Within hours of each other Friday, Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson vowed that a series of five-year emissions targets through 2050 will be his top legislative priority this fall, while Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan unveiled a C$320-million cash infusion for the struggling fossil industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
While Wilkinson pledged tougher emissions targets and told The Canadian Press that “climate change, if left unaddressed, will have impacts that are even more significant than COVID-19,” The Canadian Press reports, O’Regan was in his home province offering new dollars for “clean technology, environmental upgrades, and research and development,” the Globe and Mail writes.
On top of that, “Ottawa hasn’t ruled out supporting the expansion of Husky Energy Inc.’s White Rose offshore oil rig,” the Globe says. “However, [O’Regan] said the exploration tax incentives that industry has been calling for from Ottawa are off the table.”
Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu called O’Regan’s announcement “demoralizing”, since it contained no actual guarantee the funds will be used to make the industry cleaner, the Welland Tribune reports.
“The money went to the province with no strings attached,” she said. “If you’re serious about a green recovery, you have to develop a series of clear and transparent expectations that you put around this kind of support.”
In his interview with CP, Wilkinson declared “that COVID-19 is a priority but that Canada cannot take its eye off the ball when it comes to climate change, the news agency says.
“We need to elevate our level of ambition and our urgency with which we are addressing the carbon issue,” he said. “It is, from my perspective, the highest priority from a legislative perspective,” and “we fully intend to move ahead with that once the House is back in session. I think you will see that, certainly within the coming few months.”
At the same time, Wilkinson told veteran Toronto Star columnist Susan Delacourt he can live with the knowledge that climate change is not the most urgent issue in Canadians’ minds—for now. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’re not at the end of it, and we’re probably going to be in this for some time,” he said. “That has to be the government’s first priority.”
Delacourt writes that “if Canada wasn’t sitting at the precipice of a second wave of COVID-19, Wilkinson’s climate change plans would likely have been front and centre of the government’s agenda as it was laid out this week.” But “all that green recovery talk, says Wilkinson, ‘got a little bit ahead of the Canadian public in terms of where we were at’.”
While “being an environment minister is all about choosing your battles, even in non-pandemic times,” she adds, “Wilkinson says nothing has changed or wavered in terms of his government’s commitment to meeting its climate change goals.” And “he does believe there are ways in which the pandemic may have made Canadians more acutely aware of their vulnerability to big global forces, and how their own behaviour and choices are connected to the overall health of the nation and planet.”
As for the divisions that always pop up around national climate strategy, “I do believe there are pathways to engage Alberta and Saskatchewan in a more constructive conversation around climate and how that can work for them from an economic perspective,” Wilkinson told Delacourt. “While there’s certainly economic anxiety in those two provinces around the energy issue, I do think there are opportunities for better conversation than perhaps we’ve been having.”
In St. John’s, meanwhile, the conversation seems to be focusing on how to salvage the $2.2-billion, 75,000-barrel-per-day West White Rose project that Husky suspended in March, and is now placing on hold unless it scores a government bailout. In mid-September, Premier Andrew Furey said his minority Liberal government wouldn’t be coming to the company’s rescue.
“It’s time to start being honest,” he said at the time. A week previously, Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons stated that “we’re not talking about a million-dollar issue—we’re talking about a billion-dollar issue,” and “for a province of half a million, that is extremely significant.”
But on Friday, O’Regan said the federal government is still “very much at the table” with Husky, the Globe and Mail writes. “We want to find a way to make White Rose and West White Rose work,” he said.” He added that the Calgary-based fossil has “a lot of different ideas, and I think they’re willing to be creative, and we are, too.”
As for the no-strings clean technology and research announcement, “if there’s a way, creatively, of using that $320 million” to support Husky and West White Rose, Furey said, he would be “all for it”.
“This is not a wise or environmentally friendly use of money,” said Julia Levin, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence.
“As plans are finalized for how the $320 million should be spent, the focus must be on building an economy that’s ready to weather the coming climate crisis,” and providing “good opportunities for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, including workers in the oil industry,” she added. But “that pathway does not include subsidies for the offshore oil industry.”
The Telegram has details of how the federal cash infusion is supposed to work.