Trying to find a balance
author: jae won hur | executive director
Forty-dollar-oil has taken a toll on this country.
Thousands of people have lost their jobs and the economy has recessed. Vividly illustrating this difficult period is the province of Alberta, the bastion of Canadian natural resources and Canadian leader of the energy sector, where 63,500 jobs were lost in first eight months of the year, employment insurance usage rates rose 95 per cent and conglomerates like Enbridge cut 5 per cent of its workforce on Nov. 16.
Interestingly, amidst some of the most difficult economic times in Albertan history, Alberta elected a majority NDP government, under the leadership of Rachel Notley. To describe this change in leadership as a surprise would be an understatement. Alberta’s political landscape had never accepted the NDP as a viable option, let alone a majority government. Notley, amidst a time where the energy sector is struggling, promised sweeping changes to the sector to improve its impact on the environment.
It’s always interesting to see how speechwriters always include an excerpt about the importance of balancing a strong economy while preserving the environment. They dwell on this dichotomy and reiterate the importance of the energy sector and the mandate in preserving the environment for future generations and collaborating with the industry. Notley isn’t immune to this cliché, and she announced a 3 billion dollar carbon tax, cap on greenhouse gases from the oilsands, and a plan to completely phase out coal-fired generating stations that provide over half of Alberta’s electricity. The tax was widely accepted, even to industry leaders such as Shell Canada CEO Lorraine Mitchelmore, who thinks that ‘it will provide the incentive’ for Canadian oil to become environmentally and economically sustainable.’
As Mitchelmore stated, sustainability is the key factor in all of this – economically and environmentally. Notley’s policies are making progress for a sustainable environment. However, what is bewilderingly frustrating is that the NDP is missing the mark on an incredible important piece on the pursuit of sustainability, which is the NDP’s promise to cut funding for the two Albertan carbon capture plants, Canada Quest and Alberta Carbon Trunk Line. In Saskatchewan’s Carbon Capture Plant at Boundary Dam by SaskPower, the equivalent to the aforementioned in Alberta, 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide has been captured in its first year of operations, and it is projected by the International Energy Agency that plants like these will capture one fifth of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions reductions by 2050. Notley believes that these risky technologies are a burden on the taxpayer and potentially ineffective, although Saskatchewan has proven decent results already.
Notley’s decision to phase out coal-fired generating stations means thousands of jobs lost, entire towns becoming abandoned, and the economy stagnating. That’s a price we will have to pay for environmental progress. However, shouldn’t a responsible government that aims for sustainability economically and environmentally, be pragmatic in research, technology and innovation in the non-renewables sector? If there are ways that we can utilize non-renewables and maintain middle class jobs while responsibly mitigating the damage we incur, shouldn’t we pursue them? Shouldn’t we attempt to find sufficient balance and invest in the future through kindling the fires of technological advancements?
There is no economy without the environment. We all understand that preserving this planet is a mandate and an absolute priority. And even amidst difficult times, the merits of environmental policies such as ones in Alberta stand on solid ground. However, as our Premier Brad Wall highlights time and time again, the energy sector is crucial for Canadian lives and will continue to be. If Notley wants true balance, she will follow regulation with investments in pragmatic research and attempt improving the processes of non-renewables energy for long-term sustainability of the sector. Only if then, she will truly progress towards what her speechwriter ambitiously wrote.