The political strategists think they have things lined up.
Trudeau’s announcement of “world-leading” marine safety measures will satisfy B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s insistence on “world-leading” oil spill response.
Approval for the Kinder Morgan pipeline will bring Alberta Premier Rachel Notley onside with a national climate plan and inoculate Trudeau against his father’s fate in “the West.”
In Canadian energy politics “oceans protection” is now code for oilsands pipelines and tanker traffic.
When Justin Trudeau flew to Vancouver to announce a National Oceans Protection Plan, much of the news media dutifully gave the prime minister his good news story.
But it is obvious to everyone following along that he was getting some framing in place before green-lighting Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion.
We’re through the looking glass into the world of energy politics, where "preserving our coastlines" greases the skids for pipelines and oil tankers.
The ironies go on.
The federal Liberals are expected to approve the oilsands pipeline shortly after Canada’s delegation gets home from beating the drums of climate urgency at the UN’s global warming meeting now getting underway in Morocco.
It's awkwardly reminiscent of 2011 when Peter Kent flew to South Africa to assure the world that Canada cared about climate change, then announced within hours of his return that Canada would pull out of the Kyoto accord.
One of the perennial reasons for hand-wringing at these climate conferences is the extent that governments continue to subsidize fossil fuel industries. The accountants will now have to add a good portion of Trudeau’s National Oceans Protection plan to Canada’s ledger.
A sustainable economy wouldn't need many of the items in the $1.5 billion plan. Trudeau did not provide a financial breakdown but the summary is heavy on programs for oil spill clean-up, mapping oil spill trajectories, predicting behaviour of oil in water, Indigenous community response teams and the like.
Some elements of the plan are certainly welcome. Orcas, belugas and other whales desperately need the new measures announced by the feds and environmental baseline studies are ludicrously overdue.
There’s also no question that we need to improve emergency response and support First Nations as first responders.
Authorities were unable to respond effectively to a spill smack in the middle of Vancouver harbour last year. Response to the ongoing tragedy near Bella Bella has been woeful.
But how much will Canadian taxpayers pick up the bill for the oil industry, and for how long? Kinder Morgan’s pipeline would be in service for decades, relying on a growing fossil fuel economy over the same decades we’ve promised to phase out climate pollution entirely.
The government’s priorities became clear in the Q&A following the prime minister’s announcement. National Observer reporter Elizabeth McSheffrey asked twice about the sequence of events: whether whales would be taken care of before any more impacts were permitted, but Trudeau demurred. Nor did the PM correct reporters making the assumption that Kinder Morgan’s pipeline was as good as approved.
It’s an all-of-the-above energy strategy.
Pipelines, oilsands expansion and fracking will be developed alongside carbon taxes, renewable energy and whale protection in a world where ocean protection comes with more oil tankers.