A few weeks or days before pipeline construction begins is too late to be talking up Climate Leadership Plan in Vancouver
The Alberta oil and gas industry talks a lot about the cost of the Climate Leadership Plan, which is fair enough with Western Canada Select hovering below $39USD a barrel. But what of the Plan’s value as a public relations tool with the construction start of the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline looming?
When Premier Rachel Notley announced the Climate Leadership Plan in late 2015, accompanied onstage by CEOs of the four biggest oil sands producers, some critics argued it was nothing but a PR ploy, a sop to the eco-warriors, just another feeble attempt to have granted that gormless thing called “social licence.”
The tone was dismissive, as if public relations is of no consequence.
If that was true, then Trans Mountain Expansion adversaries wouldn’t be busy this summer organizing petitions, like Dogwood Initiative: “Texas pipeline barons, oil industry lobbyists and their friends in Ottawa want to ram this project through our province — without Indigenous consent, and without a health and safety review.”
Or pressuring banks to withdraw financing from the Kinder Morgan project, as Greenpeace is doing (with some success, as Desjardins announced a temporary pipeline financing ban last week).
Or First Nations mounting social media campaigns, like the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s downtown Vancouver “I’m Another Voter Against the Pipeline billboard, where people are invited to take a selfie and post to their social media accounts.
Or defiant public rhetoric from British Columbia’s elected representatives, including about-to-be Premier John Horgan and his sidekick, BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver – who have vowed to fight the pipeline with “every tool available” – to the mayors of Vancouver (Gregor Robertson) and Burnaby (Derek Corrigan), to Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May.
The point here is that British Columbia environmentalists, First Nations, and politicians are busy in the media, on social media, and down at the grassroots campaigning against Trans Mountain Expansion and preparing for the political explosion that will be ignited when Kinder Morgan fires up the bulldozers.
As a BC environmentalist noted on Twitter last night, “absolutely no one in BC is talking about the [Alberta] Climate Leadership Plan.”
Indeed, they are not.
In fact, the Alberta and industry perspective is pretty much entirely ignored in Vancouver.
Morton Paulsen is the communications adviser for the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, the pre-eminent collection of energy economists in Canada.
Paulsen said in an interview that he gets multiple media comment requests from Ottawa (the national press gallery) and Toronto (national newspapers like the Global and Mail or the TV networks), and is contacted regularly by journalists from other parts of the country, but never from Vancouver.
Well, maybe not never. Maybe one every month or three, but it’s a rare event.
The Vancouver media prefer to interview self-declared experts who are not energy economists, though they may have related expertise in another field.
Like eco-activist darling Robyn Allan, an economist who was once CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and senior economist for BC Central Credit Union, but is not an expert in the energy industry. That doesn’t stop her from making well-publicized presentations against Trans Mountain Expansion or writing open letters to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr claiming his staff, and the National Energy Board, “seriously misinformed” him about Alberta’s need for a new pipeline.
And then there is Dr. David Hughes, a retired earth scientist who writes pipeline “studies” for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that make mistakes like not understanding the Alberta oil sands emissions cap is intended to reduce the carbon-intensity of the crude oil, not reduce or place a ceiling on output.
These are the voices Vancouverites are listening to.
I make a modest contribution to the other side of the debate by being an energy expert for hosts Jon McComb on the lower mainland’s CKNW and Adam Stirling of CFAX1070 in Victoria, and appearing on the occasional TV show, like Stuart McNish’s “Conversations” on CHEK TV. And Vancouver is the third largest audience behind Calgary and Edmonton for my Markham On Energy columns.
But Kinder Morgan is silent. The Canadian Assoc. of Petroleum Producers is silent. The Canadian Energy Pipelines Assoc. is silent.
None of them is bothering to counter the eco-activists and First Nations and mayors.
Instead, British Columbians are subjected to gibbering arguments like the one by former Encana CEO Gwyn Morgan in Wednesday’s Financial Post in which the rabid ideologue disparages the concept of social licence for energy infrastructure projects and laments the consequences if Trans Mountain Expansion is somehow not built.
“Whether they like the project or not, Canadians had better hope that Kinder Morgan is able to complete its pipeline. Any other outcome would be a failure of our democracy to enforce the constitutional rule of law that we all depend upon for our fundamental freedoms and justice,” Morgan wrote.
Won’t that argument play well in Vancouver? (Sarcasm intended, in case it wasn’t obvious)
The best the Trans Mountain Expansion project can hope for is Notley’s planned fall foray into British Columbia, where she will belatedly talk up her Climate Leadership Plan just weeks – maybe days – before construction begins and kicks off the most potent public protests since the War of the Woods during the 1990s.
My guess is most Vancouver protesters will say, “Who the hell is Rachel Notley and what’s a climate leadership plan?” if they pay attention at all.
And the Alberta Climate Leadership plan – arguably the most progressive set of energy and climate policies in North America, and a terrific public relations tool in British Columbia if properly promoted or, hell, even talked about occasionally – will play little to no role in winning BC hearts and minds for Alberta’s energy ambitions.
What a wasted opportunity.