Attack On West Way Out Of Line

Commentary, Environment, Frontier Centre, Worth A Look

It’s disappointing that Ontario and Quebec publicly demanded in Copenhagen that Canada’s emission-reduction targets be raised to match theirs.









Environmental activists from Climate No Borders run with a stolen balloon during a demonstration yesterday in Copenhagen on the the eighth day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

A joint press conference yesterday, staged by Ontario’s John Garretsen and Quebec’s Line Beauchamp, constitutes a blow against fossil-fuel producers in the West, the country’s principal engine of economic growth.

It also constitutes a serious swipe against the Canadian economy as a whole and represents a nation-rattling glimpse into the hitherto closeted battle between the Eastern havenots and Western haves that is, sad to say, now Canada’s economic reality.

Ontario’s Environment Minister actually used environmentalism’s label of “tar sands” as opposed to “oil sands,” an uncalled for shot. The two provinces are out of line and here’s why:

It takes energy inputs and emissions to create energy of all kinds. Energy is Canada’s cornerstone and fossil fuels are not going to be replaced for at least a generation. That’s why any deal signed by Ottawa in Copenhagen must refuse to allow fossil-fuel consumers to punish fossil-fuel producers. Any pain should be equally shared.

Ontario and Quebec are promising deeper emissions cuts than are the feds and insisting that their targets be adopted. This is cynical, and easily done, because the Ontario and Quebec economies and accompanying emissions have already shrunk due to the fact that their economies have been declining along with car, airplane, steel and lumber sales.

Ontario and Quebec are also able to deliver deeper emissions cuts because their electricity is mostly generated by cleaner nuclear and hydro. But their energy mix isn’t due to their prescience or strategic insight. It’s due to the fact that uranium was in Ontario and both provinces were blessed with natural water assets.

Conversely, Alberta and Saskatchewan have produced power from fossil fuels, not due to recklessness or selfishness, but because they had such fuels in abundance. And the nuclear option out west so far has not been viable either, despite Saskatchewan’s huge uranium deposits discovered in the 1970s and 1980s, because of the West’s small population base.

Also side-swiped in this OntarioQuebec political gambit in Copenhagen is Newfoundland, which lurched from economic handout to handout until the 1980s, when oil gushed in from offshore fields.

Many Newfoundlanders are concerned about higher emissions cuts, along with the fact that Quebec has impeded their hydroelectric potential for decades by refusing to renegotiate a 99-year lease that made new investments in hydroelectric power in Labrador impossible and by attempting to block Newfoundland power exports directly to the United States.

What’s unfortunate is the refusal, on the part of Ontario or Quebec, to account for the fact that Alberta’s fossilfuel largesse, and now Saskatchewan’s, was sold at a discount by edict for decades (until deregulation in the mid1980s) to subsidize industry in Central Canada. Now when the pain needs to be shared, Ontario and Quebec simply would beggar their neighbours.

Lastly, attacking our fossil-fuel industry through unfair emissions restrictions is an attack against the value of the Canadian economy, and the dollar. Both are directly linked to the country’s oil production. In December 1998, oil was US$18 a barrel and the Canadian dollar was at US67¢; in December 2004, oil hit US$60 a barrel and the Canadian dollar US87¢ to US90¢.

The East must cease its attack against the West. To continue would be to follow a dangerous course, not only economically but politically.