Canadians were generally relieved and positive when Prime Minister Trudeau announced the energy-related provisions of the federal Covid-19 Economic Response Plan on April 17, with this statement: “Just because we’re in a health crisis, doesn’t mean we can neglect the environmental crisis.” The economic stimulus included $1.72 billion to clean up orphan or inactive wells in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which the government claims “ will help maintain approximately 5,200 jobs in Alberta alone.” The second initiative is $750 million to create an “Emissions Reduction Fund” to help oil and gas companies meet federal methane-reduction standards. The announcement is summarized in a CBC report and an article in the National Observer , which also summarizes some of the generally positive reactions from environmental groups. Press releases by Stand.earth and Clean Energy Canada reflect that generally-held relief that the government had resisted the extensive lobbying from Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) – as outlined in a memo leaked by Environmental Defence Canada – and appeared to have listened to the voices of Canada’s clean energy advocates.
An April 17 press release from Climate Action Network Canada embodies a more cautious reaction:
“While we acknowledge and appreciate what this cash infusion achieves – stimulating the economy through well-paying work, while repairing ecosystems damaged by oil and gas operations – we expect to see the federal government hold companies accountable by making enforcement of existing regulations meant to require those companies to clean up orphaned materials and restore land and waterways a condition of its support to the government of Alberta. We will be watching how fiscal measures available through Export Development Canada (EDC) and Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will further support the government’s stated commitment to using COVID-relief public money to move Canada further along its path to a more sustainable and resilient net-zero economic future.”
Many of these same concerns appear in an Opinion piece by Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all” (in the National Observer, April 21) . Saxe begins with: “it is shameful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using your tax dollars to bail out the oil and gas exploration and production industry, perhaps the wealthiest and most polluting industry in human history.” She credits the “one good program” to be the $200 million loan to Alberta’s Orphan Well Association because it is structured as a loan, to be repaid under the oversight of a special committee which will include local and Indigenous representatives. As for the $750 million Emissions Reduction funding, Saxe criticizes the terms as unclear, and objects to the roles of the Alberta government, the Export Development Corporation and the Business Development Bank of Canada whose previous oil-friendly financial record she documents.
Finally, Saxe objects to the lost opportunity – suggesting other, more impactful ways to spend the economic funds, and stating:
“These multi-billion dollar bailouts …. are one of the most expensive and polluting ways of protecting jobs. As well as their mountain of debt, the oil and gas extraction industry creates a puny 2.7 jobs per million dollars of output, while pumping out 704 tonnes of greenhouse gases for each full-time job.”
This job creation estimate is based on research by Eric Miller, in an unpublished presentation: The Pandemic from an Ecological Economics perspective: Assessing consequences and appraising policy options (March 31 2020). More related resources are here .