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.

Our Prairies are having a historic drought, while news of devastating floods in Europe and on the U.S. east coast further heightened that gnawing feeling that something is not right.

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.

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

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.

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.

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Wow, what a catastrophic lack of imagination - on the part of not only all the (non-) "leaders" Olszynski cites, but also himself. The only thing to do in the face of Alberta's devotion to oil and gas was to spend billions of taxpayer funds reinforcing that devotion - not to mention financial and material bondage - by buying a pipeline and then forcing its expansion through indigenous lands in BC? What if Trudeau had instead granted those same billions to Alberta, for the purpose of transitioning its work force to renewable energy and tar-sands cleanup, for which fossil fuel workers' skill are eminently pre-adapted?

Wow, what a catastrophic lack of imagination - on the part of not only all the (non-) "leaders" Olszynski cites, but also himself. The only thing to do in the face of Alberta's devotion to oil and gas was to spend billions of taxpayer funds reinforcing that devotion - not to mention financial and material bondage - by buying a pipeline and then forcing its expansion through indigenous lands in BC? What if Trudeau had instead granted those same billions to Alberta, for the purpose of transitioning its work force to renewable energy and tar-sands cleanup, for which fossil fuel workers' skills are eminently pre-adapted?

Thank you for this article, reminding everyone of the deal made between the Federal and Albertan Governments (a pipeline in exchange for carbon pricing and non-insurrection). However, I agree with the previous comment that, with the benefit of hindsight, this was not the only possible deal that could have been made, especially given that the pipeline was a market venture that was deemed non-viable by the private company building it. And now the question: if Canadians decided now that it was no longer in our best interests to build this pipeline, and the budgeted unspent 6 billion or so was directed to Albertans for retraining and green technology (why, even hydrogen production!), would that trigger a national crisis? Now? Might the evidence of an unfolding disaster (e.g. an entire village burning to the ground) not have moved the dial enough?

Thank you for your reasoned comment Gregory Mikkelson.

Six billion dollars and counting for a political purchase that was supposed to quell Albertan anger over their own decades long mismanagement of this resource. The purchase didn't really work as a way to assuage the anger since it is rarely if ever mentioned in Kenney's diatribes and it just angered those who saw it as a bail out of the company that was trying to dump it anyway.. Too bad more press isn't going to organizations such as Iron and Earth, real oil and gas workers who are begging for a few millions to be retrained for green energy jobs and have had to resort to fundraising. Yet both federal and provincial governments keep pouring untold millions subsidies into an industry that is littering Alberta and BC with a monstrous number of orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells with, guess what--no funds to clean up. Why? Because the Alberta governments oversight was so compromised that the reserve funds that should have been there appeared to either never been collected or were so paltry as to only cover a fraction of this potentially looming environmental disaster.

Humble opinions like this will destroy our ecosystem. This is playing politics with our survival.

I wasn't keen on this pipeline, and still am not, but a party in power at the federal level has to balance many competing interests, e.g. economic, environmental, political, constitutional, etc. This was one of those messy compromises that come up in real-world democracies.

But it's not as if we've committed to running the 68-year-old Trans Mountain and the future Trans Mountain Extension pipelines at full capacity in perpetuity. The older pipeline could be decommissioned, and TMX run at lower capacity or itself retired early.

The costs of writing off stranded assets like these would and should normally have been a problem left to the private sector pipeline companies that built them and the investors and lenders that financed them, but in this case political considerations mean that it will likely be the Canadian public that bears the cost of retiring unneeded fossil fuel infrastructure.

I believe this is a fair assessment. However, it still ends up being one of the largest subsidy schemes for the Canadian oil industry in history. There has to be a line drawn somewhere given our financial and environmental predicaments.

