The ghost of Bruce Carson, the scandal-plagued former member of the Prime Minister’s inner circle and subsequently political quarterback for the oil industry’s push for a national energy strategy dominated by the tar sands, was indeed hanging over the meeting of federal and provincial energy ministers this week in Kananaskis.

The results were initially looking pretty good for the tar sands companies, as they got almost everything they wanted (except for carbon pricing, which was likely in the package just for show – see the table below).

But the wheels on the bandwagon started coming off in a hurry, with Ontario refusing to sign on to a communiqué that called the tar sands “sustainable” and asking why the federal government wouldn’t give the kind of support to clean energy that they do to oil and gas.  

Quebec subsequently distanced themselves from the federal/Alberta position as well, saying they want to focus on green energy.

In BC, the statements in support of Enbridge’s Gateway pipeline from the tar sands to the Pacific Ocean prompted reaction from First NationsNGOsand the provincial NDP (BC’s energy minister was also notably absent from the meeting, as was Ontario’s).

What the Oil Industry (and friends) Asked For

What the Energy Minister’s delivered

Improve Canada’s regulatory regime by eliminating overlapping and inconsistent requirements at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.

Intensify efforts to streamline regulatory project reviews to improve efficiency and effectiveness, with timely, transparent, fair and predictable processes. The goal is one project, one review for environmental assessments and associated regulatory processes.

Enhance Canada’s energy security by moving beyond our historical reliance on the United States and capturing growth opportunities in Asia and elsewhere.

Collaborate and focus efforts on capturing new markets and promoting international trade opportunities for energy and energy-related technology and service exports to global customers.

Collaborate on the development of infrastructure to facilitate the diversification and expansion of efficient and competitive markets for energy products and services.

Promote greater public knowledge of energy’s impact on our economy, environment, and society – with a view to increasing conservation behaviour.

Develop a collaborative approach to energy information, including collaboration on increasing energy awareness and literacy; Collaborate to find innovative and effective ways to develop and educate a workforce for the energy industry.

Foster energy innovation by encouraging more private sector investment in game-changing technologies.

Share information and best practices on (1) the development and integration of emerging renewable sources of electricity and (2) developing and regulating oil and gas resources, including shale gas.

Adopt interim carbon pricing measures, and define the criteria that should inform the design of a long-term carbon-pricing regime in Canada.

Nothing on this from the energy ministers.

But it would be a mistake to view the conflict purely through the lens of traditional regional politics, as this is really a conflict over the direction of a Canada’s energy (and hence environmental) future.

On the one hand, we have an oil industry-backed proposal to gamble our economic and ecological future on the rapid expansion of the tar sands being “sustainable” in a world already suffering from global warming. On the other hand, we have those who want to ramp up investment in green energy and energy efficiency to meet our energy needs without frying the planet.

Our grandchildren will only thank us for one of those.