‘It’s a New Day’: Why Environmentalists Need to Change Their Strategy Under Trudeau Government

Ottawa climate protest

Nine and a half years. That’s how long Stephen Harper was prime minister of Canada — a long haul for environmentalists, who were all but shut out of Ottawa and often antagonized by the federal government.

Now that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have taken the helm, advocates have high hopes for a course correction on the environment and energy files. But after nearly a decade of working under hostile conditions, environmentalists need to make a course correction of their own if they want to effectively influence public policy, experts say.   

If I was running a large ENGO and my file was climate, it’s a new day,” said Allan Northcott, vice-president of Max Bell Foundation, which runs the Public Policy Training Institute to train non-profit leaders in how to effectively advocate for policy changes.

The opportunity is different, so it’s going to require a different plan, a different strategy.”

Is it the Beginning of the End for the Alberta Oilsands?

A new report from Oil Change International challenges industry’s common assumption that the continued production of oilsands crude is inevitable.

The report, Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands, argues industry projections — to expand oilsands production from a current 2.1 million barrels per day to as much as 5.8 million barrels per day by 2035 — rely on high prices, public licence and a growing pipeline infrastructure, all of which are endangered in a carbon-constrained world.

As the report’s authors find, growing opposition to oil production — especially in the oilsands, which is among the most carbon intensive oil in the world — has significantly altered public perception of pipelines, a change amplified by the cross-continental battles against the Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain, TransCanada Energy East and TransCanada Keystone XL pipelines.

According to the report’s authors, production growth in the oilsands hinges on the construction of these contentious pipelines because the existing pipeline system is currently at 89 per cent capacity.

Is the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Finally Dead?

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Justin Trudeau and Art Sterritt walk on the boardwalk in Hartley Bay, B.C.

In August 2014, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau made the trek to the tiny Gitga’at community of Hartley Bay, located along Enbridge’s proposed oil tanker route in northwestern B.C.

There, in the village of 200 people accessible only by air and water, he met with community elders and Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations.

He came to Gitga’at because he wanted to make sure he was making the right decision in terms of Northern Gateway and being there certainly confirmed that,” Sterritt told DeSmog Canada on Tuesday.

My confidence level went up immensely when Justin … visited Gitga’at.”

Two months before that visit, in May 2014, Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that if he became prime minister “the Northern Gateway Pipeline will not happen.”

With Monday’s majority win by Trudeau, Sterritt — who retired three weeks ago from his role with Coastal First Nations — says he is “elated” and “Northern Gateway is now dead.”

Prime Minister Harper’s Inaction on Climate Killed the Keystone XL Oilsands Pipeline

Stephen Harper climate change

With U.S. President Barack Obama expected to deny a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline this fall, Canada’s oil industry is looking for someone to blame.

The National Post’s Claudia Cattaneo wrote last week that “many Canadians … would see Obama’s fatal stab as a betrayal by a close friend and ally” and that others “would see it as the product of failure by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to come up with a climate change plan.”

The latter is the more logical conclusion. Obama has made his decision-making criteria clear: he won’t approve the pipeline if it exacerbates the problem of carbon pollution.

Even the U.S. State Department’s very conservative analysis states the Keystone XL pipeline would “substantially increase oilsands expansion and related emissions.” The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed.

While Canada’s energy reviews take into account “upstream benefits” — such as jobs created in the oilsands sector as a result of pipelines — they don’t even consider the upstream environmental impacts created by the expansion of the oilsands.

For all the bluster and finger-pointing, there’s no covering up the fact that Canada’s record on climate change is one of broken promises.

Evidence Released at TransCanada’s Keystone XL Permit Renewal Hearing Sheds Light On Serious Pipeline Risks

Keystone XL protest by Doug Grandt

Just because TransCanada continually states that the Keystone XL pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built, doesn’t mean it is true.

The company’s pipeline construction record is facing intense scrutiny in America’s heartland, where many see no justifiable rationale to risk their water and agricultural lands for a tar sands export pipeline.