Not sure what part of "never was needed, never was going to be profitable" people just don't get, at this late date.
It wasn't a matter of considering Alberta: it will be generations to come before Alberta will forgive anything called Trudeau or anything called Liberal. It was always about bailing out the banks. The funders of the project were all Canadian banks. The parent US company had put all the debts into the Canadian subsidiary, kept the reserve funds, and threatened to walk away on short notice ... (given who the ppl were, I expect it was a bully-bluff in the first place, just like the treatment of the First Nations (and other communities as well) along the proposed route.
I'm not sure, either, that it matters how long we commit to running anything. The point of the entire matter is that There Must Be No New Fossil Fuels Developed. Period. We've heard several times over the past year or two that the experts had been "too conservative" in their estimates of the perTonne of carbon, or for that matter, damage per degree of temperature increase.
We are on the verge of a tipping point ... it's that dire.
People should turn off their AC full-time, and they'd get it.
Even if their nostrils were so full of petroleum fumes they couldn't smell the smoke. And the exhaust.

"...I expect it was a bully-bluff in the first place..."

Exactly. The Kinder Morgan board and shareholders voted quickly and near unanimously to unload the flawed project onto the Canadian government. Trudeau and his coterie of oil-promoting pals in cabinet were played.

These memories make it very difficult and painful to vote in the current election in highly competitive Lib-Con ridings.

It is also galling that then NDP premier Rachel Notley played the social contract card to "balance" carbon initiatives with economic output. Even cursory analyses by knowledgable prognosticators at the time saw that the numbers didn't work, even with a provincial carbon tax. How on Earth does a single province plan to reach 100 million tonnes of GHG emissions from the oil sands and not drag the rest of the country down in per capita emissions? We are already one of the top emitters in the world on a per person basis.

First Marc Jaccard, then Andrew Weaver, now Martin Olszynski. The Liberal Party is pulling out all the stops to mollify and mislead Canadian voters concerned about climate.
Sad apology for contradictory climate policy designed to fail. Outrageous historical revisionism. More gaslighting from Univ. of Calgary.
Is national unity more important than climate action? More important than survival? More important than the "569 deaths in B.C. alone" in June's heat wave? More important than towns (Lytton) and cities (Fort McMurray) consigned to ash?
Appeasement of Alberta's oil industry will never work. You are never going to get fossil fuel companies and industry boosters on side with climate action that slashes profits and puts them out of business.
Real climate leaders would lead on climate. Use their office and powers of persuasion to rally Canadians around the issue of our times. Climate, not pipelines.

1) Climate Policy Designed to Fail
The OECD, the UN, and the federal Environment Commissioner all warn that Canada is NOT on track to meet its targets. The main stumbling block? Increasing oilsands emissions.

OECD: "Without a drastic decrease in the emissions intensity of the oilsands industry, the projected increase in oil production may seriously risk the achievement of Canada's climate mitigation targets."

Mark Jaccard, SFU: "National studies by independent researchers (including my university-based group) consistently show that Mr. Trudeau’s 2015 Paris promise of a 30% reduction by 2030 is unachievable with oilsands expansion.

The 2018 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C warns that the world must nearly halve GHG emissions by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050 to keep warming below the danger limit of 1.5 C. IEA's Net-Zero by 2050 report says no new investment in fossil fuels after this year to contain global warming to 1.5 C.
The Liberals reject the IEA's conclusions and every IPCC report likewise. So does the oil industry, obviously.

"Pembina Institute and Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Energy Management assessed every province, territory and the federal government on 24 indicators that are foundational to climate success. The findings are published in 'All Hands on Deck: An assessment of provincial, territorial and federal readiness to deliver a safe climate'. The analysis found that NOT A SINGLE GOVERNMENT is fully prepared to help deliver a safe climate…"
"Without a Team Canada approach on climate, we risk getting left behind" (National Observer, July 28th 2021)

Oilsands expansion enabled by new export pipelines will prevent Canada from meeting its inadequate targets for decades. The oil & gas industry, and their financial and political backers, are banking on global climate action failure. The only scenario in which oilsands expansion makes sense.
A thriving oil industry will only delay the transition. Canada does not need fossil fuel dollars to fund the transition. Like selling cigarettes to cure lung cancer.
If Trudeau has billions of tax dollars for pipelines, he has billions of dollars for renewables. Transitions start by moving in the direction you wish to travel.
Doubling down on fossil fuels takes us in the wrong direction. Building fossil-fuel infrastructure locks us into a fossil-fuel future. When you're in a hole, stop digging.

