By Anders Lorenzen
Many Canadians were encouraged to welcome a shift of climate policy when, in 2015, the Conservative Stephen Harper was replaced as Prime Minister by the young and dynamic Justin Trudeau from the Liberal Party. Trudeau quickly moved to pro-climate policies and away from Harper, who had flirted with climate skepticism, and also supported the dirty and polluting tar sands project in Alberta, Canada’s growing fossil fuel industry.
Trudeau quickly faced tough choices, how to safeguard economic growth as well as ensure tough climate action. He decided to support responsible development of tar sands. Also, for the first time in Canada, he installed a climate change and environment minister, Catherine McKenna, and he also put in place plans for a carbon tax.
Earlier in that year, 2015, there was also a sea change in Canadian regional politics when, in the conservative and tar sands region of Alberta, the left-leaning New Democrats (NDP) ousted the Conservative Party and installed Rachel Notley as the new Premier. Before winning the election, Notley had said she was not a big fan of oil pipelines on environmental grounds. And it was expected that she and the party would be far less accommodating to the tar sands project.
Support for tar sands development and pipelines
However, step forward to 2018 and the situation is different, as both Trudeau and Notley are campaigning hard for a controversial oil pipeline project, the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, developed by Kinder Morgan. The controversial project is opposed by activists, by NGOs and by some political players like the Premier of British Columbia (BC), John Horgan. Horgan has been fighting the $5.9 billion project, which is an expansion of the pipeline, and will link the tar sands to the neighbouring provinces on the Pacific Coast. This strong opposition which puts at risk the whole development has caused Trudeau recently to tell reporters “We are going to get the pipeline built. It is a project in the national interest.”
Horgan also stressed his intention to keep fighting, stating: “My obligation is to the people of B.C., and I will defend that until I am no longer premier.” Meanwhile, Notley wrote on her Facebook profile: ‘Today, we introduced legislation that shows that we will use every tool at our disposal to defend Alberta, our resources, and the vital public services all working families rely on. We are absolutely committed to putting pressure on the B.C. government so that they focus on what the pipeline really means for all of us. Every day without the Trans-Mountain expansion in place costs the Canadian economy $40 million. We will do whatever it takes to see this pipeline built, for the benefit of workers and families here in Alberta and in every province and territory of our great country.’
In London last month, UK Greenpeace activists made their voices heard outside Canada House, where Trudeau was visiting during a Europe tour – attacking him for the Kinder Morgan project and labelling him as Justin Crudeau.
But the Canadian Prime Minister was keen to show that his priority was still to act on climate change. The previous day he had been in Paris, meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron where, in a deal with France, he pledged to double action on climate policy.
He was flanked by McKenna, and they pledged to increase their climate ambition: “France and Canada today pledge to redouble their efforts and increase their co-operation,” he said, as McKenna signed a France-Canada partnership agreement on climate change and the environment.
These seemingly contradictory policies will cause difficulties for the Trudeau government in both promoting economic growth through tar sands and pipelines development, while also insisting that they’re key advocates for action on climate change. With Trudeau’s popularity declining, evidence points to the fact that he may need to pick a side soon and fast.
Recent polling indicates that if there was an election today, the leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Sheer, would become Prime Minister. This would ensure far more damaging climate policies, and the country would be more likely to follow the Donald Trump line on climate change, and pull Canada out of the Paris Agreement.