Op-Ed: A Prime Minister with his head stuck in the (Oil) Sands

August-11-14

By Hon. John McKay M.P., Liberal Environment Critic

Hill Times Newspaper, Ottawa, August 11, 2014

It is no secret that the Prime Minister has a morbid obsession with the oil and gas industry; his only real non-political job was sorting mail for Imperial Oil and it seems to have left a lasting impression. Despite his wasting of millions of taxpayer dollars flagrantly shilling for the Oil Sands in the form of ad campaigns and subsidies, the renewable energy revolution is underway and it is gaining steam. Mr. Harper’s all-in bet on the carbon economy is risking Canada’s future and trading long-term economic success and security for short-term, unsustainable growth in one sector above all others.

Canada’s vast North and ubiquitous lakes and rivers combined with the collective experience of our scientists and innovators offer an extraordinary opportunity to become global leaders in green energy production. Furthermore, the development of green energy technology will lead to the creation of good, high-wage jobs for Canadians, greater exports to our global partners, lower GHG emissions, and greater economic prosperity for Canada. It would also signal that Canada is serious about climate change mitigation, something that would seriously bolster our negotiating position with the United States on the Keystone XL file.

Like most technologies, renewable energy technology has improved exponentially over time, has become more efficient, is yielding greater amounts of electricity and is becoming a seriously viable alternative to fossil fuels. Not surprisingly, global manufacturing giant China, the world’s largest energy consumer since 2009, is making the largest global investment in renewable energy. With air pollution becoming a major issue in centres like Shanghai, China is looking to wind and solar as an alternative to fossil fuels. This investment as well as similar investments in the United States will lead to lower demand for fossil fuels and increased demand for renewables. Currently, China and the United States, because of their major investments in renewables, stand the most to gain from this seismic shift in energy production. Despite our incredible capacity, Canada is lagging behind and risks missing a major economic opportunity.
 
In spite of the lack of leadership from the Harper Government, the provinces are pushing forward with bold renewable energy policies. All 10 provinces have issued regulation, targets or directives in an attempt to make renewable energy a priority. Notably, Ontario currently provides generous subsidies to the renewable energy industry in order to attract renewable energy sources to the province. Through the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, Ontario has enacted green energy standards, has dedicated itself to reducing GHG emissions through encouraging growth in renewables and committed itself to greater energy efficiency in order to conserve electricity, which will eventually lead to higher energy exports and greater economic prosperity for the province. Instead of subsidising a well-established and (thanks to Mr. Harper, an as-of-yet unregulated) industry, Ontario is supporting a burgeoning industry to the benefit of Canada’s GHG bottom line as well as the economy as a whole.
 
Thanks mainly to Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, more than 60% of Canada’s electricity generation is coming from renewable sources in the form of hydroelectricity, yet Nova Scotia and Alberta are both primarily powered by coal. Improvements to our energy infrastructure in the form of strengthened local power grids and the integration of provincial grids would go a long way to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Furthermore, national leadership is needed to foster growth in our renewable energy sector and better position Canada as a global leader and exporter of green technology. It’s all well and good that Mr. Harper believes Canada to be a global energy superpower, but as our largest trading partner becomes energy self-sufficient and more concerned about emissions, we may soon find ourselves in a position where we no longer have markets within established shipping and pipeline routes in which to sell our oil.
 
Purely from a cost-benefit perspective, renewable energy is inherently cheaper, as the fuel sources (wind, water, solar, geothermal, biomass) are essentially free and the negative externalities of air and water pollution, health effects and environmental degradation are avoided. Though green technology remains relatively expensive, it has become progressively cheaper as efficiency improves. The Harper Government’s incoherent energy strategy has led to higher emissions, our largest emitter being left to run amok unregulated, international ridicule and embarrassment and a missed opportunity to expand the economy in a meaningful way.

The Harper Government can look forward to another fossil award at the next set of UN Climate negotiations, though after nearly a decade in power, that trophy case is almost full.