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Fossil Exec Decries ‘Shot in the Eye’ as Guilbeault Opens Climate Plan Consultation

Parliament Buildings Ottawa Centre Block

An oil and gas emissions cap, reduced methane emissions, zero-emission vehicles, and a net-zero power grid are all on the table for public consultation, after Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault announced a three-month delay in publishing the Trudeau government’s carbon reduction plan under the new climate accountability law.

The legislation, adopted in late June, allows for the extended timeline, and “Guilbeault says the delay is necessary to allow Indigenous peoples, provinces, and other interested parties to weigh in on what the plan should contain,” The Canadian Press reports. “Guilbeault has already sought input on the oil and gas emissions cap from the government’s Net-Zero Advisory Body, but is expanding those consultations to include provincial and territorial governments and other experts.”

“The debate over whether we need to act is long over,” the minister said. “Now we must determine how we can get where we need to go, together.”

Ottawa also announced its new list of parliamentary secretaries and cabinet committees Friday, while Anna Kanduth, senior research associate at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, urged a whole-of-government approach to the climate emergency.

Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski says Guilbeault’s announcement Friday “laid bare” the size of the challenge the government faces in implementing an “expansive” climate agenda. Any one of the major items on the action list “could occupy much of the government’s climate-related capacity,” Radwanski writes, so the revised March 29 deadline for the federal plan is no surprise. And Guilbeault “said in an interview that consultations around some of its key components—let alone actual design of the policies—won’t be done by then.”

That will leave the government to make “some assumptions” about the climate impacts of plans that will still be in development, the minister admitted. “I’m sure some people will say they’d want to see more details,” he said, “and I think that’s going to be a fair comment.”

That means the two big questions are whether the government “can get all these policies firmly in place during their current mandate, which in a minority parliament could be less than two years,” Radwanski says. “And, equally importantly, whether they can meaningfully engage with affected industries during the talks that are now starting, without watering down commitments in ways that put the 2030 target out of reach.”

The pressure for that watering down was on full display Friday, with Guilbeault in Alberta for meetings with fossil executives and their provincial government allies.

“Throughout my career as an environmentalist, I think I’ve shown an ability to be able to work with people who don’t think like I do, and that public policy is about the art of compromise,” Guilbeault told Calgary Herald columnist Chris Varcoe.

“I am an activist,” he added. “I was and I still am an activist, but I am now the minister of environment and climate change for all Canadians. And I have responsibilities now that were not the responsibilities I had as an environmentalist activist.”

Those ministerial duties “will have a direct impact on the oil and gas industry, the largest emitting sector of the Canadian economy,” Varcoe hastened to add, in an opinion piece that included a reference to the moment two decades ago when Guilbeault and a then-Greenpeace colleague “famously scaled the CN Tower to string up a banner that declared: ‘Canada and Bush: Climate Killers,’ under the observation deck of the Toronto landmark. He’s also opposed oil pipelines, including the Trans Mountain expansion and Energy East.”

Two decades later, Varcoe wrote, “he’s in charge of Canada’s climate strategy.”

But Guilbeault told the columnist that times have changed along the way.

“I felt at the time, 20, 30 years ago, that we had to do things like scale the CN Tower to be able to get people’s attention on climate change. And I don’t think we need to do that now,” he explained. “Now, we have the B.C. flooding, and we have the heat dome, and we have the hail storms that are constant reminders that we have entered the era of climate change and we need to do something.”

Varcoe captured the skepticism and open hostility Guilbeault faces in some corners of the Alberta oilpatch, with industry veteran and former TransCanada Corporation CEO Hal Kvisle, now chair of Alberta fossil ARC Resources, interpreting his appointment to the environment portfolio as a clear signal from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We took it as a direct shot in the eye,” Kvisle told Varcoe. “To pick Guilbeault as the environment minister, you might as well pick David Suzuki and just make it very clear to us what they think of us.”

Guilbeault countered that “my issue has always been with pollution. But I’m part of a government that has been very clear on this: We’re not going after production; we are going after the emissions.” He told Varcoe his office wall includes a November, 2015 photo of then-Alberta premier Rachel Notley announcing the province’s 100-megatonne tar sands/oil sands emissions cap, with Guilbeault among the environmental and fossil industry leaders on hand to applaud.

Six years later, Guilbeault said he’d been willing to support the Alberta cap, even though he favoured a lower threshold, “which did lead to me being accused of being a sell-out by some of my ex-environmental colleagues.”

The archived photo from The Canadian Press carries a credit to award-winning photojournalist Amber Bracken, who was arrested late last month while capturing riveting images of the militarized RCMP raid on a Wet’suwet’en blockade in northeastern British Columbia.

4 Comments (Open | Close)

4 Comments To "Fossil Exec Decries ‘Shot in the Eye’ as Guilbeault Opens Climate Plan Consultation"

#1 Comment By Chris O’Brien On December 6, 2021 @ 4:14 PM

A cap on emissions from the fossil fuel industry is one thing, but what is really needed is a cap on production. It seems nobody is talking about such a cap, but surely that is exactly what will be necessary, and soon. Without a cap on production, a mere cap on emissions will allow the industry to keep producing with no end in sight, obviously an impossibility if we’re going to actually reduce Canada’s overall emissions. Steven Guilbeault knows this, of course, so it will be interesting to see when he actually broaches the subject. Ah, the difficulties of moving from the role of an activist to that of a politician.

#2 Comment By Mitchell Beer On December 6, 2021 @ 7:44 PM

Yes, and…

Of *course* what we need is a cap on production, and I thought Guilbeault addressed that pretty elegantly in the way he explained his shift in roles. But there’s a reason fossils are so exercised about the emissions cap. With a fixed cap that declines in five-year increments, they can only maintain or increase production if they have a way to capture, store, and in their dreams, reuse the carbon. They’re already on record estimating it will cost $75 billion through 2050 to commercialize that technology, and they surely won’t be asking their shareholders to take on the risk — they want 75% of it to come from subsidies, even though you’ll never hear them admit to the dreaded S-word.

Then there’s the reality (we reported on this in the last week) that falling renewables costs pretty much wipe out any carbon advantage associated with “blue” hydrogen, a process where hydrogen is produced from fossil gas and the resulting emissions are stored.

So the thing to watch out for is whether federal or provincial governments try to set those subsidies in motion, as the U.S. appears to be doing in its infrastructure bill. If they can persuade themselves to just say no…it could be a good start down the road to an emissions cap that actually puts a serious crimp into production.

#3 Comment By Janice Harvey On December 7, 2021 @ 12:20 PM

I think Guilbeault has just set himself up for agreeing to such subsidies – after all, it will allow production while reducing emissions – exactly what he has just supported. For him to oppose subsidizing CCS would invite accusations of hypocrisy and doublespeak. Subsidizing CCS would be just the kind of compromise that the Liberal government would go for to save face in the oilpatch. And they are on for subsidizing nuclear power as well – two really big, speculative ticket items that divert scarce (?) resources and time away from efficiency and renewables.