For as long as Justin Trudeau has been involved in federal politics, he’s had to work in the shadow cast by his late father, and few things Pierre Elliott Trudeau did cast a bigger shadow in the Prairies than the National Energy Program.

The elder Trudeau quickly retreated from its most aggressive elements after oil prices collapsed in the early 1980s and the western premiers made their anger towards the NEP known, but its legacy remains seared in the minds of older generations of Albertans — and, it seems, many conservative columnists.

Take the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson, who invoked the spectre of the NEP in describing the newly realigned federal cabinet and its renewed focus on environmental issues. “The Guilbeault/Wilkinson tag team could be formidable in reducing carbon emissions, but it would surely come at the expense of the Alberta and Saskatchewan energy sector. This could be NEP 2.0.”

This isn’t the first time Ibbitson has tried to play this particular card. Back in 2016, after the federal government made it clear it was going to implement a national price on carbon and force holdout provinces to adhere to it, he wrote, “If this feels like the National Energy Program 2.0, that’s because it is: Ottawa dictating energy policy to the provinces, this time in the cause of fighting climate change.”

He’s hardly the first columnist who has compared Justin Trudeau’s ongoing efforts to address climate change with his father’s own signature energy policy.

In 2016, former Edmonton Journal columnist Gary Lamphier invoked the NEP based on comments the newly elected prime minister made in Davos, asking: “Is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau preparing to launch NEP 2.0, a repackaged, modern-day version of the disastrous National Energy Program that was inflicted on Albertans by his father in the 1980s?”

In 2017, the proposed changes to the environmental assessment rules governing major resource projects in Canada meant another reference to the NEP, this time in a John Ivison column.

That link between the federal government’s new environmental assessment act and the NEP was made again in 2018 once the regulations were finalized, this time by Postmedia columnist (are you sensing a trend yet?) Lorne Gunter. “Justin Trudeau’s new environmental assessment regulations — released Thursday — are similar to his father’s National Energy Program (NEP), except Trudeau Jr.’s NEP 2.0 is actually an upside down version,” he wrote.

And in 2019, former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton wrote in the Calgary Herald that “today, his son’s carbon tax and Bill C-69 — the no-pipelines-ever law — are NEP 2.0.”

Opinion: If irony could power our vehicles and heat our homes, we’d never need to drill for another barrel of oil in Western Canada again, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #NEP #Cdnpoli #Oil

This lack of creativity on the part of conservative columnists is bad enough, but what makes it worse is that the comparison they keep going back to doesn’t withstand even the smallest amount of scrutiny. Justin Trudeau’s father, after all, didn't exactly hide his willingness to take from the West in order to give to the East.

As prime minister, the current Trudeau has basically done the opposite. He bought the Trans Mountain pipeline extension and committed to building it at a substantial political cost in British Columbia. He helped get LNG Canada, the largest energy project in Canadian history, across the finish line by granting it $275 million in direct support and tariff relief on the imported steel modules it uses that’s worth as much as $1 billion. He also sent nearly $2 billion to help the oil and gas industry clean up wells that it couldn’t bother to clean up itself.

What makes this ongoing fascination with the NEP even more bizarre is that past and present Prairie premiers like Jason Kenney, Scott Moe, and Brad Wall keep arguing for a de-facto national energy program. They remain outraged that the Energy East pipeline to Quebec was allowed to die, and they blame the Trudeau government for having the temerity to ask its proponents to account for their greenhouse gas emissions. But a pipeline from Alberta to Quebec was one of the core features of the NEP.

Then there’s their desire to see American and Saudi Arabian imports replaced with Canadian barrels in Eastern Canada, which was central to the NEP. And now, as the world begins to focus on the transition away from fossil fuels, they want to see a deliberate effort to overwhelm or contain global market forces — just like the NEP tried to do after the oil shock of the 1970s.

If irony could power our vehicles and heat our homes, we’d never need to drill for another barrel of oil in Western Canada again.

But while conservative columnists remain fixated on the perceived affront that federal climate policies represent to Prairie voters, it’s not clear the people who actually live here are buying that.

Ibbitson even acknowledges as much at the end of his column, noting that “reasonable efforts to reduce emissions by the oil-and-gas sector will have the support of many people in Alberta and Saskatchewan who are as worried about global warming as anyone else.”

Time will tell if the Liberals pay an electoral price for putting an environmentalist in the top environmental job. But time is something we're running out of when it comes to climate change, and maybe, just maybe, placating the Prairie premiers shouldn't be the prime minister’s top priority.

Keep reading

Clearly you can't win with these conservative premiers no matter what you do or indeed, conservatives generally; their essence is best captured in the name I saw on facebook, the "Alberduh Freedumb Fyters." A more peevish, stupid and purely nasty bunch is hard to imagine, and how they have ever gained such power is truly a mystery, especially now when humanity actually faces existential crises. Justin Trudeau's patience and tolerance in the face of endless, arbitrary vitriol has been exceptional. If he's finally "done," it's about bloody time, and maybe people claiming to be progressives who ALSO rag on him constantly could also shut the hell up.
I think the recent municipal elections have shown that the old boys' moneyed networks that are the underpinning of conservatism are finally starting to break down, and it's about time that happened too. It's our only hope.

