In 1993 Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell called an election, running on a platform of new leadership and deficit reduction. She honestly but incautiously admitted that she did not foresee any fall in Canada’s unemployment rate for 4 years. Sensing an opportunity, the Liberal Leader, Jean Chretien, immediately adopted the campaign slogan of “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!”
The slogan worked. As Canada was experiencing tough economic times, voters chose the party that promised “Jobs”. The Progressive Conservative party was annihilated. The Liberals formed the Government, and continued in power for 13 years.
What came next?
Our most recent election in 2011 was fought against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis. Western Conservative politicians pointed out that the development of the tar sands had and would continue to create jobs for all Canadians. The Conservatives stayed “on message” and won a majority government, convincing Canadians that they were the best choice for managing the economy.
Tar Sands “Prosperity”
The claim that the tar sands would be an economic benefit to all Canada was not new. In 2009 the Premier of Alberta, Ed Stelmach, said:
“The benefits of Alberta’s oil sands extend well beyond our provincial borders. . . . I will ensure my colleagues across Canada understand that Alberta’s oil sands contribute to Canada’s GDP, create jobs in other provinces and provide a secure source of energy for North America.”
Other Conservative Premiers (Redford of Alberta and Wall of Saskatchewan) have made the same claim. Now in the minds of many Canadians, the tar sands are associated with continued prosperity, and jobs for all.
Thomas Mulcair enters into the fray!
All these claims probably goaded Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the Federal NDP, to hit back. According to Mulcair, the high Canadian dollar has resulted in a loss of jobs from the manufacturing sector in Ontario and Quebec. The high value of our dollar is, in part, the result of high prices paid by the US for Canadian oil and gas. Muclair used the phrase “Dutch disease” to describe this phenomenon.
The reaction was swift. Western politicians criticized him for being divisive. Some economists argued that in the past decade the Dutch disease tag was not applicable to Canada.
Interested in finding out more about the “Dutch Disease”? Go to
Mulcair sticks to his guns.
Mulcair claims that by not having and enforcing tough environmental regulations the Federal Government is allowing the oil industry to “pollute” the environment… He must believe that he has found an issue that will blunt the Conservative’s generalized appeals to an oil-fueled prosperity that development of the tar sands will bring to Canada.
The weakness in Mulcair’s position is that he supports the exploitation of the tar sands. Canada cannot have it both ways: abide by its international commitments to reduce GHG emissions, and develop the tar sands for its contribution to our fossil fuel prosperity.
Is there a winning electoral strategy in hammering away at the need for more stringent regulations? The oil industry claims that it is abiding by the most demanding environmental regulations in the world, and that it is constantly working to diminish the environmental impact of the tar sands.
Help from the Conservatives!
Just when you thought that the “Polluters pay” principle was accepted by Canadians, Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board, took a radical tack. He publicly claimed that Mulcair’s proposal that energy companies pay for their pollution would cripple an important and growing sector and jeopardize thousands of jobs across the country.
It is not just jobs that the tar sands are saving: whole communities owe their continued existence to fossil fuels. At least according to Clement who said:
“. . . many communities in Ontario and Quebec have been saved because of customers in the oil and gas sector.”
Where do we go next?
Despite this help, the question for Mulcair remains: What more could new regulations achieve? And in the short term how effective would these regulations be? Unless he comes up with some dramatic examples, or the Canadian people suddenly decide that the country must be weaned from fossil fuels, Mulcair is facing an uphill climb to be the next Prime Minister of Canada come 2015.