Martin: Ottawa fires warning past oilsandsPosted: February 2, 2010
Section: Global Warming
Don Martin, Calgary Herald, Feb. 2, 2010--In the fight against climate change, doing nothing may yet become an option for Canada.
With damning e-mails and fictional predictions suggesting evidence of humans warming the planet is built on research that wouldn't support a high-school science fair project, the naysayers are in joyful celebration and the righteously green are gloomily indignant.
There exist in this government, perhaps in large numbers, MPs who quietly question the need to impose any emission reductions at all in the aftermath of the unimaginatively christened Climategate and those bogus warnings of imminent glacial meltdowns.
Still, this government is behind the push for a cleaner environment, even though economic concerns have displaced some of the public angst, because the key electoral battlegrounds of Ontario and Quebec are the greenest of them all.
So what to make of Environment Minister Jim Prentice's odd speech on Monday, which opens the door to doing less for a long time if that's the route taken by a U.S. Senate lockjawed in climate change filibusters for the foreseeable future.
The way Prentice sees it, Canada will not alter its policies one comma until the Yanks move forward.
That position was underlined by his easing of emission reduction targets over the weekend to mesh with the American 2005 base year and continued Monday with the startling admission his promised carbon cap-and-trade system will stall indefinitely if the U.S. plan remains in perpetual limbo.
Vehicular efficiency standards, renewable energy minimums, low carbon fuels and detailed policy regulations will presumably not happen here until they're rolled out under an America-first label, he declared.
Prentice even took a bizarre swipe at Quebec's "folly" for imposing a fuel efficiency average on car manufacturers with hefty per-car penalties for noncompliance. That's got to be a first. A federal environment minister scolding a province for being too green.
But then, probably as a diversion to prove he's not entirely fossil friendly, Prentice turned his roving eye to an unfamiliar target for a government with an Albertan as prime minister: He took gentle aim at the oilsands.
This is the one climate change factor that cannot be harmonized with the Americans. We have oilsands. They do not.
It was a quiet grumble, but it didn't escape high-level notice that the oilsands defence lobby was missing at the Copenhagen summit while Prime Minister Stephen Harper was busy collecting fossil of the day awards.
For an industry profitable in the extreme to leave a federal government defending its dirty work with nary a hint of pushback against a well-funded green lobby was not appreciated internally.
That's why Jim Prentice was angry at their lousy communications and warned their problem industry would be a big part of the emissions reduction solution whether they liked it or not.
This much the Conservatives know for sure: The oilsands are giving Canada a global black eye.
"It is no secret and should be no surprise that the general perception of the oilsands is profoundly negative," Prentice cautioned. "What is at issue on the international stage is our reputation as a country."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be appealing today for accelerated global action on the file. Other world leaders at Davos last week gave Harper a mild wrist-slap for environmental inaction.
While the oilsands are not nearly as filthy as its National Geographic image, it's a uniquely made-in-Canada problem that cannot languish in policy vapour waiting for the Americans to get their act together.
The oilsands ensure Canada is not an easy fit as the 51st state of American climate change policy and, even though they're only 0.5 per cent of the world's carbon discharge, they are a diplomatic nightmare that will worsen if massive expansion belches up a storm of carbon that's only reduced in intensity and not in volume.
The federal government and the energy sector may get a pass on the regulatory details until the Americans limp into action, but doing nothing on the oilsands is clearly not an option.
The world is watching.