Before this summer, “heat dome” was an unfamiliar term for most of us. Then two weeks of extremely hot weather shattered temperature records throughout Western Canada. The heat wave led to 569 deaths in B.C. alone.
In just three days, the town of Lytton, B.C., broke record after record, eventually hitting 49.6 C before burning to the ground in one of the more than 900 forest fires that followed. The air was hazardous to breathe, and air-quality advisories were issued across the country, from Edmonton to Ottawa.
Climate change is here, happening now, and is affecting all of us.
Against this backdrop, it isn’t surprising that climate change is top of mind as Canadians head to the polls on Sept. 20. Because climate policy can get complicated fast, numerous academics and independent organizations have released plainspoken assessments of the various parties’ climate policies (see some examples here, here, here and here).
There is, however, one aspect of the climate debate that is seldom captured in these assessments, but nevertheless appears to weigh heavily on voters’ minds.
I am referring to the Liberals’ purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2018. Real climate leaders, we are often told, do not buy fossil fuel pipelines.
As an Albertan who cares deeply about climate change, I have no doubt that if it were not for this purchase, Canada would now be in the grips of a serious national unity crisis, which, amongst other things, would have been disastrous for climate policy.
Despite all the Alberta government’s clamouring, I don’t think the rest of Canada actually follows Alberta politics that closely. If you did, you’d know that even the previous NDP government, when faced with pipeline opposition, threatened to “turn off the taps” to B.C. You’d know that even before he was premier, Jason Kenney chased an appointed commissioner out of the Alberta Energy Regulator simply because of his previous role at an environmental NGO.
You’d know that soon after his election, Kenney’s government branded any and all opposition to oil and gas as “anti-Alberta” and launched what would become a two-year McCarthy-esque inquisition into environmental groups’ funding — one filled with climate denialism and conspiracy theories along the way.
If you followed Alberta politics, you’d know that even these drastic and deeply undemocratic measures were deemed insufficient for some Albertans, whose devotion to the oil and gas industry is so complete that it has led to the formation of separatist parties at both the federal and provincial levels. All of this in the face of recent and contradicted evidence from our provincial regulators that the oil and gas industry’s outstanding environmental liabilities (i.e., the costs to clean up inactive wells, tailings ponds, pipelines, etc.) may be as high as $260 billion.
Opinion: If it were not for the Liberal government's Trans Mountain purchase, writes @molszyns, Canada would now be in the grips of a serious national unity crisis. #ableg #cdnpoli #elxn44
Not all, or even most, Albertans are uncritically pro-oil, but they live and work in a place that for decades has been shaped, both economically and culturally by the oil and gas sector. Against this political reality, I have no doubt that all the major federal parties would have purchased Trans Mountain. Indeed, I’m not surprised NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh recently climbed down on this issue.
None of the above is intended to diminish the many remaining concerns about the Trans Mountain pipeline, including its impacts on Indigenous rights and the marine environment. Those need to be addressed.
But my point is this: Instead of battling surging separatism, Canada has been able to develop a suite of climate laws and policies, including a national carbon pricing regime, and is in the middle of an election where every major party has some kind of climate plan. Scrutinize those plans carefully — they are by no means created equal — but understand that they were very likely made possible with the complicated purchase of a pipeline.
Martin Olszynski is an associate professor at the University of Calgary's Faculty of Law. His primary research interests are in environmental and natural resources law and policy.