Just weeks after Alberta government officials went on a road show to counter environmental groups who attack oil sands production, the province's green marketing efforts are less clear-cut.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail's editorial board on Thursday, Ted Morton, the Alberta Minister of Finance and Enterprise, suggested that the environment isn't the most important issue for the province.
"While we support ... a transition away from an economy that's overly carbon-dependent, I think the romanticism of the Kyoto era has passed," he said.
"People thought there was a quick-and-easy fix [to greenhouse gas emissions]" he said, but "this is a longer, slower, more difficult transition." He noted that the last major round of environmental talks fell apart in Copenhagen.
Instead of hard targets, Mr. Morton favours a process he described as bridging - "bridging where we are today to where we want to be" - that emphasizes reductions in carbon emissions but does not eliminate jobs in the process. No one has defined a time frame for such a strategy and Mr. Morton said "it's a little uncertain whether that bridging is a 30-year, a 60-year, a 90-year" process.
With that long-term backdrop in mind, he said he is focusing on the provincial budget and vowed to end Alberta's annual deficits by 2012, just three years after tabling its largest deficit ever.
"We will not and cannot repeat the mistakes Alberta made in the 1980s," he said. In that decade, the government racked up deficits for nine consecutive years.
"The alternative is just hoping that things get better, faster, and I don't think that's a very responsible attitude either in personal finance or in government finance," he said.
Gillian McEachern, program manager at the Environmental Defence lobby group, said Mr. Morton's divergence from the "green" message doesn't surprise her because the idea that "we have to accept global warming as the trade-off for having wealth" from Alberta is a familiar one.
She is particularly worried about the government's talk of reducing the emissions linked to the production of one barrel of oil, rather than cutting overall emissions. She acknowledged that the province has reduced the amount of energy required to produce a barrel of oil, but noted that the total production volume has gone up, thereby increasing overall carbon emissions.
Mr. Morton acknowledged this dilemma Thursday. When asked what could be done about it, he mentioned reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants, and steered clear of the oil sands.
The minister visited Toronto after spending a few days in New York with investment professionals. Over the course of several meetings, he explained Alberta's oil sands production opportunities and tried to debunk some of the myths that the Alberta government said U.S. environmentalists spread about the oil sands.