A top federal cabinet minister warned Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer this week that he’s treading on dangerous ground by huddling in secret with top oil executives to talk pipelines, and partisan politics.
The same advice could just as easily be directed at Big Oil.
The energy sector is justifiably frustrated about Canada’s painfully slow and unpredictable approval process for pipelines, including the stalled Trans Mountain expansion project.
The leaders of the organization that hosted Mr. Scheer – a Calgary-based pro-oil advocacy group called the Modern Miracle Network – see defeating Justin Trudeau’s Liberals as the way to get everything it wants.
It most certainly isn’t.
Picking sides in this October’s federal election could easily backfire. Any good lobbyist would tell a client that promoting specific policies is not about the colour of the party in power. It’s about putting together a coherent and realistic plan, recognizing the vastness of the country and the divergent views within it. And the policies they’re asking for should be saleable, no matter what party leads the next government.
Sure, oil executives might get some of what they want with a Conservative-led government. But what about a Liberal or Conservative minority? Given Canada’s deepening political divide, the odds of a similarly divided government are pretty good.
Policy ideas that might seem like no-brainers in the oil patch aren’t necessarily conventional wisdom in Victoria, rural Quebec or downtown Toronto. And Mr. Scheer will likely have to win votes in all those places to have a chance of winning the next election.
Take the Modern Miracle Network’s stated goal of shifting the energy conversation by getting Canadians to embrace “the miracle of modern hydrocarbons.”
The group might want to rethink that line before taking it to Ottawa, or anywhere else.
A solid majority of Canadians support the construction of new pipelines to get Western Canadian oil to market. And they don’t have to be reminded what propels their car and heats their home, or where it comes from.
Polls also suggest that most Canadians want this country to be among the global good guys in the fight against climate change, not a laggard.
The pipeline debate in Canada will not be won or lost by trying to sell anyone on the miracle of hydrocarbons – Mr. Scheer included.
The “miracle" of hydrocarbons is a more complicated story to tell in 2019 than it was when the first oil rig was drilled in the mid-19th century, or when the first oil sands project went online in Alberta in the 1960s. The transition from open-pit mining in the oil sands to in-situ projects began nearly four decades ago, and each new project is more energy-efficient than the last.
The broader challenge for Mr. Scheer and his oil-industry buddies is that the never-ending pipeline-approval process is giving Canada a black eye far beyond its borders.
In global financial centres, such as New York and London, the saga of the Trans Mountain project has become an unfortunate symbol of a country that can’t get big things done any more, according to Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, which represents 150 of Canada’s largest companies. And that perception is now weighing heavily on investment decisions by his member companies – foreign and domestic – he told reporters in Ottawa this week.
That perception problem is spreading beyond pipelines to a wide range of other prospective investments, he argues. Why, Mr. Hyder asked, would investors want to put money in a country “in which your government bought a pipeline, it regulates it, and it can’t build it?”
That is a predicament that should worry all Canadians, not just Calgary oil executives.
And if it’s true that Canada has an image problem, finding a way to fix it should also be a priority for all Canadians – no matter their political stripes.
But pipelines are complicated beasts, particularly ones that span provincial and national borders. And getting them built is not a uniquely Canadian challenge. It’s easy to forget that TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was approved in Canada, but blocked in the United States. It and other pipelines have unfairly been demonized in the global debate about cleaning up the world’s energy supply, when the real enemy is coal.
So, no, pipelines won’t miraculously pop up across the land by booting out the Liberals in favour of Mr. Scheer and the Conservatives.