On Oct. 19, 2006, Rona Ambrose, the Harper government's first environment minister, introduced the draft of the Clean Air Act. Ms. Ambrose declared portentously: "From now on, all industry sectors will have mandatory requirements, and we will enforce those requirements."
Seven years and six weeks later, no requirements or regulations have been imposed on the oil-and-gas sector. Tailpipe emission standards for vehicles have been jointly imposed by Canada and the United States. Canada has imposed regulations for emissions on the coal industry – although they won't be very stringent for quite a while.
For the oil-and-gas industry, however, even the closest followers of government pronouncements have lost track of how many times regulations on greenhouse gas emissions have been promised, without any regulations having ever been published, even in draft form.
Leona Aglukkaq, the current Environment Minister, recently told a Commons committee: "It is premature to say when they will be ready … I can't give you a deadline. Work continues. When we're ready, we'll release them."
Premature? Seven years after her hapless successor's commitment to publish "requirements" and enforce them? What accounts for more than seven years of nothing?
In a perverse sort of way, you have to hand it to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. CAPP wins the prize for the most successful and sustained effort to block action by any lobby group on any issue since Stephen Harper's government took office.
That the Harperites do the oil-and-gas industry's bidding is like saying Sancho Panza followed Don Quixote across Spain. For political gain, the Harperites will use taxpayer money to buy ads flaying the telecommunications industry. It will chastise the chartered banks for excessive credit-card interest rates. It will impose regulations on other GHG emitters. But for oil and gas, nothing.
A lot of Conservatives don't believe in climate change, period. So this group doesn't want to do anything to reduce GHG emissions, considering such efforts counterproductive or a waste of time. Still others, especially in the party's political heartland, Alberta, fear a political backlash from supporters of the Wildrose Party. Others believe axiomatically that what's good for oil and gas is good for Canada – full stop.
A few might even swallow the perverse whopper about bitumen oil being "ethical oil" because it comes from a more democratic place than, say, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela – even though, throughout history, ethics has been about what is the right conduct against some notional secular or religious ideal, rather than against the worst conduct.
Others presumably have bought the CAPP argument that anything beyond a marginal increase in the existing intensity tax on emissions – the proceeds of which trickle into a technology fund – will cripple the competitive position of the industry whose oil product already sells at a discount against international prices.
What makes the refusal to act more strange is the government's single-minded dedication to convincing the United States to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to transport bitumen oil to Gulf of Mexico refineries.
The government, as part of its fidelity to the interests of the bitumen industry, has pulled out all the stops. Mr. Harper and his ministers have visited the United States to give speeches and hold meetings. Money has been spent on advertising. The full diplomatic capabilities of the Canadian embassy and consulates have been pressed into action. By his own account, the Prime Minister has often raised the issue mano a mano with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Nothing has yet moved the U.S. administration, which in turn has sent repeated messages – some publicly, many more privately – that it would like (or need) some additional action on GHG reduction from Canada, including draft regulations on the oil-and-gas industry, to give Canada the answer it wants on Keystone.
And yet, despite these signals, months and then years have slipped by, with the Harper government, the Alberta government and the oil industry refusing to move on regulations promised more than seven years ago.
A classic rule of statesmanship is to listen to what your interlocutor needs to give you the answer you seek. But then this government, at home and abroad, does prefer lecturing to listening.