Two years ago Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was advocating both for the expansion of pipeline networks and the need to fight climate change. It made little sense then, but Prime Minister Trudeau has persisted in trying to have it both ways.
In mid-November, the federal Liberal government announced plans to eliminate coal-fired power plants by 2030, following its October proposal for an economy-wide price on carbon. These are both important and necessary steps. If Canada is to fight climate change, then gradually eliminating our use of fossil fuels is essential. Pricing carbon has long been viewed as an important economic tool to encourage the transition to zero-carbon energy sources.
“We are the first generation to truly feel the effects of climate change, and the last that is able to do something about it before it is too late. Canada’s children will remember today as the day the world did something about it.”
In the fight against climate change, reducing consumption of fossil fuels is not enough. We must reduce production as well. Rather than acknowledge that Canada needs to draw down oilsands production, the Trudeau government has approved plans to expand it. Rather than reject the decision of the National Energy Board, a compromised organization (see here and here) that they promised to reform, the Trudeau government has endorsed it.
On the other hand, approval does not mean that the pipeline will be built. By first announcing the elimination of coal-fired power plants, Trudeau has signalled to the fossil fuel industry that he knows the jig is up. Economics may well do the rest. The approval appears mostly designed to shore up Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, an essential ally. When viewed through the lens of partisan politics, the recent flurry of federal announcements makes some sense.
Trudeau would do well to continue to introduce the emerging realities to Canadians. The sooner Canadians can openly admit the sun is setting on the oilsands, the sooner the energy industry will reorient itself toward Canada’s future needs.
In their election platform, the Liberal Party proposed to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies in the medium term. A good next step would be to begin reducing those subsidies, and so level the playing field in which zero-carbon energy sources must compete. Doing so would help the Liberals realize their pledge to eliminate coal-fired power plants by 2030.
Their press release was curiously titled “Government of Canada announces pipeline plan that will protect the environment and grow the economy”.↩