Members of Canada’s Conservative Party are calling for more environmental regulation from the Harper government.
Former environment minister Jim Prentice and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall brought up the need for stricter environmental protection at a conservative conference last week. Prentice said that Canada’s increasing reliance on oil sands extraction as a major economic driver puts the country, which is led by Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, in a “precarious” position, especially as a country with a “solid record of environment achievement.”
“As conservatives we can’t be in the position of providing our political rivals with the opportunity to portray us as out of touch with the values of Canadians and the prevailing sentiment of the global community,” Prentice, who is now senior vice president at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said.
Prentice also said that prioritizing the environment wasn’t just a moral imperative — it could also be beneficial for Canada economically. He said Canada needed to work together with the U.S. to enact strict greenhouse gas regulations on the oil and gas industry, so that the regulations don’t cause the Canadian oil and gas industry to lose competitiveness.
“If you are in the energy business today, then you are in the environment business today,” he said. “If we are serious about being a global superpower in terms of energy, we are going to have to be a global power in terms of protecting and advancing the environmental discussion.”
Wall agreed, saying if the government heavily regulated the country’s oil and gas industry, Canada could better argue for the benefits of oil pipelines like the Keystone XL pipeline. Right now, the regulatory responsibility for Alberta’s tar sands industry falls to a corporation funded entirely by Canada’s oil, coal and gas industry. And last November, Canadian Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq refused to put a timeline on federal environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry that have been in the works for years.
“We need those regulations to come forward…. it would be a signal that would help,” Wall said.
Wall also said more cooperation with First Nations was needed if the Canadian government wanted to pass projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline, saying there would be “no oil pipelines to the West Coast without economic partnerships with First Nations.” The First Nations have strongly opposed the pipeline — about 130 First Nations have signed on to the Save the Fraser declaration, which aims to ban all tar sands pipelines from First Nations territory and from the ocean migration routes of the Fraser River salmon.
Recent incidents and reports have pointed to the need for more environmental regulation in Canada, a country that has historically had a strong environmental record. In November, a Canadian government watchdog found that the Harper government “has not met key commitments, deadlines and obligations to protect Canada’s wildlife and natural spaces,” and that a “wide and persistent gap” exists between what the government commits to doing for the environment and what it actually succeeds in doing. And recent spills have highlighted the need for more regulation in Canada’s oil and gas industry — leaks at an oil sands site in Alberta still haven’t been plugged since they were discovered about 10 months ago, though the company in charge of the project is providing an update on the leaks this week.