Binkley Report — Only May gets the point


Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst. Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ... 

The Binkley Report

On pensioners: This is good strategy?

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

When President Obama said no thanks, for now, to the Keystone Pipeline project to ship tar-sands oil to a Texas refinery, he did us a favour.

Sadly, not many people got it. Prime Minister Harper whined about Canada being treated as a nature preserve by Americans and vowed to sell the goop to China. That, of course, put the spotlight on the Northern Gateway project to pump the crude through a pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., for forwarding by tanker through tricky shipping lanes.

Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver tried to brand the widespread opposition to that project from First Nations bands and environment groups as anti-Canadian. Which of course leaves the environmental assessment panel looking into the proposal in an untenable position.

However, the real issue, as Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader, pointed out, is why we aren’t processing the crude in Canada and creating jobs here? Harper refers to his government’s job creation priority in virtually every public utterance. So why not in this instance?

Dodgy excuses for why the crude has to be exported spout from the lips of political and business leaders.

May says, “We should now pause and re-think shipping our unprocessed crude to either the US or China. We can refine that oil here and use it domestically or export the finished product, creating jobs in the process and ensuring environmental controls.” We might even show Canada has the ability to be innovative by developing the technology to refine this stuff in a low-polluting way.

"We now have an opportunity to rethink our ad hoc energy policy,” she says. “Lacking any explicit policy, the implicit policy appears to be to expand the tar sands as fast as possible while shipping out unprocessed bitumen crude for value added-elsewhere. While the Harper government tries to portray the issue of pipelines as the environment versus the economy, the reality is that these pipelines do not make economic sense. There is more potential for jobs if we keep and refine the existing bitumen in Canada.

“It is critical to freeze any new growth of the oil sands allowing value-added processing (to develop),” she continues. “The reason oil companies don't build refineries near the tar sands now has been described by former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed as due to the traffic jam. Due to the hyper-inflationary situation created by unconstrained growth in the Athabasca region, labour and capital are in short supply and very expensive for other installations.

“We need to begin the shift away from fossil fuels. Slowing the tar sands, shutting down coal-generated electricity, and diversifying our energy resources by expanding geo-thermal, solar, wind, tidal and small scale hydro, as well as investing in intensive energy efficiency improvements will create more jobs across Canada than the pipeline proposals, while giving us greater energy security and reduced greenhouse gases.” It would also give Canada a real sustainable energy policy.

If needed, government and industry can launch public-private partnerships to develop a Canadian tar-sands refinery. It could investigate whether the existing refineries in Canada could be adapted to handle the crude. Who knows how many technological discoveries could come from that kind of project?

May quotes Dave Coles, President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, who estimates that the Keystone Pipeline would have exported more than 40,000 Canadian jobs along with 900,000 barrels of unrefined bitumen.

Consumers in eastern Canada get half their petroleum products from foreign rather than domestic sources, May notes.

Opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline project comes mainly from concerns about the disruption to natural habitat and ongoing threat of leaks from the pipeline once it’s in operation. Then there’s the threat of an oil tanker accident on the B.C. coast.

The recent grounding of the Costa Concordia on the Italian coast is a handy reminder that accidents will happen. Who will trip and fall in the lifeboat when this occurs off the B.C. coast ruining valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat?

This is why Harper should have left the panel to do its work. So what if it takes a couple of years to hear all the concerns about and support for the project. There’re many issues that need to be studied by the panel. Why isn’t the Port of Prince Rupert, which is much safer for shipping, being considered?

Or is he afraid more people will start asking why the crude isn’t being refined in Canada for Canadians.

Or that the public will start to realize that Harper is only interested in getting his own way? None of this messy democratic debate business.

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