Justin Trudeau’s speech seemed like it was designed to make his listeners impatient.
It is Year Five of a Liberal government led by a prime minister who has always preached (a) that Canada must get its resources to market, (b) resource development must be done in an environmentally sustainable way, and (c) the two things must go together.
Yet there was Prime Minister Trudeau delivering a speech to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, at their big mining confab in Toronto on Monday, telling the crowd that the future is developing resources in a sustainable way – and the Liberal government will be consulting business, Indigenous communities and others on how that should work.
Consultation is good, sure, but it makes you wonder when the government will get on with it – whatever it is.
The tone made it sound like the Liberal government is still at square one. And it didn’t offer a map to square two.
Canada’s business community and resource sector have been calling for clarity. This wasn’t it. Or even a hint of what it might be.
Just over a week ago, Teck Resources Ltd. withdrew a proposal for a major oil sands project, arguing governments need to agree on how resource policy will work.
The Frontier project wasn’t going to be built any time soon, because oil prices are not high enough to make the investment worthwhile. But the company’s warning was not wrong.
When Mr. Trudeau addressed the resource community post-Frontier, his response didn’t clarify anything.
Was he trying to reassure investors that Canada’s resource sector is still open for business, as long as it is environmentally responsible? Or warn them that they will have to be environmentally responsible if they want their business to stay open? Maybe both.
Certainly, he argued that Canada is a great place to invest, and said the government wants to be the resource industry’s partner. He held out the promise that an innovative, sustainable Canadian resource industry would bring “a future where Canada is the best place in the world to invest.” That’s certainly a message the mining industry would want to hear. And Mr. Trudeau promised to extend a tax credit for emission-free mining trucks.
He also said investors are starting to rewrite their strategies to recognize “climate change as a defining factor” in a company’s success. The mining industry already gets that, he asserted. But it is going to be a big adjustment for many industries, he said. Canada has to adapt.
So what next?
Well, Mr. Trudeau said, Canada needs to build a consensus.
“Soon, we will be launching pathways so Indigenous people, industries and all citizens can inform Canada’s clean transition,” he said.
Setting aside the mixed metaphor of “launching pathways,” it’s hard to discern where either the launch or the pathway is supposed to be headed. The search for clarity continues. But Mr. Trudeau still sounds like he is starting out.
To be fair to Mr. Trudeau, there are still other players he is trying to bring into some kind of general agreement.
In Canada, a lot of natural-resource and environmental policy is under provincial jurisdiction. There isn’t going to be clarity for potential oil sands investors until Alberta and Ottawa agree on some basics of how greenhouse-gas emissions would be addressed, like the cap on oil sands emissions that the former NDP government legislated but which hasn’t yet been implemented. And the recent blockades show there isn’t a First Nations consensus on how resource projects should be approved.
Nevertheless, it was disconcerting to hear Mr. Trudeau sound like he is preparing Step One.
There is supposed to be more coming. The government might act on the report of a group of experts on sustainable finance, in an effort to channel investment into clean technology and clean industry. The upcoming federal budget is supposed to deal heavily with climate change, according to the Ottawa whispers.
Mr. Trudeau’s government likes to soften the ground for policy announcements by fitting them into a kind of narrative arc, so perhaps the PM’s speech was just the introduction. It was just hard to fathom what he was introducing. Those waiting for clarity must be getting impatient.
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