As someone who has respect for both TV show host Rick Mercer and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, I hadn’t expected to write a post disagreeing with them. Nonetheless, as the national pipeline debate has seen renewed interest, both have come out supporting Energy East (which would pump 1,000,000 barrels of oil from Alberta to the East Coast), and by doing so I believe they are missing a key point in the debate.
In an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton on January 21st, Nenshi criticised Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre recent stance against Energy East, saying :
“If you’re really worried about transporting bitumen, it’s easier to control a spill like that. It’s much easier to manage a pipeline spill than to manage a problem with oil by rail. He knows all of that, I’m sure he knows all of that.”
“[Energy East] is also about energy security for Canada”
“Clearly this is the right thing not just for Canada, but I got to say, Mayor Coderre, it’s the right thing for Montreal.”
For his part, Rick Mercer produced one of his trademark rants, attacking Coderre’s navel-gazing ‘what’s in it for Montreal?’ framing of the debate:
“Last year alone Quebec received 9.5 billion dollars [in equalisation payments, much of it from Alberta oil revenue]”
“It is time for provinces to start asking what’s in it for Canada, not just what’s in it for me.”
“We all need this thing”
Both bring up good points, and certainly Denis Coderre’s framing of the debate and subsequent twitter spat with Premier Brad Wall was small-minded and worthy of critique. Also, given Alberta’s substantial generosity to other provinces over all these years, and that its economy is now feeling genuine pain, it is natural to expect the rest of Canada to return the favour and cooperate.
Nonetheless, both Nenshi and Mercer are making a key assumption: that a large-scale (and long-term) investment in fossil fuel infrastructure in 2016 is in both Canada’s and Alberta’s interest.
The one clear signal to come out of the Paris climate talks was that everyone agrees fossil fuels are on their way out. Even Stephen Harper grudgingly admitted as much.
Yes, 35,000 jobs have been lost in Alberta and I strongly believe that as fellow Canadians we have a duty to help out. Yes, national energy security is an important goal. And yes, fossil fuels won’t be phased out tomorrow. But we do have existing pipelines and rail which can last us during the transition. New pipelines are only needed if we intend to significantly increase production and emissions – which is fundamentally incompatible with serious climate action.
So my biggest disagreement with Nenshi and Mercer is simply this: why double-down on an industry we know must be phased out? If we truly want to help Alberta and serve our long-term national interest, why not ask the other provinces to help fund the shift away from an oil economy instead of delaying the inevitable? We could instead focus the national debate on electrifying our transportation industry, reducing our consumption and creating green jobs so that there is no longer any need for pipelines.
As for our hard working oil industry – which has provided good jobs and fuelled our lifestyle for so many years – is it fair to now turn a cold shoulder? Is it fair to ask those who have built their careers in it and paid taxes and been good citizens, to now just walk away from their life’s work? Here’s an answer: the grandkids don’t care.