“We have been educated all our lives to the importance of the oil sands.”
That’s the comment of a resident of a small Alberta town in the context of the Keystone XL pipeline debate. Canadian environmentalists must recognize that these comments are typical of the strongly held views of a majority of the population in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The attitude of these residents has been supported by Conservative Cabinet Ministers who note that GreenHouse Gas emissions from the tar sands are small when compared with the carbon smog generated by the populous developing countries. How easy it is for our Government to point the finger at China and India for their increasing GreenHouse Gas emissions.
There is also the frequent observation that the world’s fossil fuel economy will not change overnight. If the Canadian industry is penalized by onerous environmental regulations and carbon taxes, cheaper oil from some other petroleum producing country will supply the world’s need.
Alberta politicians who fight laws that they consider target the tar sands use words like “unfair”, “prejudicial” and “discriminatory”. In a December 2011 letter Diana McQueen, Alberta’s Minister of the Environment, wrote the UK Secretary of State criticizing the European Fuel Directive [FQD] stated:
“However, we have grown increasingly concerned as it has become apparent the proposed implementing measure [the FQD] has been deliberately crafted in such a way as to discriminate specifically, and uniquely, against oil sands fuels.”
The Minister followed up that comment with statements at a Brussels press conference:
“”In Alberta, we’ve always been in support of the Fuel Quality Directive’s intent. Where we have issues is in the implementation, so for us it’s about the oil sands not being unfairly targeted. . . . . We ask why the oil sands from Alberta would be singled out and unfairly discriminated against, especially if the intent is truly about climate change and reducing emissions in the EU, why would not all crudes be looked at, especially those which may not be as transparent in their reporting? Don’t punish us for providing that information. The intent [of the FQD] we support, but we ask that we not be discriminated against in the EU region.”
The Europeans have noted that selling the tar sands has been accompanied by an appeal to Canadian patriotism. Canadian politicians who don’t support the tar sands have been attacked as “irresponsible”. Alberta Premier Redford, who has spent considerable time lobbying U.S. politicians, referred to Thomas Mulcair’s trip to Washington as a “betrayal” of Canada.
Rejection of Keystone XL by President Obama will regrettably generate an emotional reaction that will deepen the gulf between Canadians. Canada needs a climate change leader in the West who can bridge this gulf.