Our photogenic prime minister recently let it slip that he thought Canada should progressively “phase out” exploitation of the Alberta oilsands and our "dependence" on fossil fuels.
One is tempted to applaud! But on a closer look, one sees that Justin Trudeau is struggling like a devil in a cauldron of holy water outside the gates of hell.
In effect, Mr. Trudeau must choose between provinces like Quebec and British Columbia, where many citizens strongly oppose proposed oil pipeline projects, and the interests of Alberta; between the oil industry magnates and the citizen opposition; between short-term goals in the oil economy and the federal government’s long-term international commitments for the reduction of greenhouse gases. In addition, he must protect the Canadian economy from the aggressive protectionism of the Trump administration.
In short, he is trying to catch many hares at the same time; in the proverb, if you run after two hares you will catch neither.
On the pro-oil side of this impossible equation, Mr. Trudeau has approved Enbridge's Line 3 to the Northern U.S. and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion to Vancouver. He has also approved the Pacific NorthWest LNG project in B.C. to export liquefied natural gas, derived (mostly, but not entirely) from hydraulic fracturing. Now, as Mr. Trump decides to revive Keystone XL, Mr. Trudeau has to support the Alberta oilsand industry, which applauds the move.
Unfortunately, according to Professor Annie Chaloux of the University of Sherbrooke, Keystone XL will compound the inconsistency between climate politics and energy politics in Canada.
On the other side of the equation, Mr. Trudeau says he wishes to wean Canada off the oilsands, all while approving the construction of pipeline infrastructure that will tie us to oil for at least 40 years. Is this really a move to phase out the Alberta oilsands? That phrase seems to be an ill-advised attempt to square the circle.
After his election in 2015, many applauded Mr. Trudeau and his minister of the environment, Catherine McKenna, for accepting the conclusions of the fifth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and saying they were anxious to ratify the Paris Agreement.
Much has been made of U.S. President Donald Trump's assertion that climate change is a Chinese plot. But China wishes to level off its emissions before 2030 by becoming a leader in green energy.
As professor Matthew Kahn explains in the journal The Inertia, China wants to improve the quality of life for its citizens who are faced with an intolerable level of pollution. Chinese leaders see their commitment to green technology innovation as a means to lead the race to economic and political supremacy.
If the climate deniers who surround Mr. Trump have not realized that green energy is the way of the future, the Chinese have. Mr. Trump can slow the progress of green energy in his country; he can't stop it. All that he can achieve is to make his country an economic HAS BEEN.
Mr. Trudeau must also choose between the energies of the past or those of the future. Because, no offence to Mr. Trump, but the implacable law of the market (and of nature) is "the survival of the fittest." Those who seize the moment in history will be the winners. Will Mr. Trudeau have the wisdom of the Chinese?