Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
August 27, 2007
Oilsands fuel potential fight with the feds
Give former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed credit for once again being the one to talk about the elephant in the living room. Last summer, Lougheed's call to halt oilsands development until industry slows its ever-increasing output of greenhouse gases and finds a sustainable way to use water resources was duly ignored by those with the power to do anything about those pressing issues.
On Aug. 14, he lit up the front pages by again stating the obvious - that Alberta and the federal government are on a collision course once Ottawa responds to public pressure for stronger environmental regulations. The unity of Canada is at stake.
The former premier called for an open discussion among the premiers and with the federal government about how Alberta's energy resources can be developed in a sustainable way. He didn't say it, but he could have - the recent premiers' conference was most notable for skirting the issue of sustainable development rather than meeting it head on.
The Alberta government's approach has been to allow virtually unlimited tar sands development regardless of the environmental costs and disruption to society. It's a short-sighted approach in more ways than one.
Lougheed signalled one obvious aspect of this short-sightedness - unrestrained development will lead to a constitutional clash. One would think that on this basis alone the government would be eager to take action to convince others of its desire to protect the environment. Better that Alberta set environmental standards than that Ottawa do it.
Albertans have not forgotten - and will likely never forget - the nasty battle over the National Energy Policy 25 years ago. Conventional wisdom has it that the NEP was a disaster for the oil patch and left thousands of people unemployed. It certainly did drive the animosity between Alberta and Eastern Canada to a fever pitch and weaken the bonds of national unity.
The argument against a temporary halt to oilsands development is it would also throw people out of work. With Alberta's economy roaring ahead full bore and a current shortage of skilled and unskilled labour, the argument is not tenable.
Lougheed himself had to face down such objections when during his first term as premier, the government sharply increased petroleum royalty rates. The oil industry was apoplectic, but the economy continued to boom and Lougheed won the day.
Today, the former premier has shown more than a little sympathy for the environmental argument. Having flown over the tar sands developments in a helicopter, he said, "I was appalled by what was happening there."
So, there it is. The premier who most stridently defended Alberta's interests from federal incursion is saying that somebody had better put a halt to the destruction of the environment resulting from our current boom. If the province doesn't do it, Ottawa will step in.
For Catholics, there is the counsel of the Alberta bishops in their October 1998 statement, Celebrate Life: Care for Creation. Nine years ago they wrote that respect for the integrity of creation should be a part of all government decision-making. Present-day prosperity should not lead to a lasting ecological debt.
"Over the years, Albertans have lived as if the abundant forests, minerals, oil, gas and coal deposits, fertile prairie topsoil and clean air and water extended without limit," the bishops wrote. "Our economic model of maximizing profit in an increasingly global market is unsustainable."
So who will face up to the unsustainability of the current course? Will the province assume its responsibility as stewards of creation for current and future generations? Or, will it leave the issue to Ottawa and set the stage for an unnecessary constitutional showdown?
- Glen Argan
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.