2) False Premise: Pipelines for National Unity.
Easy test: The pipeline is being built as we speak, thanks to the Liberals' overriding local concerns and clamour about climate change. Do we have national unity?
Scan the comments section of any Alberta newspaper. Does Trudeau get any credit for pushing TMX through?
Will Alberta send Liberal MPs to Ottawa?

Trudeau and Notley moved the ball on the Trans Mountain pipeline down to the ten-yard line. Their signal achievement was to "push country-wide support for pipelines from 40% to 70%." Did voters reward her? Notley was swept from office in 2019.
Stoking Albertans' perennial resentment over pipelines and everything else under the sun only helped the UCP. Albertans who support neoliberal energy policies will just vote for the real thing.

Notley's attempt to out-conservative the conservatives on pipelines was a gross miscalculation. No one did more to fuel pipeline hysteria in Alberta than Notley. The same hysteria swept the NDP away in the 2019 election.
The more Notley fought for pipelines, the more she fanned the flames of anger among Albertans. A pipeline project became the rallying flag for Albertans, whose sense of grievance against Ottawa burns eternal. Fuelling the right-wing rage machine. Notley's push for pipelines won the NDP no electoral advantage. Pipeline boosters would not give Notley credit even if she built a billion pipelines.
It was up to our self-professed "climate leaders" to stand up to Big Oil, reject petro-politics, put AB on the right track, and show Albertans what principled progressive govt looks like. A lost opportunity.
Notley's supporters still defend her policies: "Politics is about the art of the possible."
A slogan, not an argument. An excuse for failed leadership. An attempt to lower expectations and diminish responsibility. Echoed by the party faithful to discourage voters from holding elected leaders accountable.
Politics is the art of the necessary. Anybody can do the politically expedient. Anybody can govern by poll. Anybody can follow the parade. Anybody can kowtow to industry. True leaders do what is necessary, even if unpopular. They persuade people to follow.
If "progressive" politicians are not willing or able to defend the public interest, why run for public office?
Some praised Notley's "pragmatism".
Our house is on fire. "Pragmatic" is putting the fire out.
Oilsands expansion and new pipelines are not "pragmatic" politics — just plain lunacy. Doesn't matter what your policies are on farm labor, GSAs, childcare, etc. If you're not progressive on climate, you're not progressive.
Scientific reality is non-negotiable. Either you accept the science and respond accordingly, or you don't.
Political parties who ignore scientific reality do not deserve the votes of responsible citizens.
Rapid man-made global warming is a disaster.
So are govts that fail to address it.

3) The Long Game
Trudeau's penchant for petroleum long precedes his purchase of pipelines.
Trudeau (2016): "There is growth to be had in the oilsands. They will be developing more fossil fuels while there's a market for it, while we transition off fossil fuels."
Trudeau (2017): "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there."