New documents submitted as evidence in the Keystone XL permitting process in South Dakota — including one published here on DeSmog for the first time publicly — paint a troubling picture of the company’s shoddy construction mishaps. This document, produced by TransCanada and signed by two company executives, details the results of its investigation into the “root cause” of the corrosion problems discovered on the Keystone pipeline.

Zero Carbon Emissions: The New Language Of Climate Change

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

If nothing else, the G7 countries’ recent agreement to end fossil fuel use for energy by 2100 signals a shift in the way we talk and think about global warming. Previous agreements were about reducing carbon emissions from burning coal, oil and gas. This takes matters a step further by envisioning a fossil fuel–free future.

'Woe is Us': Oil Industry a Hot Mess After NDP Alberta Victory

While Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservative cadre lick their wounds after last night’s landslide victory by the New Democratic Party and leader Rachel Notley, punditry about the oil industry’s place in the transformed province is in full force.

Even before the results were in, Canadians were being warned new leadership in Canada’s oilpatch will mean very scary things for the economy: fleeing investors, abandoned projects, market uncertainty.

Now that the victory bells have rung, the hand-wringing has leveled up.

The NDP win is “completely devastating,” for the energy industry, Rafi Tahmazian, fund manager for Canoe Financial LP, told Bloomberg.

The oil patch will pack up and leave,” Licia Corbella, editor of the Calgary Herald’s editorial page, tweeted. “Woe is us.”

Yet many other onlookers are saying fresh leadership in Alberta could bring long-overdue policy changes that not only benefit a broader cross-section of society, but industry itself, by remedying systemic imbalances that have granted an unhealthy amount of power to oil interests for far too long.

Has Stephen Harper Helped or Hindered The Oil Industry?

At an estimated 2,700 litres, the bunker fuel spill in English Bay was relatively small — yet the stakes of that spill couldn’t be much higher.

With Enbridge and Kinder Morgan both hoping to build oil pipelines to B.C., which would significantly increase oil tanker traffic in the province’s inside coastal waters, a dramatically mishandled marine oil spill raises all sorts of questions — questions the federal government does not appear well-positioned to answer, despite its aggressive push for West Coast oil exports.

Obviously, from the oil industry’s perspective, you couldn’t have picked a worse place to have an oil spill,” Jim Stanford, economist at Unifor and founder of the Progressive Economics Forum, told DeSmog Canada.

While the federal government insisted its response was “world-class,” a former commander of the shuttered Kits Coast Guard station blamed the six-hour delay in even deploying a boom to contain the oil on the closure of that station in 2013 — a move that is reported to have saved the federal government at estimated $700,000 a year.

The English Bay spill, beyond being a systemic failure, has been a total PR disaster.

New Report Warns of West Coast Tar Sands Oil Invasion

The West Coast of the United States and Canada is facing an imminent tar sands oil invasion, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“The West Coast is about to fall victim to a tar sands invasion, unless our leaders choose to protect the health and safety of our communities and say no to Big Oil,” said Anthony Swift, deputy director of NRDC's Canada Project. “At a time when the nation is moving toward a clean energy future, there is no reason to welcome the dirtiest oil on the planet into our communities.”

While the West Coast is not currently the destination for much tar sands oil, the area’s heavy oil refining capacity and deepwater port access make it a likely destination for large amounts of Canadian tar sands oil in the future.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) forecasts that tar sands supply will increase from 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2013 to 6.2 million bpd by 2030. To achieve those volumes, a significant portion of that oil would have to go to the West Coast by a combination of pipelines, rail and tanker.

Wolves Scapegoated While Alberta Government Sells Off Endangered Caribou Habitat

Culling Alberta’s wolves without prioritizing caribou habitat protection and restoration is like “shoveling sand,” according to Mark Hebblewhite, associate professor of ungulate habitat biology at the University of Montana.

Hebblewhite says the Alberta government is sponsoring a wolf cull without doing the one thing that could possibly scientifically justify it: conserving and restoring critical caribou habitat.

That’s the tragedy here: the Alberta government blew the opportunity to do the right thing,” he said.

It’s all shoveling sand without real commitment to habitat conservation.”


Subscribe to oilsands