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The politics of climate change gets intense


On the same week that U.S. President Trump declared the withdrawal of the country from the Paris Climate Accord Treaty, agreed to by his predecessor at the end of 2015, events in Canada took a decidedly more intense turn.

Last month, an election in the Province of British Columbia resulted in a stalemate that saw the governing Liberals managing to obtain the most seats in its legislature, but only two more than the rival NDP with three remaining seats going to the Green Party. On Wednesday, the leaders of both the NDP and Green Party formally agreed to a set of policies and are now poised to form a new government. Figuring prominently in this governing agreement was the cancellation of the already approved Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline (TMPL), which would see the doubling of an existing pipeline to allow some 600,000 barrels of Canadian oil to flow from Edmonton to waiting seaborn ships in Vancouver, destined for Asia.

Although the pipeline satisfied B.C.’s “five conditions” and received federal approval after several years of hearings and conditions, the yet to be built conduit looks like it is caught in a crossfire between the Province of Alberta and British Columbia and appears headed for a litmus test between climate change activism and fiscal/economic reality.

Since it’s historical election over two year’s ago, the NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley has itself imposed a carbon tax on emitters as a means of mollifying outside criticism from environmental groups who’ve targeted Alberta’s popular oil sands for their “carbon intensity.” The unpopular move, to be only the third Province in Canada to charge motorists about 5 cents a litre (18 cts a gallon), which will increase to 7.1 cpl or 26.5 cents a gallon by New Year’s 2018, now appears as a double jeopardy as neighboring B.C. appears poised to stop the pipeline despite Alberta’s risky tax.

The federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also become ensnared in the growing and potentially divisive stand-off. Having backed and approved the TMPL as it met his government’s new standard of approving all future pipeline of achieving a “social license,” he reasserted Ottawa’s support in the face of the Green Party led B.C. threat to block the pipeline. For Trudeau, whose government fervently backed the Paris Climate Treaty just weeks after being elected, the objection carries similar risks: how much ground can one yield to climate activism? Beyond the $7.7 billion (Canadian) that Kinder Morgan anticipates will be spent building the enlarged pipeline, its completion will see $4 – $8 billion in oil sales to global markets annually at current crude values and resuscitate Canada’s oil heartland.

The future of this significant pipeline is up in the air with motorists, energy analysts and constitutional experts paying close attention to the drama unfolding in western Canada as climate crusaders confront economic and political realities. Shapes of things to come as the world prepares to look at a green shift.

Senior Petroleum Analyst, Canada

Dan is a skilled and noted bilingual (French and English) consumer advocate specializing in energy and current affairs. Known as Canada's “Gas Guru,” he founded to better help motorists anticipate the price of gasoline in advance across Canada. He has over three decades of experience in the petroleum industry, as a parliamentarian and an analyst.