Canada at crossroads on oil and gas

British Columbia’s new NDP government, supported by the Green Party, could seriously damage the Canadian economy and poison inter-provincial relations.

The reason is its adamant opposition to the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion and ambivalence about the development of liquified natural gas (LNG).

While federal minister of natural resources, I had the temerity to cite a scientific study published by Dr. Andrew Weaver, now leader of the B.C. Green Party.

He concluded that, if all 170 billion barrels of oil sands reserves were produced, the increase to the global temperature would be a minuscule 0.03 degree Celsius in 300 years.

Weaver may try again to explain why we need to shut in this immense resource to preclude an almost undetectable impact on temperature.

Trans Mountain’s future has come down to a looming political battle that raises questions about the kind of confederation Canada really is.

Should one province thwart a decision of the government of Canada on a matter clearly within federal jurisdiction?

Should it be allowed to block the flow of oil across a provincial boundary, severely hampering its neighbour’s ability to access international markets?

Must our oil only be sold to the U.S. at a multi-billion dollar discount to the international price, or worse, stranded in the ground, a worthless asset?

That we still do not know the answers is a national disgrace.

That the answers might be yes, would be a national disaster.

Social licence has been exposed as the hypocritical precondition it always was.

In spite of a quixotic effort by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to earn approval by imposing comprehensive regulations on emissions and pipeline safety and a wasteful carbon tax, permission was refused.

As for the corporate executives who succumbed to the Stockholm Syndrome and drank the eco-warrior Kool-Aid, by now they must all have buyers’ remorse.

Pipeline opponents don’t give two hoots about what would benefit millions of Canadians — the critical need to diversify our markets, the vast opportunity for jobs, economic growth and funds to governments.

Long-term revenue and employment for First Nations would be squandered.

Kinder Morgan would be left high and dry.

Failure to proceed would create a terrible precedent, emboldening domestic and American activists to fight every major Canadian resource project.

Alberta would be tempted to retaliate by imposing tariffs on goods shipped across its borders, precipitating a national crisis.

The risk to natural gas exports has also shot up dramatically.

Pacific Northwest LNG is awaiting a final decision from its Malaysian sponsor Petronas. So it is a sensitive moment for this $36 billion project.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is selling LNG to about 20 countries and Alaska is aggressively marketing its gas.

To make matters worse, LNG is an easy way for China to quickly reduce its $347 billion trade surplus with the U.S., which President Donald Trump has loudly criticized.

Therefore, China is working hard to close major deals with the Americans.

Canada will be completely squeezed out of the huge Chinese energy market if the B.C. government succeeds in blocking oil and gas projects.

For Trudeau, it’s crunch time.

Beyond the enormous economic advantages, the very nature of our Confederation is at play.

The feds need to forcefully use their constitutional authority, financial resources and bully pulpit to get our resources to tidewater. The alternative would be a historic failure.

— Oliver was minister of natural resources and finance in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government

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