Newly-elected government in Canada outlines its climate priorities; faces first major test in the Frontier mine decision

Canada’s minority government is back in session after the October 2019 election, launched by the Speech from the Throne on December 5.  The Throne Speech traditionally is used to outline government priorities, and signals that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party will try to stay in power by balancing the demands of the oil and gas proponents in Alberta against the environmental concerns of the rest of the country. The Toronto Star parsed the speech in “What does it mean? The Throne Speech Interpreted “.

On the issue of climate change, here are the actual words of the Throne Speech:

“In this election, Parliamentarians received a mandate from the people of Canada which Ministers will carry out. It is a mandate to fight climate change, strengthen the middle class, walk the road of reconciliation, keep Canadians safe and healthy, and position Canada for success in an uncertain world.”… A clear majority of Canadians voted for ambitious climate action now. And that is what the Government will deliver. It will continue to protect the environment and preserve Canada’s natural legacy. And it will do so in a way that grows the economy and makes life more affordable.

The Government will set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This goal is ambitious, but necessary – for both environmental protection and economic growth.

The Government will continue to lead in ensuring a price on pollution everywhere in this country, working with partners to further reduce emissions.

The Government will also:

help to make energy efficient homes more affordable, and introduce measures to build clean, efficient, and affordable communities;

make it easier for people to choose zero-emission vehicles;

work to make clean, affordable power available in every Canadian community;

work with businesses to make Canada the best place to start and grow a clean technology company; and

provide help for people displaced by climate-related disasters.

The Government will also act to preserve Canada’s natural legacy, protecting 25 percent of Canada’s land and 25 percent of Canada’s oceans by 2025. Further, it will continue efforts to reduce plastic pollution, and use nature-based solutions to fight climate change – including planting two billion trees to clean the air and make our communities greener.

And while the Government takes strong action to fight climate change, it will also work just as hard to get Canadian resources to new markets, and offer unwavering support to the hardworking women and men in Canada’s natural resources sectors, many of whom have faced tough times recently.”

 

Reaction from environmentalists and Opposition party leaders appeared in the National Observer, in  “Liberals commit to carbon-pollution target of net-zero by 2050”   (Dec. 5); and in “Throne speech climate commitments dwarfed by spending on Trans Mountain” by the Dogwood Institute .

The Canadian Labour Congress reacted with this generally supportive statement:  “We need bold targets to fight climate change, we owe that to our children …. “We also owe the next generation good jobs and commitments to minimize the impact on workers. Today’s commitments move us towards a greener economy.”   In advance of the Throne Speech, the Green Economy Network, a union network of which the CLC is one member, had made  a harder-hitting statement: “The GEN is demanding that the Prime Minister make climate job creation a priority through investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green buildings, public transit and higher speed rail transit.”

Also in advance of the Throne Speech, a group led by the Smart Prosperity Initiative  delivered an Open Letter outlining detailed demands for clean economy initiatives. The twenty-six signatories include leaders from business, environmental advocacy groups, and the United Steelworkers and BlueGreen Canada.

One of the first major tests for the minority government, should it last that long, will be the decision required by the end of February on whether to approve the application by Teck Resources for the massive Frontier oil sands project – a $20-billion, 260,000-barrel-per-day open-pit petroleum-mining project near Fort McKay in northern Alberta. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website provides official documentation, including the July 2019 Joint Review Panel Report , which includes discussion of the  economic and employment impacts of the project (beginning page 883).  Critiques of the Joint Review Panel approval were published in July by The Narwhal here  and the Pembina Institute here .

And now, as Parliament reconvenes and the COP25 meetings are underway, the Frontier mine is becoming the  litmus test of Canada’s climate change policy, as laid out in  “Trudeau will fuel the fires of our climate crisis if he approves Canada’s mega mine”, an Opinion piece by Tzeporah Berman which appeared in The Guardian on December 10.  Also on December 10, Greta Thunberg and fourteen other young people released an Open Letter to government leaders of Canada and Norway, calling on them to block any new oil and gas projects and quickly phase out existing ones. The National Observer explains in  “Greta Thunberg and other youth call on Trudeau to ditch fossil fuels” (Dec.9) .

Oil Sands update: Trans Mountain will undergo new NEB Review – but watch out for the new Frontier mine

On September 21, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources announced that the federal government has begun its path forward after the Court of Appeal decision on August 30 which stopped the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  The press release states:    “we have instructed the National Energy Board (NEB) to reconsider its recommendations, taking into account the effects of project-related marine shipping. The NEB will be required to complete a thorough and prompt review and deliver its report within 22 weeks.”… and “…the NEB will provide participant funding so that the views of Indigenous groups are well represented in the Board’s consideration of marine issues.” The National Energy Board website provides official news of the new Order in Council here

A CBC report on September 21 summarizes the government action and reactions:  “Ottawa gives pipeline regulator 22 weeks to review Trans Mountain expansion project” ; in it,  the Minister  promises a further announcement on improved consultations with First Nations (one of the two grounds cited by the Court of Appeal for quashing the project).

Other reactions:

Although her office hasn’t released an official statement, Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley has taken a hard line in media interviews,  as reported by  CBC on Sept 21) :  “We will not tolerate legal game playing,”… “And should it start to appear that game playing is working, we will hold Ottawa’s feet to the fire.”

From federal Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer: “Ottawa needs ‘special representative’ to consult Indigenous groups and save Trans Mountain, says Scheer” (Sept. 24);  From B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, a press release limited to cautious acknowledgement; and from Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, as quoted in The Straight (Sept. 25) : it would be “a win-win-win” to move the terminal from Burnaby to Delta, thus avoiding concerns about tanker traffic in the sensitive Burrard Inlet (but not addressing any concerns to “keep it in the ground”).

West Coast Environmental Law has written a thorough summary of the August Court of Appeal decision , and suggested questions for the coming review.  Ottawa is also facing a call from Washington State for  improved oil spill protocols for the part of the Trans Mountain pipeline which passes through the Puget Sound, according to the National Observer  (Sept 25).

“Colossal” new oil sands mine:  But as all eyes are on the progress of this Trans Mountain review, another enormous oil sands project is under consideration.  “Hearings begin today into a $20-billion oilsands mine that’s even bigger than the massive Fort Hills”  in The Financial Post (Sept. 24), reporting the on a five-week, joint-review panel regulatory hearing by Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and Alberta Energy Regulator into the development of the Frontier oilsands mine by Teck Resources.   The Narwhal analysis describes the Frontier mine as “ a colossal undertaking that relies on ‘relentless’ growth in world oil demand at a time of global climate precarity”.  Read “One of the largest oilsands mines ever proposed advances to public hearings” from The Narwhal for background and discussion of the potential impact, including the economic arguments, for this new development.