, answers Steven Guilbeault, former rooftop stuntman and new federal Minister of the Environment.


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I quoted his words last week and I will do so again because they are the very definition of regional injustice.

“Ottawa will cap emissions from the oil and gas sector,” he said shortly after taking the oath.

“We don’t do this with any other industry – not steel, not auto, forestry, cement.

“We are doing it for oil and gas, because it represents 25% of emissions in Canada.

He says “for” oil and gas, as if it were a favor.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault speaks at a press conference on Tuesday, October 26, 2021 in Ottawa.
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault speaks at a press conference on Tuesday, October 26, 2021 in Ottawa. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS / Adrian Wyld

Guilbeault did not mention transportation, perhaps because it releases almost as much greenhouse gas as oil production, but the federal government does not intend to cap it.

The transport is obviously done everywhere and is therefore difficult to catch with a cap.

But you would think there would be limits elsewhere, when an industry is forced to absorb the only hard cap from the whole country (and the world, for that matter).


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The federal strategy is simple. Rather than limiting the fuel burners, you are gradually shutting down the fuel producers.

Psychologically, not to mention politically, it makes liberal action on climate change easy on the hands of other Canadians and for which they vote.

Now imagine what would happen if the tar sands and oil wells were in Ontario or Quebec, and western Canada was the hub of automotive, aviation, hydro, etc.

Law. There might be some sort of limit on oil and gas, but the other sectors would get their own versions as well. All the necessary measures in Ontario and Quebec would be diluted and spread across the country.

This constant and occasional injustice harms the entire climate program. This is why Albertans who care about the action may be happy with what is being done, but furious that it is only done for us.

Premier Jason Kenney visited Capital Power’s Genesee plant on Monday to announce several new projects funded by payments from large emitters.


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These are good measures – even NDP leader Rachel Notley agreed. They will reduce emissions. Kenney argued that he still does; while Ottawa speaks, Alberta acts.

Notley said if the UCP had left its full emissions regime in place, the province would be further ahead.

This may be true, but there is no doubt that the UCP is making serious and successful efforts to reduce CO2 and methane emissions.

The real mystery Monday is why Kenney was bracing for a northern Alberta wind rather than championing the Alberta cause in Glasgow.

Notley lambasted his absence from the summit.

“Alberta has a story to tell, but no one in the government cabinet is there to tell it,” she said.

“Instead, the Prime Minister seems comfortable letting Ottawa speak for Alberta. “

Ottawa will not do it in a positive way, because it would bore Liberal left supporters.

And Kenney can’t say anything positive about Ottawa without infuriating his base on the right.

So, we are stuck in this whirlwind of regional discrimination, with no obvious way out and with a ceiling that is difficult to manage.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

Facebook: Don Braid Politics



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