Ongoing railway blockades do erode some support but once ended, Canadians want to move beyond the reality of cultural annihilation and colonial domination. Reconciliation involves healing the wounds of history.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on March 2, 2020.
OTTAWA—The Government of Canada is not responsible for world oil prices.
And like it or not, companies make decisions largely based on their profit margins.
With the price of oil as low as it is, resource-based companies are rethinking their investment strategies around the world.
Just last week, a major exploration project was cancelled in Australia, which had been in development stages for more than a decade. Norwegian oil giant Equinor announced an end to controversial plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight in a move hailed by environmentalists as a “huge win.”
The Norwegian firm was granted approval last December to begin exploratory drills in seas off South Australia.
In announcing the cancellation, Equinox said the project was not commercially competitive. Equinox was the fourth company to pull out of the area, and the public opposition to drilling in this pristine marine ecosystem could not have been lost on the company.
But in the end, even with strong government support, the project was neither popular nor economically viable.
While Equinor was pulling out, anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto announced a plan for decarbonization of its $2.6-billion iron ore mine in Western Australia. Rio is building a $100-million solar farm to generate power for its mining operations as part of a plan to get carbon out of its energy options.
Recent Australian bush fires have put climate change on the map in that country and companies like Rio are responding with plans to lower their carbon footprint.
The Australian prime minister is a right-wing climate change denier, who was elected by his party to replace a leader accused of going soft on climate change.
Scott Morrison is a strong supporter of fossil fuel development, and once brought a lump of coal into Parliament to convince fellow legislators of the safety and cleanliness of the product. He did not mention the coal was shellacked to make sure he didn’t get his hands dirty.
Morrison was under heavy criticism during the devastating bush fires because he continually refused to acknowledge that climate change was contributing to the fire threat.
But having a prime minister who is blind to the world phenomenon of climate change was not enough to keep Equinor spending in the Great Australian Bight.
Stephen Harper was Canada’s most pro-oil prime minister and yet, by trying to fast-track approval processes, he was unable to get through any pipeline approvals during his time in office.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s position on fossil fuels is more attenuated. He wants to reduce our collective carbon footprint but is still sensitive to the fact that when someone in the world is using oil, it might as well be Canadian oil. But his opinion as prime minister does not matter when the current world price dictates that an investment will not make money.
And as the planet is rethinking the full costs of fossil fuel warming, no single government can be blamed for shifting international energy priorities.
If Rio Tinto has a plan to go carbon neutral, it is because they have seen the writing on the wall. It makes more sense for them to fuel their mining operations via solar energies than to stick to conventional carbon-based fuel.
Trudeau will definitely suffer the political fallout of lost oil and gas investments. The Conservatives federally and in Alberta have been successful in pinning the blame for the Teck Resources withdrawal on the government.
Trudeau will also feel the fallout from national protests in support of the hereditary minority of Wet’suwet’en people who oppose the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink Pipeline.
Poll numbers have recently been on the uptake for Canadian Conservatives. Despite the fact that it is the only party that does not appear to have a legitimate plan to fight climate change, the Canadian public is responding to the “get tough” simplistic rhetoric.
However, the Tories also run the risk of backing themselves into a corner on the crucial question of Indigenous reconciliation.
By questioning the proposed changes to the Canadian citizenship oath, which affirm constitutional enshrinement of aboriginal and treaty rights, Conservative MP immigration critic Peter Kent could be creating problems for his own party.
At the end of the day, Canadians support the Indigenous reconciliation agenda, and expect governments to be able to work positively to reverse more than a century of discrimination.
Ongoing railway blockades do erode some support but once ended, Canadians want to move beyond the reality of cultural annihilation and colonial domination.
Reconciliation involves healing the wounds of history.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.