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GOLDSTEIN: Trudeau must choose between climate pledge and Alberta’s economy

The dilemma for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on climate change and energy policy comes down to this.

If he wants to meet the promises he’s made about reducing Canada’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions, he has to gut our oil and gas sector.

He also has to do it quickly and the consequences for Alberta’s economy, as well as Saskatchewan’s and Canada’s, will be severe.

Trudeau and his cabinet would have to reject the $20.6 billion Teck Frontier oilsands megaproject in Alberta, now up for approval after getting the go-ahead from federal regulators.

But even if the Liberals cancel that project, that wouldn’t reduce current emissions, just slow the increase of future ones.

To meet his 2030 target of cutting Canada’s current emissions to 30% below 2005 levels, Trudeau will have to eliminate the equivalent of 50 Teck oilsands megaprojects over the next decade, or five Teck megaprojects every year, for 10 years.

Even using the Trudeau government’s own projections of what emission levels will be in 2030, including projects it hasn’t started, it would still have to cut current emissions by the equivalent of 19 Teck-like megaprojects over 10 years, or almost two every year, for a decade.

To achieve his election promise of cutting Canada’s emissions to net zero by 2050, Trudeau would have to cut Canada’s emissions by the equivalent of 175 Teck-like megaprojects over the next 30 years — almost six Teck-like megaprojects annually, for three decades.

Canada has seven economic sectors that generate significant industrial emissions, but oil and gas has been the fastest-growing since 1990 and the largest since 2012.

Today, these emissions total 195 megatonnes annually, an 84% increase since 1990.

The second-largest is the transportation sector at 174 megatonnes of emissions annually, a 43% rise since 1990, but with stable emissions since 2012.

Emissions in the electricity, heavy industry and waste sectors have gone down since 1990, while emissions in the agriculture and building sectors haven’t grown significantly since 2005.

Technology in the oil and gas sector is constantly improving, reducing the carbon intensity of its emissions, meaning the energy required to produce a barrel of oil generates fewer emissions over time, but not enough to come close to meeting Trudeau’s 2030 and 2050 targets.

For that, Trudeau will have to slash current oil and gas production.

Trudeau’s dilemma is that while he has never acknowledged the severe economic consequences to the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Canadian economies of fulfilling his climate change promises, he also doesn’t have enough money — our money — to subsidize an industry his climate policies are designed to kill.

Last week we learned the price tag on completing the Trans Mountain pipeline the Trudeau government bought two years ago has increased to $12.6 billion, 70% higher than its original forecast.

A report by Reuters news said Trudeau and his cabinet are considering federal aid to Alberta if they decide to reject the Teck megaproject, with the Liberals divided on what to do when they announce their decision later this month.

Vetoing Teck would be widely seen in Alberta as a deliberate, possibly fatal blow to the province’s beleaguered economy by a vindictive Liberal government that no longer has a single seat there or in Saskatchewan.

Approving it would be viewed as a betrayal by those who supported the Liberals in last year’s election because of Trudeau’s promise to meaningfully address climate change.

Now, Trudeau has to pick a lane.

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Jason Kenney says he’s feeling ‘realistic’ about his ‘very frank conversation’ with Trudeau

The good news for Albertans is that Premier Jason Kenney isn’t feeling pessimistic after his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The bad news is that he’s not exactly feeling optimistic either.

“Realistic,” is how he put it when speaking to reporters after the lengthy chat in the prime minister’s office on Tuesday, which lasted for more than an hour.

Kenney’s demeanour was an obvious contrast to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who came out of his meeting with Trudeau nearly a month ago fuming about how disappointed he was. Kenney, on the other hand, mentioned several times that he appreciates Trudeau’s willingness to listen to his concerns.

“We had a very frank conversation about the ongoing economic crisis in Alberta and the impact that has on the Canadian prosperity and, frankly, the unity of our country as well,” said Kenney. “I appreciate that the prime minster listened and seemed to be responsive on a number of points.”

The Alberta premier had a number of big requests for Trudeau, with the most important being a firm commitment on when the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will be completed. With the Alberta economy still recovering from a deep economic decline, the extra barrels of oil the pipeline will move to the Pacific coast have become the dominant issue in the province.

Kenney had no firm date to announce after the meeting, but Trudeau did note that shovels are already in the ground and construction is underway on the pipeline.

Kenney also wants changes to the federal fiscal stabilization fund, which provides extra money to provinces experiencing a short-term economic decline. He told Trudeau he wants the cap on the program lifted and $2.4 billion worth of retroactive payments to Alberta to make up for being shortchanged during the recent recession.

Kenney has been referring to it as an “equalization rebate” and a way for the federal government to show it appreciates Alberta’s outsized contributions to the federal coffers. Last week, all the provinces agreed to raise the issue with Trudeau.

“We already got unanimity across the country. Miracles will never cease,” said Kenney.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney holds a news conference after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Dec. 10, 2019.

Blair Gable/Reuters

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Monday that he is open to listening to the concerns of the provinces on fiscal stabilization when the provincial finance ministers meet on Monday. Kenney said he received “no specific guarantee” on tweaks to the program, other than a willingness to look at it.

A recent surge in Western alienation also dominated the meeting.

Kenney told reporters that he urged Trudeau to take the concerns of Albertans seriously, citing poll numbers showing that a third of the province saying they’d be better off splitting from Canada than staying in the federation.

“The prime minister agrees that we must not ignore those sentiments,” said Kenney, who has repeatedly noted that Albertans feel unappreciated and neglected by the rest of the federation.

Kenney also lobbied for the federal approval of the massive Frontier Mine oil sands project proposed by Teck Resources and suggested that this “simple ratification” would be a litmus test for Albertans wondering if their federal government has got their back.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 10, 2019.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

“The next few weeks will be critical in determining the seriousness of this federal government to respond to the deep and legitimate concerns in Western Canada,” said Kenney, saying he needed urgent action from the federal government ahead of the February deadline for approval.

Trudeau told Kenney that he’s aware of the deadline and that the federal government is working on the file with that in mind.

“I am somebody who always tries to be hopeful but that’s hard for a lot of Albertans who have been out of work for four years,” said Kenney.

Also on the list of issues that Kenney brought to Ottawa is a request to rewrite Bill C-69, which modified environmental assessments for large energy projects, and a complete scrapping of the government’s tanker ban law, which effectively bans Canadian oil exports from B.C.’s north coast.

Kenney expressed some optimism on Bill C-69.

“While the prime minster is not going to repeal the bill, as we would prefer, he did agree to work with us on its application, on the regulations and on the project list,” said Kenney. “So on a number of issues he’s indicated an openness and we appreciate that but we will be continuing to push our vital economic interests with vigour.”

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