Suncor waves the white flag on climate change
When Suncor Energy announced former Imperial Oil CEO Rich Kruger would be taking over its top job back in April, it was obvious that more change was in the offing. And while the job cuts and cost reductions he’s announced in the months since haven’t surprised many people, the news that Canada’s largest emitter was going to abandon any pretense of caring about climate change probably did. “Our current strategic framework is insufficient in terms of what it takes to win,” Kruger, also a former ExxonMobil executive, told investors and analysts on the company’s most recent quarterly conference call. “While important, we have a bit of a disproportionate emphasis on the longer-term energy transition.”
This is a company, after all, that brought former Liberal leadership contender Martha Hall Findlay in to serve as its chief sustainability officer in 2020, and then promoted her to the role of “chief climate officer” in February 2022. That was the first such appointment by any Canadian oil and gas company, and while she left Suncor later that year due to health and personal challenges, she remained optimistic about her former employer’s commitment to the cause. But Arlene Strom, who took over for Hall Findlay as chief sustainability officer, retires at the end of this year, and the company has decided to eliminate the role completely.
It’s not like Suncor was making any great strides in the direction of climate leadership under Kruger’s predecessors, mind you. It was, after all, still an oilsands company intent on increasing production and associated greenhouse gas emissions. It sold off its wind and solar assets last year, ostensibly to focus on “sustainable jet fuel” and carbon capture and storage projects. And for all of its talk about net-zero targets and lowering carbon emissions, it hadn’t actually done much walking in that direction. Maybe Kruger’s honesty here helps remind us what these companies are really all (and always were) about: making money.
Suncor’s not the only climate-curious oil company backing away from previous commitments. In the face of rising oil prices, BP scaled back its promised 40 per cent production cut by 2030 to a more modest 25 per cent. Shell, which had committed to reducing its oil production 20 per cent by 2030, decided to achieve that by selling it to another oil company — which will, of course, keep producing oil. Yes, both companies remain ostensibly committed to their 2050 net-zero targets, but given the ease with which they’ve abandoned more imminent ones, it’s not clear why anyone should take them seriously. As Dan Cohn, a global energy transition researcher at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis told The Guardian, “they have left no doubt that their pledges were deployed for cynical political purposes, only to be ditched when they no longer suited the industry’s strategic position.”
Businesses are free to do what they want, of course, subject to the rules and regulations governments impose on them. But this flip-flop on climate commitments should remind everyone that voluntary pledges and promises are no substitute for legally binding responsibilities, especially when they can be discarded with the stroke of a pen — or in anticipation of a different government, with different priorities, coming to power. Canada’s oil and gas industry may well be betting that Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives will win the next election, and that the Tories would happily release them from any responsibilities to future generations or the climate. The current federal government, which has already offered up companies like Suncor billions of dollars in subsidies for decarbonization and is still being pressed by them for billions more, would do well to remember that.
Kruger, for his part, seems very taken with the notion of “winning.” It’s a word that popped up repeatedly in his comments on Suncor’s recent conference call, and it’s one he’s used in previous interviews to explain his approach. "I consider myself to be reasonably decisive, and very competitive," he told the Canadian Press’s Amanda Stephenson when he first took on the job in May. "I play to win."
But what, exactly, does “winning” mean here — and who stands to lose as a result? After all, if it wasn’t clear before, it should be by now: the senior executives at oil and gas companies like Suncor are deliberately ragging the puck in order to delay making meaningful investments in the future and are not willing to constrain their ability to shower shareholders with dividends and stock buybacks. The Rich Krugers of the world want to drive up their share price, see their stock options pay out and maximize the amount of cash they can put in their bank account.
Yes, they’ll continue to pay lip service to the idea of 2050 targets, but that’s because they know they won’t be the ones who have to do the heavy lifting to reach them. By then, they’ll be comfortably retired in some other part of the country or the world — that is, if they’re even still alive. The failure to invest in real climate solutions back in 2023 (like, say, Occidental Petroleum’s recent US$1.1 billion purchase of Carbon Engineering) and the costs that will be imposed on people in the decades that followed, is someone else’s problem.
You know, ours.
The right’s new conspiracy theory: wire services
It’s no secret that conservatism has made more room in recent years for conspiracy theories, whether they’re about vaccines and COVID-19 or the World Economic Forum and its apparently nefarious influence over the Canadian government. The rot is so deep, in fact, that the recent byelection in Manitoba saw People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier and Conservative Party of Canada candidate Branden Leslie sparring over who hated the WEF more.
A recent fundraising email that included mention of “globalist Davos elites” caught the eye of Canadian Press reporter Mickey Djuric, who covered the CPC’s ongoing flirtation with dog-whistle politics and conspiracies. The response from Pierre Poilievre, along with past and present Conservative MPs and its director of communications? Gin up a new conspiracy about the Canadian Press and its relationship with the CBC and other “legacy” media outlets.
“No wonder Trudeau wants to censor all but four or five Liberals (sic) news sources: they all coordinate in attacking Poilievre with the same false headline,” former CPC leader Andrew Scheer tweeted. “Collusion?” This did not sit well with National Post columnist John Ivison, who clapped back at Scheer’s uninformed paranoia. “It's a wire story, with a suggested heading everyone used. Every political rookie knows that - and you're a lifer. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that you are deliberately trying to stoke conspiracy and disinformation. You need to give your head a shake, Andrew.”
