You Can’t Be For Canada and Against Keystone, Says Minister Oliver

Yesterday Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver held a press conference to respond to NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s open objection to the Keystone XL pipeline. Oliver, who has recently returned from a US tour to advertise Canada’s tar sands as green, finds Mulcair’s recent trip to Washington, D.C. somewhat disconcerting. 

“It isn’t helpful when a senior Member of Parliament comes down there either directly or indirectly to speak against a project that is in Canada’s national interest,” Oliver said.

Mulcair’s visit south of the border, where he met with US business leaders and lawmakers, appears to be in reaction to Minister Oliver’s recent tar sands greenwashing junket to D.C.

Oliver, who also spoke in Chicago and Huston, gave his American audience what he called the "unvarnished goods" on Canada's tar sands: they represent an "environmentally responsible," "greener alternative" oil supply for carbon-hungry U.S. markets. His tour followed on the heels of Alberta Premier Alison Redford's similar efforts to promote one of the world's dirtiest forms of energy as environmentally-friendly.

Tom Mulcair, it appears, has had enough with the misinformation.

The Canadian government, says Mulcair, is “playing people for fools” when it comes to Canada’s environmental performance, especially surrounding the expansion of the tar sands.

“In the U.S. people know how to read,” Mulcair said. “They know that Canada is the only country that has withdrawn from Kyoto. They know that the Conservatives can’t possibly meet their Copenhagen targets (on greenhouse gas emissions) precisely because of the oilsands.”

In response to Mulcair’s claims, Oliver told media there is broad political and public support for the project in America.

“We know that there are some 58 U.S. Senators – Republicans as well as Democrats – that have voiced their support for the project and the latest poll indicated that 70 percent of the American people are on our side. That’s not surprising because this project is in the interest of both our countries.”

America’s long-desired energy independence, said Oliver, depends on the country’s access to Canadian oil. “Together we can achieve energy independence.”

But the Canada-U.S. energy relationship plays out differently in Mulcair’s mind. “We have never taken care of our energy security,” he recently said in an interview. “We tend to forget that a 10-year supply to the U.S. is a 100-year supply to Canada. We are still going to need the energy supply to heat our homes and run our factories.”

What is more, says Mulcair, Canada’s Conservative government is exporting the country’s natural resource wealth without heeding the social and environmental consequences. “Global warming is a real issue…we’ve got to start taking this seriously. The only country in the world that has withdrawn from Kyoto is Canada under the Conservatives.”

“They are out of step with the whole planet,” he said.

Americans, Mulcair adds, shouldn’t buy Minister Oliver’s tar sands sales pitch.

In an editorial published yesterday in the Globe and Mail, Oliver accused Mulcair of traveling “to a foreign capital to score cheap political points” and claimed the opposition leader’s disapproval of the Keystone XL is against “Canada’s national interest.”

At yesterday’s press conference, Oliver's 'for Keystone or against Canada' framework was challenged with the question, “Is it possible to stand up for Canada and be opposed to Keystone for environmental reasons?

The answer for Oliver, in short, is no.

“I don’t think [that position] is consistent with Canadian interests,” he said, “because the environmental interest has been dealt with by the U.S. State Department in their 2000-page report…– an independent science-based report – which said very clearly that if Keystone doesn’t go ahead the United States will be importing just as much crude and…the oil sands will be producing just as much crude. They further said the pipeline will be safer than typically constructed pipelines. And because of previous reasons it won’t have any significant impact on greenhouse emissions and therefore presumptively on global warming.”

“The two potential negatives have been removed and now what we’re left with are the positives.”

The U.S. State Department review of the Keystone XL, released on March 1, has recently come under scrutiny after researchers discovered the document was authored by two firms set to benefit from tar sands production. The draft review claimed the Keystone XL poses no significant environmental threat and “is unlikely to have a substantial impact” on the rate of tar sands expansion.

In his editorial Oliver wrote that Conservative support for the pipeline is grounded “in science and the facts.”

During his tour in the U.S. Minister Oliver claimed “opponents are spreading false information about the oil sands, especially its impact on the environment.”

“I’m here to give you the unvarnished goods – and to let you make up your own mind about the merits of Canadian oil for America,” he said. “Canada is the environmentally responsible choice for the U.S. to meet its energy needs in oil for years to come.”

In Ottawa yesterday, he continued his tour de force, up-selling Canada’s environmental record: “our message is that Canada, in some really critical respects, is moving in lockstep with the U.S. We have the same overarching objective under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce our emissions by 17 percent from 2005 by 2020.”

Although Canada is currently not situated to meet that goal with projected increases in tar sands extraction, which currently accounts for more than 10 percent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Emissions from the tar sands have doubled since 1990 and are expected to double again by 2020. The per barrel emissions for oil production in the tar sands have increased by 21 percent since 2010.

“What we’re doing for the environment and what we’re doing for the United States…that I don’t think was widely known,” Oliver said regarding his time spent in the U.S.

When it comes to the Keystone, he added, “I hope the United States will do the right thing.”

“The advantages for the US are very strong…So I’m not anticipating a negative decision."

Image Credit: Natural Resources Canada

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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