Watching Alberta’s legislature vote unanimously in favour of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, it’s become quite clear if it wasn’t already that pipelines are the third rail of Albertan politics.
There’s no daylight between Premier Rachel Notley, UCP leader Jason Kenney, Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel and Liberal leader Greg Clark on the purported need to expand Alberta’s pipeline capacity through B.C. and “get our product to tidewater,” as the mantra goes.
It’s logical that the UCP, which opposes any form of action to discourage carbon emissions, would do the bidding of the non-renewable energy industry by pushing for more pipeline capacity, but for the NDP, which purports to be interested in environmentalism and economic diversification, it’s wholehearted support of the Kinder Morgan expansion is contradictory at best, disingenuous at worst.
This past week, Notley threatened to freeze Alberta’s carbon tax at $30 per tonne if it doesn’t get it’s way on pipelines.
But what is the purpose of a carbon tax, which is supposed to phase out emission-intensive forms of energy, like oil, if we’re also investing in the capacity to pump out more of it?
The UCP’s lack of an approach to addressing climate change is absolutely unacceptable in 2018, but to their credit, they at least seem to understand this basic contradiction between taxing carbon and preparing for tar sands expansion.
Even if we accept the NDP’s implied claim that some climate action is preferable to none, freezing the carbon tax will strongly reduce its impact, as consumers become accustomed to a $30 per tonne levy on fossil fuels.
The goal should be to prepare for the phase out fossil fuels in the coming decades, rather than buying “social license” for more fossil fuel infrastructure that will keep us hooked for decades to come, all but guaranteeing we don’t reach our climate commitments.
Former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft writes about the immense power wielded by the Canadian energy industry in his recent book “Oil’s Deep State.”
The industry has “captured” large swaths of institutions, including governments, the labour movement, media and higher education, setting the terms of debate.
This is why governments like Alberta’s talk a big game on climate change, while still cozying up to oil and gas executives.
Not only does this stranglehold over our politics place significant constraints on our ability to address climate change, Taft argues, but it has a corrosive impact on democracy itself.
If the Alberta NDP or federal Liberals want to get serious about climate leadership, then they ought to start contemplating and preparing for a future without fossil fuels.
That would mean having the political courage to stand up to the powerful oil and gas industry, telling them as the Rolling Stones say, “You can’t always get what you want.”
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