The energy-environment concundrum

Campbell Clark, writing in the Globe and Mail, explained, a few days ago, before Finance Minister Morneau’s announcement that Canada would, effectively, nationalize the Trans Mountain Extension (TMX) project, the potential high risks and scant rewards of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s energy+environment political strategy. “Two years ago,” he explained “Mr. Trudeau hammered out a “pan-Canadian” climate change framework with most premiers. Now, he’s coming down to one real ally: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley … [because, while] … The defeat of former B.C. premier Christy Clark, and successor John Horgan’s opposition to TMX sparked the current drama. His biggest climate ally, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, is running third in an election campaign, amid discontent with her green-energy policies. If Doug Ford unseats her and Alberta United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney defeats Ms. Notley next May, Mr. Trudeau could be fighting a full-on federal-provincial carbon-tax war. If his energy-environment bargain has already blown up, he’ll have a hard time.

thenewyorker_movie-of-the-week-faustI said, yesterday, that this was the “least bad thing” to have done; Gary Mason, writing in the Globe and Mail, says, and I agree, that Prime Minister Trudeau has made a “Faustian bargain” and “from virtually any angle, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals had, in many ways, no choice.” The American writer, sometimes teacher and full time and environmental activist Bill McKibben, writing in the left leaning Guardian, agrees that this is a devilish deal, saying that “In case anyone wondered, this is how the world ends: with the cutest, progressivest, boybandiest leader in the world going fully in the tank for the oil industry … [and] … this is simply a scared prime minister playing politics. He’s worried about the reaction in Alberta if the pipe is not built, and so he has mortgaged his credibility. His predecessor, Stephen Harper, probably would not have dared try – the outcry from environmentalists and First Nations would have been too overwhelming. But Trudeau is banking on the fact that his liberal charm will soothe things over. Since he’s got Trump to point to – a true climate denier – maybe he’ll get away with it.” But the chances are equally good that he will not “get away with it.” This may come back to bite him in

Prime Minister Trudeau might, Campbell Clark says, have reduced the risk by either backing away, somewhat, from his carbon tax schemes or distancing his government from the Kinder Morgan project, but he did neither and now the fate of his government, in 2019, seems, increasingly, tied to the success or failure of the Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX) project. But all is not doom and gloom; while, as Mr Clark says, “His squishy people-pleasing rhetoric makes some think Mr. Trudeau is soft, but he’s taking the kinds of risks that neither Jean Chrétien nor Stephen Harper embraced … [and] … It could end up with triumph. But so many things can go wrong – financial negotiations, convincing Canadians the use of public money was justified and many other possible obstacles. But Mr. Trudeau has shown that the energy-environment bargain is something he thinks is worth wagering on and that he’s got the guts to do it.

Might, could, perhaps … the risks are still HUGE.

Put simply, as Campbell Clark does: “If Mr. Trudeau doesn’t save TMX, he’s got a disaster; if he uses public money to save it, he faces condemnation.” The chances that TMX can be pushed through without direct government subsidies seem remote, to me. But I agree that Prime Minister Trudeau seems, personally, committed to his strategy of getting Canadian (mostly Alberta) oil to international markets (to tidewater, as they say) and, simultaneously, lowering Canada’s ‘carbon footprint’ by imposing a price on carbon. While I think his method of pricing carbon is, to be charitable, foolish, and that he backed himself into this corner when he sabotaged the Energy East project to appease Quebec, I do not doubt his sincerity in advancing both halves of his strategy. The condemnation, from all quarters including business and the environmental movement, is already at a high level.

I’m sure Justin Trudeau has “got the guts to do it,” it being to wager everything on one throw of the pipeline dice, but I’m afraid I must side with Jason Kenney, Justin Trudeau may be politically brave but he’s not especially well informed or, it seems to me, able to grapple with complex, multi-faceted issues.

CPC MP Michelle Rempel is correct:

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 09.30.47

Justin Trudeau painted himself into a corner, by his own actions, that makes this “Faustian bargain,” his least bad choice.

I will not be displeased if circumstances ~ most of his own making (like opposing Northern Gateway and sabotaging Energy East) ~ cause Prime Minister Trudeau to be booted out of power in 2019 … in fact it is one of my fondest wishes. But I will be mightily saddened if TMX fails because the Trudeau regime lacked the political skill or will to see it through … Canada doesn’t deserve that.

That, of course, is the issue: Canada does not deserve Justin Trudeau and Team Trudeau … it’s OK that we were tired of a perfectly adequate, competent, honest albeit boring Conservative government; there was an alternative on the official opposition benches with a flawed but minimally acceptable programme; we didn’t have to reach down to the third party and elect a bunch of nincompoops just because the leader is a handsome, charming celebrity.

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