If nothing else, you have to admire the guy’s chutzpah. Brad Wall, Premier of the most unapologetic greenhouse gas polluting province in the country, managed to emerge from last week’s First Minister’s meeting on climate change as a regional hero.
Although Alberta and its tar sands have acquired an international reputation as Canada’s climate bad guy, neighbouring Saskatchewan has been much, much worse. Between 1990, the generally accepted base year for assessing efforts to contain GHG emissions, and 2013, the most recent reporting year, Wall’s Saskatchewan has increased its per-capita emissions by 46.0%. Over that same period, every other province in the country has reduced per-capita emissions. That includes Alberta, which cut them by 5.5%. And that reduction by Alberta was clearly before Rachel Notley’s NDP government announced its aggressive new plans to contain emissions from the tar sands.
NDP governments in charge of Saskatchewan between 1991 and 2007 bear a lot of the responsibility for that province’s GHG pollution, but Wall and his Saskatchewan party have weakened even their paltry efforts to restrain emissions. Since coming to power, Wall’s government has eased overall emission reduction targets, cut crown-owned SaskPower’s conservation targets, slashed renewable energy programs and eliminated the Climate Change Secretariat. No wonder that between Wall’s 2007 election and 2013, Saskatchewan’s GHG emissions went up 6.6% while the combined emissions for all other provinces dropped by 5.7%.
The media did not report any of these facts last week. Instead, with the CBC in the vanguard, they covered “Premier Wall goes to the Climate Change Talks” as the latest chapter in the never-ending struggle between Eastern Canada – that’s Ontario and (especially) Quebec – and those exploited, colonized westerners. Preston Manning cued them up, attempting to rekindle the anger over Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program that gave birth to his Reform party back in the 1980s. In the run up to his annual Manning Centre conservative love fest, the long-retired Alberta politician accused Trudeau II of threatening national unity by neglecting the need for pipelines to move western oil to market. (Translation: Trudeau, because he is from Quebec, should be over-riding all opposition and due process to push an Energy East pipeline that even oil industry cheerleader Stephen Harper couldn’t deliver).
A few days later, when the Quebec Environment Minister sought a court injunction to force sponsors of that pipeline to comply with the province’s environmental assessment rules, Wall was ready to rumble on behalf of the pipeline. He threatened a trade war with Quebec while taking the right’s obligatory shot at the size of Quebec ‘s equalization entitlement. And he presented himself as one ready to defend the oil industry and the economy of the oil-producing provinces by thwarting Trudeau’s efforts to forge a consensus on carbon pricing. Saskatchewan would not put a price on carbon, he insisted, even after federal assurance that any revenue raised by provincial carbon pricing would stay within that province.
The fuss over Quebec’s injunction turned out to be a tempest in a teapot. To her credit, the Alberta Premier helped to calm things down by determining that Quebec was not actually trying to block the pipeline. Quebec was simply doing what Ontario and British Columbia had done with pipeline projects crossing their territories – conducting its own environmental hearings to gather information for its presentation to the National Energy Board.
It is also noteworthy that the Quebec provincial government hasn’t yet taken a position for or against Energy East. That can’t be said for the British Columbia government which has come out against Kinder Morgan’s efforts to expand the Trans-Mountain pipeline to export Alberta bitumen through British Columba ports. But that squabble between the two westernmost provinces was barely mentioned as the media covered the east (Quebec) vs. west story they wanted while overlooking the fact that Brad Wall is Canada’s poster boy for those who demand the continued right to use the atmosphere as a garbage dump.
In the interests of consensus, the other First Ministers at last week’s meeting also seemed willing to give Wall a pass. Instead of treating him like the climate pariah that he is, they agreed to expand the definition of climate pricing to include money already spent on SaskPower’s costly, federally-subsidized carbon-capture experiment at one of its coal plants. If the thing works it will cut all of one megatonne from the 16 megatonnes of GHG produced annually by SaskPower. (BTW, 16 megatonnes is more than twice the amount emitted by our much-maligned Nova Scotia Power).
Going easy on Brad Wall is something a few of his fellow First Ministers may come to regret. He will now use his stature as defender of the west and the oil industry against the dreaded east to get himself a landslide win in the April 4 provincial election. After that, no one would be surprised if he adopted the same persona to run for the leadership of the federal Conservatives, hardly a recipe for national unity.