In fact, oilsands expansion enabled by new pipelines was the plan all along.
Notley and Trudeau signed on to Big Oil's fraudulent "climate" plan -- a deal forged by Big Oil and corporate Canada YEARS BEFORE Notley and Trudeau came to power.
Big Oil's climate plan permits oilsands expansion enabled by new export pipelines in return for a nominal carbon tax that would not impair their profits and a fraudulent oilsands cap. Window dressing.
A plan to fail.
"The Big Stall traces the origins of the govt’s climate change plan back to Big Oil. It shows how, in the last fifteen years, Big Oil has infiltrated provincial and federal govts, academia, media and the non-profit sector to sway govt and public opinion on the realities of climate change
"This is how Big Oil and think tanks unraveled the Kyoto Protocol and how Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau came to deliver the Business Council of Canada’s energy plan. Donald Gutstein explains how and why the door has been left wide open for oil companies to determine their own futures in Canada, and to go on fracking new "natural" gas wells, building new oilsands plants and constructing new pipelines.
"The Trudeau govt’s purchase of the TM pipeline in 2018 illustrates how entrenched neoliberalism has become. Under neoliberalism, the role of govt is to create and enforce markets and prop them up when they fail, just as Trudeau did."
"The Rise and Fall of Trudeau’s ‘Grand Bargain’ on Climate" (The Tyee, 14 Nov 2018)
"Justin Trudeau’s grand bargain with Big Oil exposed in Donald Gutstein's The Big Stall"
"Gutstein reports in The Big Stall that six months after the Winnipeg Consensus was drafted, in 2009, heavy hitters involved in the energy industry and representatives of a small number of environmental organizations met in Banff.
"Among them was the Pembina Institute’s Marlo Raynolds, who later became chief of staff to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.
Another person at this event was GERALD BUTTS, president of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, who is now the senior political adviser to Trudeau. D’Aquino’s successor, former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, was also present.
"But the biggest news from Banff was the presence of six representatives of a new player on the scene, the Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC)," Gutstein writes. "This organization was incorporated the same month the Winnipeg Consensus was reached, October 2009. It had the backing of Canada’s largest fossil fuel companies, like Shell Canada, Imperial Oil, Canadian Natural Resources, and Suncor Energy, pipeline companies TransCanada Corporation and Enbridge, plus the major fossil fuel industry associations and especially the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers."
"Gutstein told the Straight that he believes Manley was groomed for his position as president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada because he would be well positioned to endorse a carbon tax as part of a grand bargain that would also ensure a Liberal government would include pipeline projects in any national climate plan."
(The Georgia Straight, Nov 14th, 2018 )

"So on climate, Trudeau was presented as this kind of river-paddling environmental Adonis. He promised that fossil fuel projects wouldn’t go ahead without the permission of communities. But the Liberals create these public spectacles of their bold progressiveness while they quietly assure the corporate elite that their interests will be safeguarded. So at the same time Trudeau was going around the country and convincing people that he was this great climate hope, the Liberal party had for years been assuring big oil & gas interests that there would not be any fundamental change to the status quo.
"As early as 2013, Trudeau was telling the Calgary Petroleum Club that he differed with Harper not so much about the necessity of exporting huge amounts of tarsands internationally, but because he didn’t think Harper’s approach — which stoked divisions and an incredible amount of resistance that turned Canada into a climate pariah — was the most effective marketing approach.
"The Liberal climate plan essentially is a reworking of the business plan of Big Oil and the broader corporate lobby. …The plan is to support a carbon tax and to effectively make it a cover for expanded tarsands production and pipelines. That was a plan hatched by the Business Council of Canada back in 2006, 2007. For 20 years oil companies had resisted any kind of regulation or any kind of carbon tax and fought it seriously. But they started to realize that it would be a kind of concession that they would have to make in order to assure stability and their bottom line not being harmed. The climate bargain that Trudeau went on to strike with Alberta of a carbon tax plus expanded tarsands production was precisely the deal that Big Oil had wanted."
"How Trudeau’s Broken Promises Fuel the Growth of Canada’s Right" (The Tyee, 4 Sep 2019)

Olszynski: "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."
Which shows how out to lunch Jason Kenney is. Former Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham was the oilsands industry's best friend. Or wanted to be.
Ed Whittingham loudly supported the Trans Mtn expansion project. He even wrote an op-ed boosting the project in the Globe & Mail with talking points lifted straight from CAPP.
"Mine may be a minority view within the environmental community, but I support the federal govt's approval of twinning the existing TM Pipeline. It is the right decision for Alberta and Canada."
"Balancing climate and energy policy, the Trans Mountain pipeline is the right decision for Canada"
Unfortunately, "balancing climate and energy policy" means the climate loses, so we all lose, even the energy industry. No consumers on a dead planet.
Ed Whittingham: Let's make it less lonely in the 'radical middle'
Under industry collaborator Whittingham, Pembina promoted oxymoronic "responsible" oilsands development.
Recent sponsors for Pembina's annual unGALA events include Suncor, Cenovus, Conoco-Phillips, Shell, Enbridge, RBC, TD, Scotiabank.
The Pembina Institute is happy to work with the oil industry.
From the Financial Post: "Meet the green group that the oilpatch can work with" (2016)
On the wrong side of history and science.

