Stephen Harper’s best hope for getting the Keystone pipeline approved is a time machine. Because unless Doctor Who shows up to whisk our Prime Minister and John Baird back to 2007 in the time-travelling Tardis, his own record of broken promises on climate change will come back to haunt him.
The Prime Minister’s latest round of troubles began when the New York Times published an interview over the weekend with President Obama. The President openly mocked the arguments of Keystone XL pipeline proponents on jobs, energy security and what it would do to the price of gas, and went on to say:
“But I meant what I said; I'm going to evaluate this[the Keystone XL pipeline] based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere. And there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.”
The initial response from the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline was to claim that the President was wrong and illogical. That’s an interesting approach to take with the guy who gets the final say on your multi-billion dollar project, and let me be the first to encourage them to keep doing it.
Not to be outdone, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. emphasized Obama’s powerlessness: “His choice is to have it come down by a pipeline that he approves, or without his approval, it comes down on [potentially exploding] trains.” I added the bit in brackets, but you get the gist of it.
To be fair, our ambassador was dutifully echoing the Prime Minister, but it would appear they’ve come to believe their own energy superpower rhetoric if they think threats are a good negotiating strategy with our southern neighbour.
The obvious response is: What more could Canada do to mitigate carbon release from the tar sands?
This is where the time machine would come in handy. For while the federal government has done a great deal to increase greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands, they missed all of their own deadlines for regulating tar sands emissions.
This means that the only thing that they can do before the President makes his decision on Keystone is to promise future action. And that promise is going to be greeted with a grain of salt big enough to fill one of those tar sands trucks.
If you go back in time to 2007, Stephen Harper was Prime Minister. Not unlike today, the heat was on to do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so the Harper government introduced the Turning the Corner climate plan.
Selling that 2007 plan was then-Environment Minister John Baird:
“Our regulations will apply to all big industry,” said Minister Baird. “From the oil industry to chemical companies; from smelters to pulp and paper mills, all big industry will have to do their part.”
The plan also included this gem:
“In addition, today’s detailed regulations include new measures like: Setting a target that will effectively require oil sands starting operations in 2012 to implement carbon capture and storage”.
In 2008, Stephen Harper told an international audience that “new oil sands operations will only be permitted if they can massively reduce their emissions” and that “our plan will effectively establish a price on carbon of $65 a tonne, growing to that rate over the next decade.”
Then the recession hit, and all was forgotten. There have been no regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the chemical or pulp and paper industries, much less the tar sands. The idea of putting a price on carbon is routinely mocked by the Conservatives in Question Period, with John Baird claiming it would kill Canadian families. The only carbon capture and storage project that is even being considered in the tar sands is 90% funded by the taxpayer.
Meanwhile, the Harper government has handed out approvals that would triple the size of the tar sands, has pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol and gutted Canada’s environmental laws at the oil industry’s request.
So when John Baird, who is now Canada’s Foreign Minister and hence has the job of selling the Keystone XL pipeline, sits down with US Secretary of State John Kerry, he’s not bringing a lot of credibility on the climate file.
Meanwhile, the Democrats plan to spend the entire month of August pushing the President’s climate plan and attacking climate deniers.
All of which adds up to some pretty dim prospects for Keystone XL, and thus a big victory for the movement to stop the expansion of the tar sands.