Canada: petro-state or prosperous nation?

Imagine a Canada with an abundance of nature and wildlife, clean air and water, healthy citizens, and a prosperous economy. Sounds close to what we have, doesn’t it?

Imagine a Canada with an abundance of nature and wildlife, clean air and water, healthy citizens, and a prosperous economy. Sounds close to what we have, doesn’t it?

But it may not be for long if we keep heading down the road we’re on.

Author Andrew Nikiforuk has argued that Canada is becoming a petro-state. “Without long-term planning and policies, Canada and Alberta will fail to secure reliable energy supplies for Canadians, to develop alternative energy sources for the country, or to create valuable resource funds for the future,” he writes in his best-selling book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. Because of the response of Alberta to Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Plan, Canada doesn’t even have a national energy plan.

The reality is that our government is putting all its eggs in one basket, relying on the tar sands to fuel the economy. And although the government has at least come around to acknowledging that global warming is a problem, it hasn’t acted as if it’s a problem worthy of much attention.

Its energy and environmental policies show that it is willing to let the economics of the fossil fuel industry trump concern for our common future.

That was made clear with the release of an audit report by the federal environment and sustainable development commissioner on May 12.

Scott Vaughan’s report found that the government has overstated expected reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, is unable to monitor actual reductions, lacks transparent plans, and is failing to meet its international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

The audit also found that the government is failing to adequately protect fish habitat.

Vaughan charged the government with not knowing much about fish habitat in Canada, failing to implement some parts of the 23-year-old policy, and failing to even identify what it must do to stop harmful pollutants from being discharged into waters where the fish live.

This ongoing failure on the part of those elected to serve our interests is bad from both an environmental and an economic standpoint.

A briefing note prepared for Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt last fall and recently obtained by Canadian Press warns that a lack of clarity and certainty regarding the government’s climate change policies is jeopardizing investment in Canada’s energy sector. The government promised new regulations more than two years ago but now says it is “reworking” its plan.

The briefing note says the government should have policies that facilitate investment in green equipment, buildings, and infrastructure.

But it appears that the government is really only interested in facilitating the ability of the fossil fuel industry to squeeze every drop of oil out of the ground until we are left with depleted energy supplies, devastated landscapes and polluted waters, and an economy that can’t compete with those of nations that have invested in renewable energy.

Our policies around oil extraction aren’t even that good. Mr. Nikiforuk argues in Tar Sands that, “Neither Canada nor Alberta has a rational plan for the tar sands other than full-scale liquidation.”

With a more rational policy, he argues, “the tar sands could fund Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Instead, “Feeble fiscal regimes have enriched multinationals and given Canada a petrodollar that hides the inflationary pressures of peak oil,” making Canada “nothing more than a Third World energy supermarket.”

It really is a case of short-term gain for long-term pain – and even the gain is only for a few foreign multinationals and their friends, and not for Canadians who should have more say in our energy future and in how our resources are managed.

And what about the long-term pain? Well, a recent report from the Lancet and the University College of London, Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change, notes that climate change is the biggest global health threat we face.

The consequences include increased spread of disease as malaria-carrying mosquitoes move to higher altitudes, declining crop yields leading to food shortages, water shortages and illness related to poor sanitation, housing shortages, more extreme weather events such as flooding, and increased population migration.

And those are just the health consequences. Mass extinctions of animals and plants, dying oceans, and ravaged economies are also in our future if we don’t smarten up. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Canada, especially, we can still turn things around if we move quickly. Citizens across the country have been showing they care, by making changes in their lives to reduce their carbon footprint.

Now it’s time to let our elected leaders know that we expect at least as much from them.

This column is co-written by broadcaster David Suzuki and Faisal Moola, a scientist.

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