Saturday, February 22, 2020

Teck Decision Could be an Existential One for Canada’s Liberals

This month, Canada’s Liberal government is faced with what might be an existential decision. Vancouver-based mining giant Teck Resources needs federal cabinet’s approval for a new open-pit bitumen mine in Northern Alberta which is expected to generate 6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually until the year 2067 (see: “Behind the headlines: 6 need-to-know facts about the Teck Frontier mine,” Jesse Firempong, Greenpeace Canada, February 3, 2020).  For Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, having campaigned twice now on getting serious about climate change, approval of Teck’s Frontier mine could lead to a caucus revolt (see: Teck Mine a ‘pretty easy no’, Liberal MPS tell Trudeau in raucous caucus meeting,” the Energy Mix, February 7, 2020).  With citizens from coast to coast to coast already protesting in the streets in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, a federal decision to build yet more fossil fuel infrastructure on the basis of a questionable review process would certainly kill any last shred of climate legitimacy the Liberals might still be clinging to (see: Regardless of the decision, Teck Frontier proves the system is still broken,” Simon Dyer, the Globe and Mail, February 12, 2020).

Teck’s cheerleaders, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and former Liberal Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, are keen to point out that greenhouse gas emissions can be accommodated under Alberta’s 100 megatonne emissions cap, first put in place by former NDP Premier Rachel Notley (see: “Sohi solution can give Trudeau and Kenney the win-win on Frontier oilsands mine that Canada needs,” David Staples, the Edmonton Journal, January 31, 2020). However, Alberta’s cap on tar sands emissions has never been integrated into a coherent national plan to reduce emissions (see: Alberta's climate plan stands in the way of Canada's,” Gordon Laxer, the Edmonton Journal, December 3, 2015). After 5 years in power, the lack of a serious national plan to achieve even former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s weak and ineffectual emissions reduction target for 2030 is a national embarrassment (see: Trudeau set to break its promise to meet even Harper's weak carbon-emissions reduction target,” The Council of Canadians, March 29, 2017)

Alberta’s CO2 equivalent emissions are about 65 tonnes per capita, compared to the average for the remainder of Canada at just 15 tonnes (see: “Behind the headlines: 6 need-to-know facts about the Teck Frontier mine,” Jesse Firempong, Greenpeace Canada, February 3, 2020).  If Alberta’s tar sands emissions climb to 100 megatonnes, other provinces, like Ontario, will have to do more than their fair share in compensate (see: Alberta’s new carbon tax,” Andy Skuce, Skeptical Science, December 31, 2015).  The Frontier mine alone, if built, would become the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the nation. With new mining ventures in northern Ontario needed to produce the mineral resources to power the green economy, what might our province have to give up in order to allow Alberta to keep pumping high-emissions energy for yesterday’s marketplace? 

However, if projects like the government-owned Trans Mountain bitumen pipeline are going to at least pretend to be economically viable, a higher level of extraction from an expanded tar sands is necessary.  Cost estimates for Trans Mountain have ballooned to $16 billion (see: “Elizabeth May asks, ‘At what cost, Canada?’” Elizabeth May MPP, February 14, 2020).  Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau might think it would be a shame to spend all of that money on a pipeline, but have nothing to fill it with. With the job-producing green economy taking off globally, how much taxpayer money is going to have to further subsidize Canada’s fossil fuel sector to keep up appearances of competitiveness?

The Frontier mine simply can’t proceed. The only sensible decision for the Liberals is to reject Teck, and to finally develop a truly national plan to do what’s necessary to begin tackling the climate emergency.  That plan will be based on serious emissions reduction targets and provide for realistic provincial carbon budgets. It must include plans for a just transition for fossil fuel workers.  It will end subsidies to the fossil fuel sector. And it will include a roadmap for a bold transition to the green economy, including winding down fossil fuel production over the next several decades (see: “A strong climate plan is key to Canada’s economic prosperity,” Pembina Institute, October 8, 2019).

It’s the sort of plan that the Liberals should have been working on over the last 5 years, after climate obstructionist Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were ousted by voters at the ballot box.  It’s what Trudeau promised Canadians while on the campaign trail – in 2015 and again in 2019. Liberals should keep in mind Canadian’s opinions on climate change have shifted massively over the past decade, with polls showing voters having little appetite for inaction.  The decision on Teck could very well be a defining moment for Canada’s Liberal government – and for the Liberal Party.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: Teck decision an existential one for Canada’s Liberals," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday February 22, 2020 - without hyperlinks.

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