Fat chance. Instead, Scheer doubled down.
As The Logic’s David Reeveley pointed out, the fact that multiple outlets published the same story with the same headline from Canada’s biggest wire service is more a reflection of the lack of resources in our newsrooms right now than a deliberate and concerted effort to undermine Poilievre. “CP moves stories on its wires and many clients have websites that auto-post them, in their entirety, with CP's headlines,” he tweeted. “Some have web editors/producers who then update, revise and add to them. A similar thing happens when a print paper is laid out.”
These patient explanations from professional journalists have not yet been able to penetrate the collective conservative consciousness. Neither have reminders of Postmedia’s habit of forcing its papers to run the same pro-Conservative election endorsements with the same headline, an act that’s far more “collusive” than anything happening here. As with most conspiracy theories and the people pushing them, contradictory facts rarely get the hearing they deserve.
What’s really driving this, I suspect, is the longstanding desire by populist conservatives to undermine the media and its traditional role as the arbiter of what is and isn’t true. Donald Trump turned this into an art form, albeit a vulgar one, and his Canadian imitators have been doing their best to mimic him. In his outgoing speech as CPC leader, Scheer blasted the mainstream media and its “narrative” and tried to boost alternative right-wing sources like The Post Millennial and True North.
But as Angus Reid Institute pollster (and federal debate moderator) Shachi Kurl noted, this reflexive Conservative hostility towards the mainstream media isn’t helping them actually win elections. “This is the stuff that gives fatigued swing voters looking for an alternative to a tired, 8 year old Liberal government the heebie jeebies,” she tweeted. “How much rebranding is needed to fix it before they rule him out?”
With media friends like these…
If Conservatives are looking for some actual malfeasance in the mainstream media, they might want to take a look at Postmedia’s handling of the Ontario auditor general’s report into Premier Doug Ford and the Greenbelt. As most other media outlets (including Canada’s National Observer) have noted, the report tears a strip out of Ford’s government and its handling of the removal of some lands from the Greenbelt — ones that just happen to be worth $8.3 billion more as a result.
You’d have a hard time finding any of that out if you were a National Post subscriber, though. The day after the report dropped, its front page focused on new Russian attacks in Ukraine, fresh allegations of Chinese interference in Canadian democracy and a new effort at slow-walking climate policy by Jordan Peterson and Bjorn Lomborg. Only in the very bottom right of the front page was there mention of Ford or the inquiry, and even then it included a flattering picture and a headline that betrayed none of the explosiveness of the report (and actually echoed the premier’s talking points). “What auditor had to say about opening up protected lands for housing,” it whispered.
Try to imagine the difference in coverage and presentation if the auditor general had been talking about Justin Trudeau or Kathleen Wynne — and try not to laugh too much at the obvious contrast. I poked around its website to see if the coverage was any different and found the exact same “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to the story. Instead, their home page, news page and opinion page were more focused on things like Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Steven Guilbeault’s net-zero electricity regulations and a castle in Scotland selling for less than a house in Toronto.
I’ll have more to say about Postmedia and what Ottawa can (and should) do with its increasingly fetid carcass. But for now, let’s just note that it has decided to ignore a story in which private developers have been massively enriched by government policy and political staffers were intimately involved in helping facilitate it. For some reason, I can’t see Andrew Scheer or Pierre Poilievre getting quite as worked up about this one.
Good News of the Week: The kids win one for the climate
Montana might not be the first (or second, or third) place that comes to mind when you think of a crucial battleground for climate policy, but that’s what unfolded earlier this week in one of its courtrooms. In a case pitting the interests of young people against the state’s Environmental Policy Act, which prohibits state agencies from considering climate impacts when assessing fossil fuel projects, the court sided with the kids. In the process, it may have set a precedent that will echo across the country — and maybe beyond.
“Today, for the first time in U.S. history, a court ruled on the merits of a case that the government violated the constitutional rights of children through laws and actions that promote fossil fuels, ignore climate change and disproportionately imperil young people,” said Julia Olson, chief legal counsel and executive director of Our Children’s Trust. “This is a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate. More rulings like this will certainly come.”
Yes, this will be appealed to the state’s supreme court, and yes, it could easily be overturned. But according to Phil Gregory, an attorney for the plaintiffs in this case, this will spur other similar legal efforts that will build on the success of the Montana case. “There are political decisions being made without regard to the best scientific evidence and the effects they will have on our youngest generations,” he said. “This is a monumental decision.”
On Tuesday, I wrote about how addressing rental and non-market housing could help the Liberal government out of the hole it keeps digging for itself — and right a wrong its predecessors committed three decades ago.
If you want to read the full report from the National Housing Accord, click here.
Last week, I wrote about Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s “can’t-do” attitude on net-zero electricity and the federal government’s efforts to decarbonize our grid. It’ll only be a matter of days before I write about this again, I suspect, given the stakes for both Alberta and Canada and the massive hypocrisies at work.
And while it comes from a competitor publication, I want to draw your attention to this piece from The Tyee. It’s about Marshall Smith, Danielle Smith’s chief of staff, and the drug rehab facility he worked at in British Columbia — one that puts the lie to some of the things he and his current government employer have said about addiction and recovery.
I wrote about the so-called “Alberta model” and Pierre Poilievre’s fascination with it back in July. This is an issue that demands honesty, humility and a willingness to learn from past mistakes. Here’s hoping everyone can summon that spirit and focus more on actually helping people.