At a recent speech to international investors in Calgary, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley described the tar sands as "a tremendous asset" and an "international showpiece." Hearing my premier and the leader of my party describe the tar sands as a tremendous asset makes me cringe. They are indeed an international showpiece, but not the kind we should be bragging about.
Ms. Notley is a very bright woman and knows perfectly well we have to phase out fossil fuels and that commonsensically we should phase out the dirty ones first. Nonetheless, I understand why she has to say this stuff. Producing the tar sands creates a lot of wages, profits and taxes, and stating the truth would doom a political party in Alberta. The NDP wants to win a second term and badmouthing the tar sands would terminate that ambition. If they want to improve our environmental performance they have to make nice on oil and gas while doing what is politically possible.
And they are making moves in the right direction. For example, Ms. Notley has stated they will not support the Northern Gateway pipeline and will leave the decision on the Keystone pipeline to the Americans. This in itself is a big improvement over the previous government's support for any pipeline in any direction carrying anything. The NDP has also increased the emissions charge on large industrial polluters. Furthermore, some oil company CEOs, including the head of Suncor, Canada's biggest producer and a major tar sands operator, have called for a carbon tax. If the corporations back it, that makes it eminently doable and the government should do it.
But more, much more, needs to be done. Alberta has only 11 per cent of the country's people but produces more than a third of the greenhouse gas emissions, 50 per cent more than Ontario, and the tar sands are the fastest growing source of emissions in the country.
Unfortunately, what needs to be done is nowhere near politically feasible yet. The government will have to continue to kiss up to oil investors and wait for reality to settle in to the hearts and minds of Albertans.