There were other options open to the Trudeau government before Cabinet made the fateful decision to buy the soon-to-be-former Kinder Morgan pipeline, former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft writes in an analysis for National Observer.
To put the choices in perspective, Taft distinguishes between the more flexible, malleable issues politicians decide on every day and the physical reality of the climate crisis.
“Our national borders, currency, health care system, and human rights can all be changed with the stroke of a pen,” he notes. But “global warming is an entirely different kind of issue. While there are plenty of social concerns around the Trans Mountain pipeline, including the rights of First Nations and provinces, at its foundation the pipeline matters most because it is part of an industry that is dramatically, dangerously, and permanently changing our physical world.”
The difference matters, he says, because a government can’t “fudge the laws of physics” the way it might fudge its election promises. “Once they are gone, no stroke of a pen will bring back our disappearing glaciers, our submerging coasts, or winters cold enough to stop pine beetle infestations.”
But last week’s Cabinet decision needn’t have been a foregone conclusion, Taft states. “While Bill Morneau uses taxpayer money to buy and expand pipelines, governments and corporations in much of the rest of the world are investing heavily to make oil obsolete. About 70% of Alberta’s oil and bitumen ends up as transportation fuel. Every major carmaker on Earth is transforming their vehicles to electric power within the decade. Electric utilities are rapidly converting to wind and solar energy.”
In that light, the Trudeau government came down on the wrong side of history because it was “trying to straddle more conflicting issues than it is safe for any government to straddle: Canadian taxpayers versus American shareholders; emission reductions versus expanding oil production; protecting the coast versus more tanker traffic; a melee of disputes involving the federal government, provinces, and First Nations; and much more,” Taft suggests. “More than anything, this decision is about the future versus the past, and Bill Morneau has made a big bet on the past.”
Instead of dropping billions of dollars on the pipeline, “imagine a Crown corporation investing billions of dollars in renewable energy partnerships with provinces, First Nations, and communities across Canada, and billions in energy efficiency programs,” he adds. “Instead of hundreds of jobs building a pipeline we’d create thousands of jobs installing solar panels and wind farms; instead of pitting Canadians against each other we’d bring communities together; and instead of increasing emissions we’d drive them down. Instead of clinging to a fading past we’d embrace the future.”
And along the way, Bill Morneau could have reduced “the painful straddles that are throwing this government and country off balance.”