Did you actually read the article? Justin has been a huge friend of the oil and gas industry. "He bought the Trans Mountain pipeline extension and committed to building it at a substantial political cost in British Columbia. He helped get LNG Canada, the largest energy project in Canadian history, across the finish line by granting it $275 million in direct support and tariff relief on the imported steel modules it uses that’s worth as much as $1 billion. He also sent nearly $2 billion to help the oil and gas industry clean up wells that it couldn’t bother to clean up itself."

In fact, "On the eve of the most significant climate meeting since the Paris Agreement was signed, G20 leaders will be gathering in Rome this weekend, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will arrive with a new record in hand: Canada has given more from the public coffers to the oil and gas industry than any of its peers."

"Despite decades of failure, Canada is once again promising to rapidly ramp down our climate pollution even as we rapidly ramp up fossil fuel extraction. The government is even doubling down, claiming we have to expand fossil carbon extraction because we need the extra fossil fuel cash to pay for emissions cutting."

(Trudeau) "... helped get LNG Canada, the largest energy project in Canadian history, across the finish line..."

And let's not forget that this was despite massive objections from and resistance by communities for miles and miles around; city council held a referendum, First Nations, fishermen and townspeople alike voted resoundingly against it. And yet he pushed ahead. If that's not anti-democratic, I don't know what is.

Let's be clear that Trudeau won the election for one reason, and one reason only: people who normally vote NDP were so worried that the Conservatives would make it into power again, and they voted the way most of Canada has for some time now: against the one they see as the bigger threat, not for anyone whose platform or performance they agree with. And stll politicians and commentators alike claim that whatever the policy in the platform the electorate *chose* it. Except when a particular policy was never to their liking: then, they keep their mouths shut. As they should when they don't know what they're talking about, or just trying to stir up the flies on the cowpie; come to think of it, that's a lot like some politicians.

Most strategic voters did not only vote to keep the Conservatives out, but to diminish Trudeau's power under a minority government. Twice. This was a vote for Jagmeet Singh as much as against anyone else.

With respect to LNG in northern BC, I believe the hereditary Indigenous elders hold more power and control over the Coastal Link gas pipeline than anyone else. The Supreme Court will in no doubt rule in their favour if the proponents of the current standoff continue to fail to recognize the inherent rights of Indigenous people under the Constitution.

While reading these comments by Max Fawcett critiquing conservative media commentators, I couldn't help to remember Fawcett's glowing review of the "potential" for blue hydrogen in Alberta a couple of years back. If he had dug a little deeper he'd soon conclude that blue hydrogen is a scam perpetrated by the fossil fuel industry to keep drilling, pumping, burning and propagandizing.

'How green is blue hydrogen?' by Robert W. Howarth | Mark Z. Jacobson, April 2021.

"...the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than burning natural gas or coal for heat and some 60% greater than burning diesel oil for heat..."

As usual, this guy nails it in plain English through very well researched high quality ad-free videos:

While Trudeau's love of oil and gas subsidies and kneejerk pipeline purchases may have been dented by the vociferous wall of resistance by people concerned about climate change, he did bring in a workable carbon tax with significant built-in escalators. Today, quietly eliminating the subsidies is still possible, though obviously he is tainted and will have to leave that up to Wilkinson and Guilbeault. And that is entirely possible through focusing more on demand.

It's beyond time to seriously step up decarbonization. It can be reasonably predicted that Trudeau's legacy will not be peppered with fossil fuel production shutdowns and decreases in supply (the favourite critique of progressives), given his pro-oil actions to date. But that still leaves room for the ministers to quietly catalyze the erosion of the demand for fossil fuels. The domestic economy now has a growing consumer (read: voter) hunger for electric vehicles and renewable energy. What is needed now are long-term programs that provide generous grants to switch out gas-based home and commercial building heating, to help make rooftop solar PV panels even more affordable (depending on provincial utility net metering policy), and heavily subsidize individual renewable energy projects, like funding R&D in various types of geothermal energy production.

This still leaves Big Think infrastructure ideas on the table. A national clean energy grid can essentially be realized with a single trans-Canadian corridor featuring high voltage direct current cables with hundreds of inter-ties to public utility and private renewable energy suppliers in each province, with the feds having the perfectly legal authority to cross provincial boundaries and run its own electricity trading network. Exporting zero emission power to the US has the potential to incrementally supplant the export of fossil fuels via pipelines with inter-ties at key border points (e.g. Windsor-Detroit, Vancouver-Bellingham, Hamilton-Buffalo ...).

The corridor could be the origin of multi-use practices. What's to stop the corridor from accommodating several types of electrified rail transport? The functionality of a 200 metre wide corridor could be enhanced with electrified nodal intercity freight and passenger commuter rail stations where it passes through towns and cities. This could be the start of a national-scale high-speed passenger rail network. High power DC transmission service could offer large-scale power storage using massive banks of liquid metal or iron-air batteries (not lithium) placed every 10-30 km to assist in balancing loads. If farmers, towns and First Nations communities within, say, 5 km either side of the corridor were offered a ready-made tie in for their private solar and wind generator output, you'd have a 10,000 km2 area for every 1,000 km of corridor for wind + solar generation capacity, neither of which will impact agriculture very much if designed properly.

These are the types of ideas that promote positive change, and are really needed to counter all the yelling and screaming that accompanies negative criticism, no matter how justified it is. People are hungry for fresh ideas, but they are also starting to tune out the noise. We need a better tune that offers positive, constructive ideas.