In my humble opinion, the purchase of a pipeline to nip a speculative national unity crisis doesn't sound like healthy federal-provincial relationship building, it sounds like a hostage situation.

The irony of course is that the hostage-takers decided to then take the ransom money and use it to hole themselves up in a sealed garage with their getaway car running to get high off the fumes. If that sounds like a stupid metaphor, it is, because no one has benefitted from the purchase of this pipeline except Kinder Morgan, and trying to explain this purchase away as anything other than the massive farce that it is is futile.

Okay you guys have the gun and are holding the nation hostage while first nations die of starvation and despair and our youth struggle to meet expectations that are too high. I guess capitalism has the whip and the gun and we should all just shut up and let them get on with it eh? Soon there will be riots, not just protests, but destruction of cities and windows, while we all yell at one another our accusations, feeling too anxious to check our facts. No time for planning just kill the scapegoats.

So the pipeline purchase made Alberta happy and willing to participate in the federal carbon pricing scheme and there's no more separatist sentiment right?

The US civil war also led to a national unity crisis, but it still had to be done. If we don't take a stand on climate, the oil heads will never realize that the situation is serious.

"I have no doubt that if it were not for this purchase [TMX], Canada would now be in the grips of a serious national unity crisis, which, amongst other things, would have been disastrous for climate policy."

Really? That idea is the foundation of this opinion piece? As someone who lived nearly a quarter century in Calgary, I'm not having any of this drivel.

As proof of the "crisis" the author links to the websites of two fringe parties based in Alberta. Neither of them have even moderate credibility with the majority of Albertans, and are nowhere near comparable to the serious support The PQ and Bloc have in Quebec. Oil is easily replaced with clean electricity. French language and culture are irreplaceable. Don't agree? Then I challenge Alberta "separatists" to have that referendum already. What are you waiting for? What exactly is your plan? To make threats, or to act?

It took Trudeau four years to enact the simplest carbon tax. It took Trudeau all of an afternoon to make the kneejerk decision to buy a pipeline based on fudged financials and prospects and not a small amount of hype and propaganda. One medium-scale tanker spill in the Salish Sea will affect the marine economy and ecosystems and damage communities that comprise the equivalent of 75% of the population of Alberta. And that's before the international lawsuits and multiple awards totalling of tens of billions in damages. Clean up? Based on decades of evidence and rushed reaction to critics, that will be a joke.

I moved to BC long ago. By my assessment and with a few modest adjustments, my family can easily get by without fuel from Alberta should it decide to cut BC off. Walkable community? Check. Electric transit and other clean transport options? Check. Local agriculture? Check (though it will require expansion). Alternative energy? Check. In fact, such a cut off would probably do BC a lot of good in the long run by forcing it to enact a crash program to electrify everything, improve urban efficacy and thus address its unfortunate dependency on fossil fuels. It will return the favour by radically cutting overall consumer demand for Alberta oil.

The national unity schtick doesn't even touch the fact that Asia is not exactly tripping over itself to buy a poor quality Alberta bitumen at premium prices on top of transoceanic shipping costs. TMX tankers will instead be going to California heavy oil refineries offering the same old "discounted" US feedstock prices (shhh!), that is until the disruptive technology of electric vehicles lowers demand even more.

What the hell does that have to do with national unity? Literally nothing, with one exception: Alberta politicos will continue the old pattern of blaming everyone but themselves while trotting out sham arguments about national unity.

The U of Calgary needs to freshen up its act for the 21st Century and attract a better crop of academics.

Olszynski: "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."

Too bad Martin Olszynski didn't stop there. If he had put his pen down at that point, he would have written a perfectly reasonable column.
Instead, he blunders into a minefield of fallacies.

Why should the rest of Canada have to compromise on climate to appease self-entitled climate change deniers and corporate welfare artists in Alberta?

Olszynski concludes: "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."
Olszynski provides zero evidence to support this claim.
Poorly reasoned column.

Praise for Mr. Olszynki, without your ludicrous reasoning the many insightful comments elicited would not have happened; so I appreciate the article for the educational quality of the rebuttals.