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Windmills near the town of Pincher Creek, Alta.

Windmills near the town of Pincher Creek, Alta.


Oil prices have plummeted, Alberta's economy is in turmoil and the oil patch is anxious to ship out more of its product. But Ottawa has to balance oil's economic benefits against environmental hazards and costs in greenhouse gas emissions. What do the parties propose to do? Here's a primer

This year's plunge in oil prices to below $50 (U.S.) a barrel has put the squeeze on Canada's energy producers, which have scrapped billions worth of expansion projects and laid off tens of thousands of workers in the oil sands. Alberta's economy is expected to be in a recession this year. The major parties, hinging their economic platforms on job growth, are staking out positions on how to balance oil-sands development with the environment.

One of the trickiest parts of that balance is oil pipelines. Environmentalists, First Nations and politicians on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have strongly opposed various pipeline plans for their environmental risks. One pipeline, TransCanada's $8-billion Keystone XL project, has been a special point of contention between the Harper government, which has championed for its approval, and U.S. President Barack Obama, who vetoed a congressional bill to approve it in February and has delayed announcing his decision on the matter.

  • Conservatives: Stephen Harper supports developing the Alberta oil sands and pipeline projects that would bring its crude to market. On the campaign trail, Mr. Harper has hinted at how he might distance himself from an Obama decision on Keystone, saying the U.S. administration “has never linked their Keystone decision to a particular Canadian government policy” and that the Conservative government would not be to blame. His government has also championed Enbridge’s $7.9-billion Northern Gateway plan and TransCanada’s $12-billion Energy East pipeline.
  • NDP: Tom Mulcair says it’s possible to increase oil-sands production, but only if Canada has laws to ensure sustainable development. Mr. Mulcair opposes Keystone. Echoing Mr. Obama’s pronouncements on Keystone, he has also said other pipeline projects such as Energy East should be approved only if they are “consistent” with Canada’s emissions-reduction targets.
  • Liberals: Justin Trudeau favours national targets to curb greenhouse-gas emissions to balance out more development of the oil sands. Mr. Trudeau supports Keystone, but has also criticized the tone of Mr. Harper’s support for the project, saying it has damaged relations with the Obama administration. Like Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Trudeau says the current federal pipeline review process is not strict enough. Mr. Trudeau has avoided pronouncements on Energy East, which is still before review, but a Liberal pledge to enact a ban on oil-tanker traffic on B.C.’s north coast would also effectively kill Northern Gateway.


Globe debate primer: Where the leaders stand on energy


Amid the oil-sands crisis, the federal parties have touted green energy and new technologies as job-generators. But at The Globe and Mail's debate on the economy in Calgary, the three major party leaders offered little insight into what a clean-energy economy would look like, with the opposition leaders blaming Mr. Harper for exacerbating the oil-and-gas sector's problems by making the oil sands an "international pariah."

From 2011 to 2013, employment in the clean-tech sector grew by about 41,000 jobs, but Canada's share of manufactured environmental goods fell over the past five years to 1.3 per cent from 2.2 per cent, Céline Bak, a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, told The Globe.

  • Conservatives: Mr. Harper says the Conservatives are investing heavily in green energy and energy-efficient technology.
  • Liberals: Mr. Trudeau has pledged to invest $100-million more a year in clean technology producers. The party has also said that a Liberal government would spend $20-billion over 10 years on what Mr. Trudeau calls “green infrastructure” such as renewable-energy investment, anti-flooding measures and “clean jobs.”
  • NDP: The party promises that an NDP government would “kickstart renewable energy production” by investing in the sector.


Over all, Canada emitted about 726 megatonnes of GHGs in 2013, Environment Canada estimated in a report this past spring. Transportation and electricity were the biggest emitters, but oil-sands-related emissions were the fastest-growing. The report suggested that Canada has little hope of meeting its international commitments to meet its 2020 goals for emissions reduction.

  • Conservatives: This past spring, the Conservatives pledged to cut Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels before 2030, but with no plan for additional regulations for oil-sands development.
  • NDP: An NDP government would create a national cap-and-trade program to help Canada meet its emissions-reduction goals, Mr. Mulcair says.
  • Liberals: The Liberals have pledged to develop a “pan-Canadian framework” for setting climate-change targets, as well as negotiating a continental environmental agreement with the U.S. and Mexico.


Green Party Leader Elizabeth May watches The Globe and Mail's leaders' debate on television in Victoria on Sept. 17, 2015.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May watches The Globe and Mail’s leaders’ debate on television in Victoria on Sept. 17, 2015.


The Greens – who had two MPs in the House of Commons at dissolution, including Leader Elizabeth May – have made sustainability a cornerstone of their platform, released on Sept. 9. UBC political science professor Max Cameron told The Globe that their plan "paints a picture of Canada as part of Scandinavia," and that this wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

  • Energy: The Greens’ platform calls for an energy and carbon-pricing plan that would eliminate all fossil-fuel subsidies to industry.
  • Oil sands: Boosting oil-sands production is “simply not on,” the Green platform states. Instead, the party calls for more refining capacity to process the oil Canada already produces.
  • Emissions: The Greens’ short-term target is to reduce emissions by 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, and 80-per-cent reductions below 1990 levels by 2050.
  • Pipelines: The Green platform calls for greater protection for coastal waters from pipelines and tankers.


With reports from Globe staff and The Canadian Press