Friday, September 18, 2015

Canadian Leaders Debate: A Shared Vision of Fossil Fuels

The leaders of the three major federal parties who took part in the debate on September 17th appear to share a vision of a Canada that continues to be heavily reliant on fossil fuels. While this may be politically expedient it contributes to climate change and undermines Canada's economic future.

Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are strident supporters of Canada's fossil fuel industry. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also support fossil fuels.

Harper has systematically dismantled Canada's environmental laws to clear the way for his fossil fuel powered vision for the nation. Nonetheless, there has been tenacious opposition to Harper's pipeline projects. This includes the Northern Gateway, TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL, Kinder Morgan Inc.’s TransMountain expansion or TransCanada’s Energy East project.

Mr. Harper laid his cards on the table when he said the energy industry is in the midst of a significant downturn and needs a “government that’s on its side...We want to see this sector grow and develop,” the Conservative Leader said.

However, Mr. Mulcair has also come out in favor of fossil fuels. He has made it clear that he would be a “champion” for the resource sector. However, he adds the caveat, “we’ll make sure that the development continues responsibly and sustainably.” Mulcair talked about "adding value" and "sustainably" exploiting Canada"s natural resources. For Mulcair this means job creation in the fossil fuel sector. Mulcair explained that he wants to see more Canadian jobs from the Keystone XL which would export Canadian tar sands oil south to Texas. 

Mr. Trudeau did not criticize Mr. Harper for his efforts to build dirty energy pipelines rather he chided Harper for his failure to get them built.

“He talks about being the best friend that Calgary has ever had, that Alberta has ever had, but he hasn’t gotten pipelines built,” Mr. Trudeau said. “He has made the oil sands an international pariah"

What all three candidates appear to get wrong is the fact that fossil fuels and the tar sands in particular are pariahs because they are some of the dirtiest forms of energy on earth and a leading cause of climate change.

Even as the leaders debate unfolded tar sands oil production continues to climb, but the future of this dirty energy source is highly questionable as is natural gas and other fossil fuels.

“I’m tired of watching successive Liberal and Conservative governments dump these massive ecological, economic and social debts on the backs of future generations,” said Mulcair.

Despite Mulcair's claim, there is not that much difference between the Conservatives and the NDP in 2015. There is a difference between Harper and Mulcair with respect to their attitudes towards fossil fuel subsidies. While Mr. Harper’s government granted substantial tax relief to multibillion-dollar natural gas-export plants proposed for B.C.’s northern coast, the NDP has promised to end “the subsidization of fossil fuels by the federal government.”

The party claims that ending fossil fuel subsidies will raise $240-million annually. It further claims that closing stock option loopholes for CEOs and senior executives will generate a total of $500-million a year.

“Mr. Harper put all of his eggs into one basket and then he dropped the basket,” Mulcair said. This may be a great sound bite, but Mulcair's effort to occupy the center makes his criticisms of Harper a question of emphasis rather than a change of strategic direction.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May, who was excluded from the debate, used Twitter to post a series of real-time video rebuttals and counterpoints. She described the Big Three as “scripted and phoney,” and she went on to say the debate quickly became “three guys yelling at each other.”

When it comes to addressing the environment and climate change the Green Party has by far the best economic and environmental platform. In addition to ending fossil fuel subsidies May and the Green Party want the country to embrace the 21st century economic revolution of clean technology.

As May has explained previously, "the stone age did not end because we ran out of stones. It ended because we found something better."

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