Just in time for Canada Day, Alberta Finance and Enterprise Minister Lloyd Snelgrove chose to exhibit why Canadian democracy is devolving into something akin to corporate rule ("Ottawa urged to get behind Enbridge pipeline," Edmonton Journal, June 23). This particularly appears to be the case in the province of Alberta where, more often than not, it is government of the oil industry, by the oil industry, for the oil industry.
In an interview with Postmedia News, Snelgrove called on the federal government to essentially undermine the National Energy Board's assessment process and endorse the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline post-haste before the NEB's Joint Review Panel hearings on the highly controversial project have even commenced. Enbridge is proposing to build a twinned pipeline from Alberta's tar sands to British Columbia and then transport what many have called the world's dirtiest oil by supertanker from BC's north coast to offshore markets.
Snelgrove's childish temper tantrum directed at federal and provincial governments, which to his dismay are not out cheerleading for Northern Gateway at the same volume as the budding petro-state of Alberta, contained several ironic elements. A few of them are explored here:
Snelgrove contends that Northern Gateway is "of national economic significance." Like Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel before him, Snelgrove reflexively conflates the interests of Enbridge's shareholders and unnamed $100 million investors with the interests of the Canadian people, but the incongruence of his assertion goes far beyond that.
In contradiction to Snelgrove, Enbridge has actually indicated in its own Environmental Assessment that Northern Gateway is not of national or provincial economic significance: "Despite the magnitude and duration of project effects on GDP and employment, the effects on the provincial and national economies are considered not significant relative to the overall size of these economies."
If the Alberta government is so concerned with the national economic interest, why is it in a headlong rush to ship diluted bitumen to Asian and American markets? Even the chief administrative officer for the town of Bruderheim, the site of the proposed Northern Gateway terminal in Alberta, has voiced concerns about Enbridge's plan on the basis that shipping unrefined tar sands crude out of Canada translates into lost jobs for Canadians.
One could also argue that the tar sands are a strategic resource that Canada will need to bridge the gap during the inevitable, and likely difficult, transition to fossil fuel alternatives. Canada exports approximately 2.5 million barrels a day of oil to the United States, yet simultaneously imports 1.2 million barrels a day. So why are these flag-waving patriots like Snelgrove pushing so hard to ship away even more of our critical and limited natural resources to foreign interests? In addition, what price to Canada's future energy security will be exacted as a result of this short-term thinking? In a January 2011 interview in theGlobe and Mail, Enbridge spokesperson Michelle Perret provided her company's rationalization: "We have a fantastic lifestyle in Canada...and the only reason we have that is because we export more than we consume of the natural resources we have."
Parenthetically, even if Northern Gateway is approved, a significant amount of tar sands crude will continue to be shipped to the United States, in this case by supertanker to ports in California. Given that reality, Snelgrove's argument that the primary need for Northern Gateway is to open new markets in China is suspiciously disingenuous.
Despite the controversies of the past regarding Alberta and the formation of a national energy policy, the federal government intervention Snelgrove has called for amounts to a de facto national energy policy.
In contrast with Snelgrove, the Postmedia News article quotes BC premier Christy Clark as withholding judgment on Northern Gateway until the federal environmental review process is complete. Cranking up the crazy and breaking off the knob, Snelgrove rails against Clark's caution by threatening to "put a loop around BC" and build a pipeline to Valdez, Alaska. Valdez sits at the northeast tip of Prince William Sound, the site of the Exxon oil spill disaster. If Snelgrove thinks laws and regulations are cumbersome in Canada, then he is in for a very rude awakening in the United States where much more stringent environmental regulations are in place; witness the Keystone XL pipeline controversy.
While Clark's restraint is commendable, her downplaying of concerns around oil tanker traffic amongst critics of Northern Gateway is way off the mark; for British Columbians, especially coastal residents, it is very much about the tankers.