Canada’s trade trumps environment

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Canada should be setting climate change policy for the U.S., not the other way around.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/12/2009 (4742 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Canada should be setting climate change policy for the U.S., not the other way around.

But far from being "an energy superpower," as Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims, Canada is America’s gas jockey.

Energy superpowers control their own energy destinies. Canada long ago handed the keys to its energy storehouse to the U.S., leaving 40 per cent of its citizens reliant on insecure offshore oil. Canada doesn’t even have a strategic petroleum reserve to buffer shortages and price shocks.

Canada is the biggest foreign supplier of oil and gas to the U.S. This September, Canada exported 2.35 million barrels a day of petroleum to the U.S., almost double the daily 1.27 million barrels from second-place Mexico. Natural gas exports are higher still. In 2008, Canada accounted for 90 per cent of all U.S. imports.

These statistics predate the opening of TransCanada Pipeline’s newest and biggest venture. Keystone is so huge – 3,456 kilometres long, requiring three months to fill to deliver nine million barrels of oil daily to the U.S. – analysts predict it will move markets and temporarily increase the price of heavy (tar sands) oil.

Calgary economist Annette Hester calls the claim that Canada is an energy superpower "empty".

"Canada doesn’t even know what it wants, it doesn’t even have a sense of self and it doesn’t use energy in any way, shape or form in foreign policy other than going out and saying invest, invest, invest."

Successive Canadian governments have ceded Canada’s energy policy to the U.S. Now, the Conservatives have ceded Canada’s environmental policy too. The Harper Conservatives were born and bred in the Calgary oil patch, which in turn was born and bred in the U.S. oil industry.

Writing in The Guardian Nov. 30, British environmental journalist and author George Monbiot excoriated Canada. "Canada’s image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling…I am watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this is the brutalization of the country and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush."

Instead of using Canada’s petropower to set climate terms for the U.S., Canada will be led by the U.S. at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice says Canada will march in lockstep with the U.S. on greenhouse gas emissions. The economies are integrated and Canada would "suffer economic pain for no real environmental gain" if it took a more aggressive approach and face punitive measures if it did less. "It all comes down to jobs."

Ever since Canada signed the 1989 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, it has had only one core economic development strategy – boosting exports, says Seth Klein, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ B.C. office. "We have no meaningful industrial strategy," he wrote in the Vancouver Sun Oct. 8. "Our federal governments have not had a real vision for the role of government in economic development, strategic procurement, or the nurturing of new sectors. Rather, all the economic eggs have been in one basket – free trade and export promotion."

It isn’t that Canada can’t act to protect the Canadian jobs Prentice is worried about. It’s that Canada isn’t interested in green jobs. The U.S. stimulus plan spent $76.5 billion on renewable energy and efficiency – over 50 per cent more than Canada, The Globe and Mail reports. The Obama administration’s billions went to energy-efficient buildings, plug-in hybrid vehicle technology, solar, wind and geothermal power. Much of Canada’s went into political pork.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who spent much of his career working on climate-change issues. In 2002, Harper called the Kyoto Accord "a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations."

If the Conservatives weren’t compelled to follow America’s lead, they’d likely do nothing to curb emissions. Ironically, Canada’s colonial status is all that’s saving the last shred of its international reputation in Copenhagen.

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